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  • 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

    Posted on September 18th, 2007 ninarussin

    Can Ford’s sport-utility hybrid meet the rising expectations of today’s buyers?
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

    2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

    A lot can happen in four years. When Ford introduced the first Escape hybrid in 2004, it was the only sport-utility vehicle with a gasoline/electric powertrain. Since then, Toyota expanded its lineup to include the Highlander hybrid and Lexus 400h, and GM introduced the Saturn Vue GreenLine.

    Today, there are dozens of hybrid models, ranging from fuel misers like the Prius and Civic, to high-performance sports cars such as the Lexus 600h. To compete in the current market, hybrids must stay afloat in a sea of rapidly changing technology.

    Ford engineers sought a middle ground in designing the Escape hybrid, using the electric motors to boost power, and make modest gains in fuel economy. Sport-utility vehicles are workhorses: they need to be able to haul cargo and tow trailers. A vehicle that gets sixty miles-per-gallon but has no low-end torque won’t cut the mustard.

    The Escape’s powertrain melds a four-cylinder engine and permanent magnet electric motor to produce the power and performance of a six-cylinder. As with most hybrids, the Escape gets better mileage in the city than on the highway, since the gas engine cuts out when the car is idling. EPA stats for highway driving are 30 miles-per-gallon as opposed to 24 for the 3-liter V6. In the city, the hybrid average 35 miles-per-gallon, almost twice the mileage of its gas-powered counterpart.

    Base price on the test car is $25,075. A premium package that adds leather trim, heated seats and side mirrors and a roof rack adds about $1,200. The car also has a navigation system ($2,695), satellite radio and a moonroof ($995), and running boards ($345). The options, plus the destination charge bring the sticker up to $31,165: just over our cut-off for the best value category.

    Uphill test

    I decided to test the Escape on my favorite uphill grade between Phoenix and Sedona. Late September heat made it necessary to run the air conditioning throughout the drive. The trip included about thirty miles of rush-hour traffic, and some steep grades once outside the city.

    The good news is that the Escape’s power and performance matched or exceeded the V6. Whereas most four-cylinder SUVs can’t get out of their own way, the Escape barreled up the I-17 freeway like a horse on steroids. High-speed cruising felt effortless, and there was plenty in reserve to pass slower vehicles on the steeper climbs.

    A continuously variable transmission eliminates traditional shift shock. However, I did notice an odd vibration when the electric motor assist kicked in: about seventy miles-per-hour.

    The not-so-good news is the fuel economy. My 170-mile drive north consumed six and a half gallons of gas. That averages out to 26 miles-per-gallon: a significant drop from the EPA stats. Fuel economy was slightly better on the trip back to Phoenix: about 28 miles-per-gallon.

    That said, I still like the car. From the driver’s perspective, the technology is almost invisible. Special badging, wheels and tires distinguish the Escape hybrid from the gas-powered car, but inside, both vehicles are almost identical. The battery recharges using heat energy from the brakes and other moving parts, and the gas engine runs on regular unleaded fuel.

    A boost meter on the instrument panel shows the driver when the electric motor kicks in, and there is an indicator on the speedometer to show when it is running on the electric motor alone. The hybrid also has a 100-volt inverter on the center console: a handy feature for someone who travels with a computer.

    Unlike some hybrids, the Escape has a traditional low gear, which I found very handy on some of the steeper hills in Sedona. It seems to work better than the “B” gear on Toyota hybrids, which use the brakes to slow down the vehicle.

    The Escape is small enough to be very maneuverable on narrow streets and through dense traffic. The optional reverse sensing system on the test car sends out an audible signal to alert the driver about objects to the rear of the vehicle. I found it very easy to back into a tight parking space.

    Step-in height is reasonable. While the test car has optional side steps, they are not necessary to enter the car. People who load bikes and kayaks on the roof will find them useful. Towing capacity for the Escape is 1000 pounds: below our minimum ALV standard.

    High level of standard safety

    The Escape hybrid includes Ford’s safety canopy as standard equipment. The canopy uses tethers to hold the side curtain airbags in place for several seconds, to keep passengers safely inside the car in the event of a rollover. Antilock brakes, front and side airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system are also standard.

    The battery pack, located under the rear load floor, doesn’t seem to impact the vehicle’s front-to-rear weight balance. Nor does it reduce the vehicle’s interior cargo space. I was able to load several large duffel bags into the rear space with plenty of room left over.

    The rear glass opens separately for loading in smaller items. The overall height of the vehicle makes it fairly easy to open and close the liftgate. Small grips on the lower lip of the door make it easier for shorter drivers to reach and close.

    Bike-friendly interior

    The rear seats fold down to create a long flat load floor. There is a strap on the front of the seat cushion to flip it forward. A lever on the edge of the seatback releases it so it can fold flat. I found both rows of seating comfortable, with plenty of head, leg and shoulder room. The power driver’s seat is comfortable on long drives, with adequate lower back support.

    Cruise control buttons on the steering wheel make it easy for the driver to engage and disengage without taking his eyes off the road. The audio and temperature control knobs are easy to reach from either front seating position.

    There are two large cupholders behind the gearshift lever for front-row passengers, and two more behind the console bin for those in the second row: all are plenty large to hold a standard water bottle. All four doors have map pockets.

    Two, twelve-volt power points allow both rows of passengers to plug in a cell phone charger. A MP3 plug in on the instrument panel is part of the standard audio package. The test car has optional Sirius satellite radio, something I appreciate a lot in remote areas north of Phoenix.

    While the glovebox isn’t terribly large, there is a deep, functional bin in the center console that includes a smaller top shelf and a change holder.

    Environmentally conscious buyers may opt for the standard cloth trim over the optional leather. The upholstery is produced entirely from recycled plastic and polyester.

    The Escape hybrid is a super-low emissions vehicle that meets both SULEV II and Partial Zero Low Emissions vehicle standards. In additional to the standard warranty, all hybrid components are covered by an eight-year/100,000 mile warranty.

    The hybrid is produced at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly plant is Claycomo, Missouri.

    Likes: Good power, especially on the low end and excellent maneuverability make the Escape a great choice for buyers who live in the city but need the cargo capability of a sport-utility vehicle. The Escape hybrid is a super-low emissions vehicle with a high level of standard safety features.

    Dislikes: Fuel economy, while better than the V-6, was disappointing.

    Quick facts:

    Base price: $25,075*
    Price as tested: $31,165
    Horsepower: 133 Hp @ 6000 r.p.m.
    Torque: 124 lbs.-ft. @ 4250 r.p.m.
    0 to 60: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: No 
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Bicycle Transport: Yes
    Fuel economy: 34/30 m.p.g. city/highway 
    Comments: * Base price does not include a $665 destination charge.

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