Ford substantially redesigned the Escape Hybrid for the 2008 model year, going from a sporty look to a more rugged look. The new design emulates Ford's line of trucks, even though the Escape is based on a car platform.

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The very bright chrome grill and bumper inset with an imprint of the word "Escape" doesn't seem all the rugged. But the fog lights molded into the bumper do evoke all-terrain vehicle design.

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Plastic rails with square indentations run along the bottom of the side panels, letting the car scrape over dirt humps or snow mounds without sustaining metal damage.

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In contrast to its more rugged exterior, the interior of the Escape leans more toward the luxurious. Our test vehicle had a two-tone plastic dashboard and leather seats.

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The new Escape has a functional, but unspectacular, rear-end design. The tail gate lifts up, of course, and so does the glass.

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Like many small utility vehicles, the new Escape offers room for a family of four or five, plus their luggage. It's also perfectly adequate for the more common trips to the grocery store.

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The new Escape gets an information display at the top of the stack. The optional navigation system has a bigger LCD than the previous model, and also gets an in-dash 6-CD changer.

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The navigation system's destination entry is easy to use through the touch-screen LCD. The buttons are big and the system works quickly, due to the fact that it went from a CD-based system in the previous generation to a DVD-based system for 2008.

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The 6-CD changer reads MP3 discs and shows the tagging information on individual tracks. In CD mode, the Tune button, on the right, moves through folders. The left-side Seek button changes tracks.

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We counted four speakers and a subwoofer in the Escape, although the door speaker grills might have hidden two speakers each. Ford puts some advanced digital signal processing in this stereo.

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An auxiliary input jack is mounted at the bottom of the stack, with a handy 12-volt power supply nearby. The car is well-designed for an MP3 player or iPod.

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When the engine shuts down in the Escape Hybrid, which it does frequently in traffic, the tachometer needle sits in the green area, below the zero. It also stays there when the car runs under electric power, up to about 25 mph before the gas engine kicks in.

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The shifter on the Escape controls the continuously variable transmission, standard on the hybrid. The Escape Hybrid is available in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Our test car is the front-wheel drive version.

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The Escape's hybrid technology was licensed by Ford from Toyota. An engine control module determines when to use the motor and when to use the engine, based on vehicle speed, battery charge, and other factors.

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With the larger LCD in the 2008 model, Ford put in a more detailed energy-flow screen. The screen shows when the electric motor and the gas engine are powering the wheels, and when electricity is flowing back into the batteries.

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