2006 Ford Escape Hybrid review: 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid

Also due to the navigation system's use of the in-dash CD slot, the six-CD magazine for audio CDs in the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid is under the passenger seat, a seemingly unnecessary concession. Worse, Ford requires the driver to change the navigation disc depending on location--CDs covering the United States are in the glove box. Leaving a magazine full of the navigation discs under the seat and using the in-dash slot for music would make much more sense. The package does allow for monitoring the drive mode and the energy flow, as well as both current and average fuel consumption.

The 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid comes with a separate seven-speaker, 320-watt audio package available with a six-CD in-dash changer but only without the navigation system. This package also allows satellite radio, which is unavailable with the navigation option. No Bluetooth integration is offered, nor is an auxiliary audio input for portable music players.

On the road, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid's drive system requires no special operation and is mostly transparent to the driver. With moderate pressure on the drive-by-wire throttle, the gasoline engine remains off until the vehicle reaches about 20mph, at which point it kicks in to augment the electric motor in hybrid mode for further acceleration.

Off the line, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid feels fast enough for a vehicle of its size, although it's doubtful that initial acceleration is directly comparable to that of the V-6 Escape, as Ford advertises. Part of this is due to the throttle itself; there's a noticeable beat before pedal pressure translates into forward motion. Under heavier acceleration with the gas engine active, engine noise can seem intrusive, as the CVT holds the engine revving at about 4,000rpm until the driver backs off. The Atkinson-cycle modification to Ford's in-line four-cylinder engine trades power and torque for efficiency by keeping the intake valves open slightly into the compression stroke, allowing some of the fuel-air mixture back into the intake manifold and thereby lowering the effective displacement of the engine.

Compared with those of the regular front-wheel-drive Escape's four-cylinder gasoline engine, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid's fuel economy ratings are substantially improved. The regular Escape is EPA rated at 22mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, while the Escape Hybrid gets 36mpg and 31mpg, respectively. However, we observed in our real-world experience that the Hybrid averaged just more than 27mpg in combined driving.

The power-flow display shows when the batteries are being charged, as well as other details about energy distribution.

Keeping an eye on the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid's fuel-efficiency readout can be entertaining, trying to maximize mileage with judicious throttle use to stay all-electric as long as possible. On downhill stretches, we sometimes saw 30mph before the gasoline engine switched on. One downside to the silence of low-speed driving is the magnification of various squeaks and creaks from the rear of the vehicle. Some of these are merely the operation of the complex drive systems, but others sound more like the groans of an independent rear suspension carrying a few hundred more pounds than it was originally designed for. Our particular car also had a rear-brake squeak, furthering the overall impression of low build quality.

Ambient interior noise as measured at a constant 60mph was between 70dB and 75dB, depending entirely on the road surface, since at this speed, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid is in hybrid-drive mode and the engine is quietly turning at just more than 2,000rpm.

The 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid offers standard front dual-stage driver and single-stage passenger air bags, with a passenger-sensing system. Four-wheel antilock brakes are also standard, as are three-point belts for all five seating positions, with height-adjustable front seat belts.

Our test car came equipped with the $595 Safety Package, which consists of rollover-sensing side air curtains and front side-impact air bags. The usual antitheft perimeter alarm is standard as expected.

Ford's standard warranty applies to the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, good for three years/36,000 miles. According to Ford's Web site, the Escape Hybrid's battery pack is warranted for at least eight years/100,000 miles.

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