The little green ute

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Limited is a fantastic and eco-friendly around-town runabout. Its performance is perfectly suited for the low speeds of densely populated urban areas. However, its highway performance is less than admirable.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

EV mode

With light acceleration from stopped, the Escape Hybrid operates under 100-percent electric motivation. That means zero emissions and next to zero noise. It can maintain EV mode until more power is needed or until about 20 mph, whichever comes first.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Highway performance

The Escape Hybrid is a competent cruiser at highway speeds, but its disconnected-steering feel and odd weight distribution had us nervous.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Limited chrome accents

As an Escape Limited model, our hybrid features chrome finishing on the grill and certain body accents.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Hybrid power train

Ford's hybrid drive system pairs the extra-efficient Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and an electric engine with a planetary gear set. Power is rated at a combined 153 horsepower, with torque coming in at 136 pound-feet.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Fuel efficient

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.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Continuously variable transaxle

The continuously variable transaxle (CVT) features infinitely variable gear ratios within its range. This allows the gasoline engine to stay in its eco-friendly sweet spot while the transmission handles the rest.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Rear proximity sensor

In lieu of a backup camera option, the Escape features a rear-proximity sensor that periodically beeps when something (or someone) is behind it, beeping faster as the distance between the vehicle and the obstacle closes.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Audiophile audio system

The seven-speaker "Ford Audiophile" stereo system uses digital-processing magic to lift the soundstage up above the dashboard to somewhere around the driver's ear level. While this made music listening particularly enjoyable, it created an oddly hollow sound when listening to talk radio and audiobooks.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Standard inputs

USB and auxiliary inputs are standard on the Ford Escape Hybrid.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Hard-drive-based navigation

The optional hard-drive-based navigation system features crisp graphics and fast loading times. Traffic data, weather, and other useful information are served by Sirius Travel Link.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Ford Microsoft Sync

Ford's Microsoft-developed Sync technology reads the metadata for connected music devices and allows artists, genres, and songs to be selected with simple voice commands and a speech-to-text system that can recognize proper nouns.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Digital-audio sources

Digital-audio sources include the USB port, a six-disc CD/DVD player with MP3-decoding capability, an internal 10GB hard-drive for ripping music from CDs, and A2DP Bluetooth audio streaming.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET

Hands-free calling

Once paired with a compatible Bluetooth phone, the system downloads your contacts to the internal hard drive from where they can be accessed via Sync's voice command functions.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Corinne Schulze/CNET
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