A lot of people think if you want a hybrid, you have to look to a foreign manufacturer. But Ford has built full-fledged hybrid cars and SUVs for years now, and one of the most successful is the 2009-11 Ford Escape Hybrid. Based on Ford's smallest SUV, the Escape Hybrid retains all that is good about its gasoline powered cousin, but adds a hefty dose of high-tech know how both inside the cab and under the hood. Ford licensed some of Toyota's hybrid technology to build the Escape Hybrid, so the set up is fairly familiar. There are two power units beneath the hood: a small gasoline engine and an electric motor. The electric motor can power the car at speeds up to about 25 mph, at which point the gasoline engine takes over. The electric motor also assists the gas engine when quick bursts of power are required, such as when merging or passing slower moving vehicles. The result is a small SUV that gets better mileage in city driving (due to the preponderance of low-speed electric motor only driving) than it does on the highway and has total cruising range of just over 500 miles.

 

Why You Want It

The 2009-11 Escape Hybrid is appealing on many levels. Functionally, it's a small SUV that is easy to maneuver and park, yet offers up loads of interior space, with a roomy rear seat, tall roofline and a sizeable cargo hold. Environmentally, the Escape Hybrid consumes less fossil fuel, emits less green house gases, and even has seat fabric made from recycled polyester fibers that otherwise would have ended up in someone's landfill. Emotionally, the Escape Hybrid casts off the aloof hippy hybrid vibe in favor of the true blue American image of rugged individuality and go-anywhere spirit. Technologically, the Escape Hybrid is way cool, with such unique offerings as the SYNC voice activated communications and entertainment system and Active Park Assist, which can parallel park the vehicle for you. But, we should advise you that while the Ford Escape Hybrid's macho exterior says, "I'm all Ford truck," it can't actually tackle difficult off-road terrain. When equipped with the available four-wheel drive, however, the Escape Hybrid is readily capable of overcoming deep snow, loose gravel and unpaved dirt roads.

 

Notable Features & Options

The Escape Hybrid comes pretty well equipped. In addition to the obligatory power windows, locks and mirrors, the Escape Hybrid includes dual zone automatic climate control, an AM/FM/CD four speaker stereo with SYNC voice activated communications and entertainment system, steering wheel mounted controls for the audio and cruise control, remote keyless entry, fog lamps, 60/40 split rear seat, six-way power driver's seat, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The Limited version adds heated leather seats, heated side mirrors, a six-disc CD changer, the Reverse Sensing System, a power glass moonroof and additional chrome on the exterior. Standard safety features include front, front side-impact and side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic traction and stability control with Roll Stability Control.

The 2010 and newer models offer even more neat stuff, such as parallel park assist, MyKey programmable key fob (lets you set limits on the top speed and radio volume so the teenagers don't get into trouble), a rearview camera, blind-spot side view mirror within a mirror, and an upgraded SYNC system with Traffic, Direction and Information. Other options of note include navigation, integrated side steps, and Intelligent four-wheel drive.

 

Model Milestones

2009: Although the 2008 model looks the same as the 09, it still has the 2007 car's older suspension, engine and steering setup. 2009 marks the first year with the new 2.5-liter engine, as well as improved steering and suspension calibrations. The Limited trim is also new for 2009.

2010: New features offered on the Escape Hybrid include an integrated blind spot mirror, MyKey programmable key fob, Active Park Assist, rearview camera and an updated SYNC system with Traffic, Directions and Information.

2011: HD radio is added to the available navigation radio.

 

Engines and Performance

A 153-horsepower 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine paired with a 94-horsepower electric motor powers the Escape Hybrid. When both are engaged, the Escape Hybrid's combined horsepower rating is just under 250 horsepower, which allows it to accelerate, pull and cruise like a robust V6! For around town cruising or at speeds lower than 25 miles per hour, the electric motor does all the work, allowing you to cruise without burning a single drop of fuel or emitting pollution from the tail pipe. The Escape Hybrid even features an electronic CVT (continually variable transmission) for maximum fuel economy and an electric air conditioning compressor (as opposed to a belt driven unit) so that the gasoline engine can remain shut down while the air conditioning is on. Beneath the Escape Hybrid's rear floor is a 330-amp nickel metal hydride battery that is recharged either by the gasoline engine or by regenerative braking. Regenerative braking is the process where by the engine and generator help with braking, recapturing energy otherwise lost and sending it to the battery pack.

Other than the eerie silence when the electric motor is engaged, the Escape Hybrid rides and drives very much like its gasoline counterpart. The electric assist power steering feels a bit vague at times, but is necessary for the auto parallel parking aid to work. The ride is harsher than similar sized CUVs such as the Honda CR-V, but Ford has done a wonderful job of insulating the Escape Hybrid's cabin from outside noise. The seats are fairly supportive, although we'd like to see a longer seat bottom on the driver and front passenger seat. Visibility is good all the way around and the driver has a nice high seating position with a commanding view of the road. Subtle touches such as the ambient overhead lighting and the cool ice blue dash lighting give the Escape Hybrid an upscale feel.

 

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 2009-11 Ford Escape Hybrid.

There are no active recalls for the 2009-11 Ford Escape Hybrid at this time.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, NHTSA gives the 2009-11 Ford Escape Hybrid five out of five stars for the driver and passenger in both its front end and side-impact crash tests. Unfortunately, the Escape Hybrid earns only three out of five stars in the NHTSA's rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Escape Hybrid its highest score of GOOD in both the offset crash test and side impact crash test. Like the government, however, the Institute found the Escape Hybrid's roof strength lacking, giving it a rating of MARGINAL.

The 2009-11 Ford Escape Hybrid has a 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, 5-years/60,000 miles on the gasoline engine, and an 8-year/100,000 mile limited warranty covering the hybrid components such as the electric motor and battery. In some states with higher air quality standards (CA and VT, for example), the hybrid warranty is extended to 10-years/150,000 miles. You can buy additional extended service plans if you purchase a Certified Pre-Owned Escape Hybrid through a participating Ford dealer.

 

Word on the Web

Because the Escape Hybrid is not a high volume car, and it's relatively new, there aren't many blogs or enthusiast sites dedicated to the vehicle. Consumer Reports gives the 2008-11 Escape Hybrid better than average marks, with only one demerit attributed to the climate control system on the 2008 model. J.D. Powers also give the Escape Hybrid good marks for initial quality and predicted reliability. Owners on various automotive survey and enthusiast sites seem to like their cars, raving about the mileage, the ride and the cool SYNC system. We found a few individual complaints about build quality and a few more on premature brake wear, but we couldn't find duplicate complaints on a scale large enough to say there is a consistent problem. Overall, the Escape Hybrid appears to be a well built, reliable green car that just happens to also be a fun little SUV.

 

Competitive Set

Although larger and a bit more expensive, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is every bit as reliable and efficient as the Escape Hybrid, plus it has the added benefit of an available third-row seat. You could look for a Saturn Vue hybrid, but you wouldn't be getting a full hybrid drivetrain as in the Escape Hybrid, just a motor/generator that aids in acceleration. And, although the gas mileage is comparable to the Escape Hybrid, the Vue doesn't offer a four-wheel drive variant and, now that Saturn is out of business, finding parts and a dealer to work on the car may be problematic over time. That's about it for hybrid competition in the compact class. You could go with a traditional drivetrain as found in the Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester, both of which get good fuel economy and will cost a lot less than the Escape Hybrid. Or, you could shop for a hybrid car, like the Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid, saving some money but forgoing the ground clearance and interior versatility of the Escape Hybrid.

 

Auto Trader Recommendations

Unless you are all about bells and whistles, we'd go with a 2009 or 2010 base Escape Hybrid model. The base car comes nicely equipped, costs less than the Limited and should satisfy most green car owner's needs. For maximum fuel efficiency, go with the front-wheel drive model.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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