The Ford Escape became even more popular last year with a hybrid version that won the 2005 North American Truck of the Year award.
The first thing you should know about the Escape Hybrid is that, for the most part, it drives just like a regular Escape. It demands little, if any, additional effort or knowledge from the driver. That's impressive, considering its complexity. In short, the Ford Escape Hybrid is a superb vehicle, smooth, responsive, comfortable and convenient.
Hybrid vehicles are powered by the combination of a gasoline engine with an electric motor. By combining a four-cylinder gasoline engine with the boost from the electric power pack, the Ford Escape Hybrid provides acceleration much like a V6-powered Escape, but the Hybrid is estimated by the EPA to deliver twice the fuel economy in city driving and nearly double on the highway. Plus, its emissions are much lower.
Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that hybrid vehicles such as the Escape never have to be plugged into any sort of electrical outlet. The vehicle's specially designed battery pack is automatically recharged by the gasoline engine and by regenerative braking, technology that takes the otherwise wasted energy generated by braking and sends it to the battery pack.
There is a price premium that must be paid for equipping a car with hybrid technology, but there also are federal tax benefits, and sometimes state and local tax benefits, available to help offset that price. This is in addition to the fuel savings. In reality, it takes awhile to recoup the price difference, about $3,500 more than the retail price of an Escape XLT with the V6 engine. During that time owners can be comforted in knowing they're doing more than their part to reduce air pollution and consumption of fossil fuels.
The Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid-powered SUV available in the United States, and also was the first hybrid with available all-wheel drive and 1000 pounds of towing capacity, which allows buyers to enjoy the benefits of a small SUV while greatly enhancing fuel economy and lowering emissions.
The Escape Hybrid no longer has the hybrid SUV market to itself, however. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h were introduced as 2006 models using Toyota's impressive Hybrid Synergy Drive, but the midsize Highlander costs $6,000-$11,000 more than the compact Escape and the Lexus costs even more than that. The Escape's market is shared with the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and the Mazda Tribute Hybrid, which are nearly identical vehicles with different styling.
The Escape Hybrid is available with four-wheel drive (all-wheel drive) or two-wheel drive (front-wheel drive). All come with automatic transmissions; no manuals are available. The 2006 Escape Hybrid 2WD model appears to be the cleanest, most economical SUV available today. (Mariner and Tribute are only available with all-wheel drive.)
The Escape Hybrid was launched as a 2005 model, sporting upgrades made to the entire Escape lineup in addition to the hybrid technology, so there are no changes for 2006 except for the availability of a new Premium package and a new black clearcoat metallic exterior color.
The 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid comes in one well-equipped trim level, but with a choice of front-wheel drive ($26,900) or all-wheel drive ($28,525).
Options include leather seating, upgraded audio equipment, side-curtain airbags and a navigation system. The Energy, Audiophile and Navigation package ($1,995) includes an upgraded audio system, CD-based satellite navigation and a display on the navigation screen that illustrates instant and recent fuel economy and the way energy flows between the gasoline engine, electric motor, battery pack and wheels.
A safety package ($595) includes side-curtain airbags that cover all seating areas as well as side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Curtain airbags are designed to provide head protection in a rollover or side impact. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in such accidents.
Other options include a leather comfort group ($595), an appearance package ($695) with front and side fascias, Ford's MACH audio with six-disc CD changer ($595), a 110-volt AC power outlet ($180), a retractable rear cargo cover ($75), and rear carpeted floor mats ($25). A new Premium package ($3,995) for 2006 models includes leather sport bucket seats, the hybrid energy audio and navigation system, the retractable rear cargo cover, the AC power outlet, and floor mats. A sunroof with a shade a a mini overhead console with a storage bin and map lights ($585) is available when the Premium package is ordered. Many accessories from Ford dealers or aftermarket companies are available for the standard Escape, and they also fit the Escape Hybrid.
Ford says the Escape Hybrid is the cleanest of all sport utility vehicles, and while the automaker is talking about the hybrid powertrain system, which the EPA states does indeed produce less greenhouse gas emissions than the Mariner Hybrid or Lexus RX 400h, the adjective also applies to the Escape's exterior design.
The design of the Ford Escape is clean: Simple and practical without unnecessary flourishes and flares, contemporary and not likely to look outdated within just a few years.
Visually, the Escape Hybrid is barely changed from the standard Escape, and most people won't even notice that your SUV is different that the rest. There are small Hybrid badges just behind the front wheels and also on the rear hatch. The hybrid also has a vent built into its left rear quarter-panel glass; this vent helps cool the battery pack.
The standard fog lamps set toward the outside portion of the lower front fascia provide a nice balance to the car's face and visually widen the Escape Hybrid's stance.
Like many SUVs, the Escape Hybrid has a two-tone appearance, with body panels and lower fascia in complementary colors. Those who want a monochromatic look can order the appearance package in a choice of five exterior colors, including the new black clearcoat metallic.
Five-spoke alloy wheels are 16 inches in diameter and wear 235/70-aspect tires tuned to provide a smooth and comfortable ride, not for severe off-road duty.
One very useful exterior feature is the way the glass backlight opens separately from the rear hatch door, providing a quick and easy way to load or unload small packages. We also liked the fact that the top of the rear bumper cover is wide enough that we could set a 12-pack of soda on it while loading other groceries through the open rear window.
Escape Hybirds come with flint gray interiors, either in a nicely patterned premium cloth or leather. The driver's seat has six-way power adjustment controls. All of the switchgear is easy to find and to use.
Seats provide an elevated vantage of the road ahead. They also are comfortable around town or on trips.
The rear seat has ample room and a 60/40 split back that provides several options for expanding the size of the flat rear cargo floor.
The gauges have black figures on a white background and are easy to read in even bright daylight. At night, the colors reverse, with white numbers against a glareless black background. The biggest difference between the Hybrid and the regular Escape is seen on the tachometer, which reports the revolutions per minute of the engine. In the Escape Hybrid, the tachometer needle has a sub-zero setting that it uses to indicate that the car is running only on electric power, such as while sitting at a stop or even while traveling on the road in certain conditions.
We recommend getting the optional Energy, Audiophile and Navigation package. If you're among those who want a hybrid, you likely will opt for this package because it graphically and immediately demonstrates the benefits you derive from the technology. By paying some attention to the graphs, you'll find yourself becoming an even more environmentally friendly and fiscally efficient motorist. It's fun to see how efficient you can drive. The screen isn't as large as those in some other vehicles, but its graphics are extremely clear and we had no trouble reading even the smallest details, either at night or while wearing sunglasses in bright daylight.
When you switch over to the energy reporting screens, the next navigation instruction remains as the bottom line on the display, sort of like the line at the bottom of the screen in some television newscasts. This can be a handy feature for those who aren't sure of their route but also want to keep an eye on fuel economy is shaping up.
The navigation system includes a Home button that can lead you back to whatever location you set as your home base, or you can easily program it to take you to various destinations.
The optional 110-volt AC power outlet (house current) can be a useful feature, whether tailgating or camping.
The EPA rates the Escape Hybrid at 36 miles per gallon in town and 31 on the highway. The reason the city number is greater than the country number is because in slower driving the electric motor carries more of the load, plus the gasoline engine simply shuts off while you're sitting at a stoplight. To compare, the EPA rates the Lexus LX 400h with front-wheel drive at 33/28 mpg and the four-wheel drive Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute at 33/29 mpg.
As a publicity stunt, Ford had people drive an Escape Hybrid on every paved street in Manhattan, all 576 miles of them, which used only a single tank of gasoline, averaging 36 miles per gallon in the process, exactly twice the EPA's estimated mileage in the city cycle for the Escape V6.
To get the best fuel economy, be gentle with the gas pedal, and the Escape can travel a short ways just on electric power. The gasoline engine restarts immediately whenever you step firmly on the accelerator.
We didn't baby the Escape Hybrid to see how high we could get the mileage meter to go. We drove it like we would drive any other vehicle, but still averaged better than 35 miles per gallon around town. The standard Escape equipped with a four-cylinder engine is rated at 22 mpg in town and 25 on the highway.
The Escape Hybrid's optional Energy system provides instant fuel economy on a thermometer-style image at the left side of the display screen with your average economy and a stock market-style chart of fuel use for the last 15 minutes filling most of the screen. By paying some attention to the screen, you find yourself trying to get better and better fuel economy, which is probably the reason you bought this vehicle in the first place.
While saving fuel, you're also reducing emissions. Ford notes that the Escape Hybrid qualifies for super-low (SULEV) or advanced technology partial-zero (ATPZEV) emission vehicle status.
The Ford Escape Hybrid is unique among hybrid vehicles in that its battery pack comprises a tray of what appear to be dozens and dozens of C cells, except they are high-tech nickel-metal hydride batteries and provide 330 volts of power, equivalent to 87 horsepower. The battery pack is in a sealed box located beneath the rear cargo floor and does not intrude on the Escape's cargo-carrying capability. The battery pack is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles.
The batteries do add some weight to the rear of the vehicle, but in the case of the Escape that weight makes the hybrid better balanced than the standard V6 Escape. The Escape V6 has 61 percent of its mass carried by the front wheels. The Escape Hybrid is better balanced. Only 57 percent of its weight is in front. That means this version is more neutral in its handling, staying flatter through corners and under braking. This should provide better maneuverability in emergency situations and enhance front tire and brake wear as well.
The Escape Hybrid's gasoline engine is a 2.3-liter, inline four-cylinder that operates under what is known as the Atkinson cycle, a technology designed to enhance the quality of fuel combustion. The Atkinson cycle sacrifices some horsepower but keeps intake valves open longer and operates under a higher compression ratio.
The 2.3-liter engine in the standard Escape provides 153 horsepower, 20 more than the Atkinson cycle engine, but the electric motor gives the hybrid power very similar to the Escape V6, which is rated at 200 horsepower.
To waste as little of the engine's power as possible while transmitting it to the drive wheels, Ford equips the Escape Hybrid with a continuously variable transmission. This transmission doesn't have standard gears. Instead, it has metal bands that adjust to best match the engine's performance. Thus there is no hesitation as gears shift, just smooth acceleration. The CVT does offer a low-range setting for increased traction.
All-wheel drive gives the Escape Hybrid capability in foul weath
The Ford Escape Hybrid may no longer be unique with its fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly gasoline-electric powertrain, but its virtues remain in clear view. It's currently the cleanest, most economical hybrid SUV, and the powertrain provides performance on par with a V6 engine, but without the nose-heavy tendencies that often come with putting larger engines in front-drive vehicles.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Phoenix.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD ($26,900); 4WD ($28,525) |
|Hybrid powertrain with 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, permanent magnet electric motor, regenerative braking system and 330-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack |
|continuously variable (CVT) |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|dual front airbags, LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system, perimeter alarm |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|safety canopy with side air curtains and front side-impact airbags, 24-hour roadside assistance |
|Basic warranty: |
|3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Kansas City, Missouri |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD ($26,900) |
|Standard equipment: |
|fog lamps, privacy glass, power windows/locks/mirrors, lift gate with flip-up glass, roof rack with 2 crossbars, rear defroster and two-speed rear wiper, six-way power driver's seat, AM/FMM with in-dash 6-CD changer, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, message center, air conditioning, illuminated entry, four-wheel dics brakes with anti-lock system, remote entry, 16-inch aluminum wheels, 235/70R16 all-season tires |
|Options as tested: |
|appearance package ($695), energy/audiophile/navigation system ($1,995), safety package ($595), rear floor mats ($25), 110-volt power outlet ($180), leather comfort group ($595), retractable cargo cover ($75) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|front-wheel drive |
|2.3-liter, 16-valve, dohc Atkinson Cycle inline four plus 65-watt (87 hp) electric traction motor and 28-watt (38-hp) motor for recharging battery pack |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|133 @ 6000 (plus electric motor) |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|129 @ 4500 (plus electric motor) |
|continuously variable transmission |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|36/31 mpg. |
|103.2 in. |
|174.9/71.8/70.0 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|61.1/60.2 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|37.7 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|40.4/53.4/41.6 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|39.2/49.1/36.3 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|65.5 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|Suspension F: |
|Suspension R: |
|Ground clearance: |
|8 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|3620 lbs. |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|15.0 gal. |