Every command isn't accessible by voice, so users will have to make use of the touch screen. Fortunately, the LCD is a high-resolution unit with crisp graphics and a responsive touch interface. Here you'll find the beautifully rendered maps of the GPS navigation system. Traffic data, weather forecasts, fuel prices, and other useful information are beamed into the vehicle via Sirius Travel Link. Point of interest searches, data access, and destination entry can all be controlled with the voice command system, a useful feature when you need to find a gas station while you're hustling down the freeway.
Earlier, we mentioned Bluetooth audio streaming and, as you can guess, hands-free calling is also part of the standard Bluetooth package. Pairing is a breeze with voice or touch-screen commands, and includes the option of downloading your phonebook to the Escape's hard drive. Once stored, you're able to voice dial your contact by name using Sync's excellent speech-to-text system.
Our Escape Hybrid Limited didn't offer a rearview camera option; rather it was equipped with a rear-proximity sensor. When the vehicle is in reverse, the vehicle periodically beeps when something (or someone) is behind it. As the distance closes between the vehicle and the obstruction, the beeping speeds up until it is finally a solid tone at a minimum safe distance, at which point you should stop.
Under the hood
Ford's hybrid drive system pairs the extra-efficient Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and an electric engine with a planetary gear set and continuously variable transmission setup that's not unlike Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. Power is rated at a combined 153 horsepower, with torque coming in at 136 pound-feet.
Those power numbers aren't impressive for a vehicle the size of the Escape, but fortunately, the little SUV is much lighter than it looks--although with the hefty battery pack in the rear, the weight is a little oddly distributed.
Tuned for efficiency over performance, power delivery is relaxed. Drive the front-wheel drive Escape Hybrid Limited like an EPA tester and you'll be rewarded with 34 city and 31 highway mpg. During the course of our testing, we consistently sat about 30 mpg, so the EPA numbers are quite realistic.
Step up to optional all-wheel drive and those numbers shrink to 29 city and 27 highway mpg.
With its wheels shrouded in low-rolling resistance tires, don't expect great handling out of the Escape Hybrid at anything but low speeds. Be particularly careful in wet conditions, as the lack of traction can cause the tires to spin from a stop--causing the drivetrain to clunk loudly when grip is finally achieved--unless you're extra careful with the accelerator.
The steering feels numb, with a large dead spot around the center point that makes minute course adjustments difficult (such as those undertaken to stay in one's lane at speed) and require more steering input than we were used to.
The suspension is vague at highway speeds, yet still harsh over potholes and bumps, transmitting a good deal of vibration into the cabin. Additionally, the vehicle exhibits a high level of body roll that made us feel less than confident in the Escape's capability to perform high-speed evasive maneuvers without drama.
More so than with most vehicles, your experience with the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Limited will depend on your driving style and patterns.
Those who do a great deal of low-speed city driving will be pleased by the Escape Hybrid's excellent fuel economy and since the suspension won't be taxed, the driver won't be too bothered by the handling quirks.
Drivers whose commutes consist primarily of 55 mph (or faster) highway cruising will be slightly less pleased by the Escape's ponderous handling and high level of road and wind noise.
The Sync system is sure to please all comers; just make sure you check the hard-drive-based navigation option when building your Escape Hybrid to make sure you get the most complete cabin tech experience and the Audiophile stereo system.
A base price of $29,645 gets you started with the Escape Hybrid, which includes standard Sync and Sirius. Add $2,330 to upgrade to the Limited trim level, with its six-disc CD changer, leather seating surfaces, power driver's seat adjustment, and chrome exterior trim.
$2,395 gets you navigation, bringing you to our as-tested price of $35,095 including the $725 destination charge. If you're expecting inclement weather, add $1,750 for the all-wheel-drive system and you'll be completely optioned out.
At that price, you're knocking on the door of an entry-level--a much bigger vehicle with a better highway demeanor. However, the Escape gets much better fuel economy and has much better tech.
At time of testing, the Escape Hybrid is also eligible for a federal tax credit, which should knock $1,500 off of the bottom line.