Ford would have it that the impressive collection of motors and computers in the Escape Hybrid offers the performance of a V-6 while obviously sipping only four cylinders' worth of fuel, which is true in terms of acceleration. The Escape Hybrid certainly outdoes its counterpart in efficiency. The EPA rates the hybrid at 36mpg in the city and 31 highway, and the V-6 at 20 and 24mpg, respectively. In a mix of driving biased toward freeway miles, we averaged 28.9mpg during our test period in the Escape Hybrid. But things feel more leisurely in the hybrid under full acceleration, largely due to the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission and its characteristic spool-up time. Overall agility is in the V-6's favor, as the front-wheel-drive Escape Sport XLT weighs in at 3,276 pounds versus the Escape Hybrid's 3,594 pounds, no small difference.
But hybrid performance is defined differently, and Ford does deliver with a technologically advanced full-hybrid system worthy of a little green preening. Capable of electric-only operation up to 25mph, and with seamless starting and integration of the gas engine, Ford's hybrid drivetrain is a feather in the cap of the otherwise struggling manufacturer. The Escape Hybrid meets SULEV II and AT-PZEV emissions standards, was the first full-hybrid SUV, and was named 2005 North American Truck of the Year.
The 2.3-liter inline-four gas engine is optimized for efficiency with the Atkinson combustion cycle, which lowers the effective displacement of the engine by letting a bit of the fuel-air mixture out through the intake valves at the beginning of compression. Consumption is reduced at the expense of power, and the engine feels rougher than a conventional four, but economy is the name of the game.
When driving to win that game, the fuel monitor screen of the nav system becomes the scoreboard as you creep away from stoplights, staying electric as long as possible to delay the dreaded snap of the instant mpg meter from infinity back down to fossil-fuel territory. Another moving graph shows average economy over the last 15 minutes. A separate screen shows a diagram of the various components and which are generating power, including the regenerative brakes charging the batteries.
Lack of stability
The Escape Hybrid carries the usual roster of safety and security features. Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard along with front driver and passenger airbags, dual-stage for the driver only, and with an occupant sensor for the passenger side. Side intrusion door beams are also standard.
The optional safety package ($595) adds side impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, and a rollover sensor to trigger them. To help avoid such an accident in the absence of this option, and notable given Ford's history with SUV tires, a tire-pressure monitoring system is standard. Electronic stability isn't available on the Escape Hybrid, something Ford will probably remedy in the next model year, as the Department of Transportation will make it a requirement. The Escape Hybrid earns four stars for driver and passenger front impact, and the maximum five stars for front and rear side impacts. The car was not subjected to rollover tests.
Ford's normal three-year/36,000-mile warranty applies to the Escape Hybrid, as does the company's five-year/60,000-mile power train warranty. A special eight-year/100,000-mile warranty covers the hybrid-related components. Oil change intervals are recommended every 10,000 miles or yearly.
Our overall impression of the Ford Escape Hybrid improved a little despite nothing of consequence changing in the car itself. Certainly the Escape Hybrid we tested in February exhibited some behavior that lent it an air of incompletion, most notably an audibly complaining chassis. But whether attention to assembly detail has improved or our particular example had anomalous problems, we were happier with the 2007. The more solid feel and lack of distracting noises earned it an extra point in our Comfort rating.
The final MSRP of our 2006 tester was $31,080. Even with an extra option or two, the bottom line of our 2007 Escape Hybrid's sticker was $30,300. With no new competitors having appeared in the hybrid SUV segment, the Escape Hybrid can still lay claim to the title of most fuel-efficient SUV in the world. And with its price coming down and no one expecting the same to hold true for gasoline prices, the Ford Escape Hybrid will continue to be a compelling choice for urbanites conscious of their fossil-fuel footprints.