2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid review: Unexcitingly efficient
After initially delaying the plug-in hybrid Escape , Ford is finally selling its electrified compact crossover. And while it might carry all the excitement of filing income taxes in February, this newest Escape proves to be a chill, competent way to zip around on electrons with few -- if any -- downsides.
At the heart of the Escape PHEV is a 14.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, which combines with an electric motor and a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 to produce a net 221 horsepower, all of which is sent to the front wheels by way of a continuously variable transmission. That's a little lower than the 250 hp the Escape's EcoBoost-toting sibling produces, and while power delivery can be a little pokey to start, the plug-in has no problem getting up to speed on the highway or zipping through surface-road traffic. It doesn't exactly sound great doing so, either, but that's why the stereo has a volume knob.
The feds estimate that the Escape PHEV's battery can deliver about 37 miles per charge, which aligns with my experience. I'm able to eke even more efficiency out of it while (almost literally) crawling through peak Chicago rush-hour traffic, covering some 23 miles on half a charge, but without any coaching on my part, it'll absolutely chew through its capacity if you let it drain on a long highway drive, where electric motors are less efficient. The slower and steadier, the more blood you can get from that stone. When the charge finally depletes, you're not out of luck -- at that point, the Escape PHEV just acts like a standard gas-electric hybrid, delivering short bursts of electricity as the car deems necessary.
Thankfully, you can avoid wasting energy by cycling through the Escape's multiple electric driving modes. A quick tap of the EV switch on the center console lets me conserve charge for later, generate charge, run solely on electricity or let the computers figure it all out. It was nice on my trip from Detroit to Chicago, where I depleted the battery getting to the highway silently, so I was able to generate some charge to use when I eventually got off I-94. That's far from the ideal scenario, though; the perfect life for the Escape PHEV is a commute-based existence, where access to a 120- or 240-volt outlet can ensure a charged battery for way less than the cost of gas. Using a standard three-prong plug, it'll take nearly 11 hours to fully charge, so it may behoove more time-constrained drivers to call an electrician and get another big-boy dryer plug installed.
The EPA claims the Escape PHEV can hit about 40 mpg combined on gas alone, but I see closer to 36 in mixed use. If you do take a road trip, be prepared to make more stops than you might expect; while every other Escape variant has a gas tank between 14 and 15 gallons, the plug-in makes do with just 11.2 gallons.
The rest of the 2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid experience is calm, collected and boring as all get-out, not that that's a bad thing. The suspension is tuned for comfort, and it shows, eating up most road nastiness and returning a normal amount of cabin noise. The steering is light, which makes city driving feel like a little less of a chore. The blend between regenerative and friction braking is smooth, even when I hit the L button on the gear dial, which boosts off-throttle regen. It's exactly what I expect from a mass-market compact crossover.
Plenty of tech on offer
Since my Escape PHEV tester is decked out in its top Titanium trim, I'm granted access to all the tech Ford has to offer on this particular car. Every plug-in trim comes standard with Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system on an 8-inch touchscreen, which packs all the usual fripperies like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and SiriusXM satellite radio, and the Titanium trim beefs that up further with embedded navigation. The SE and SEL trims have a 6-inch LCD screen in the gauge cluster, but the Titanium replaces that with a flashy 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that I really like. Both screens are responsive and good at highlighting pertinent information. My tester also has a head-up display, but it's one of those systems that uses a little pop-up plastic thing, which looks kind of cheap and is mounted too low for my preference. Charging is a breeze for everyone, with a Qi wireless device charger under the climate controls and a pair of USB-A and USB-C ports for each row..
Some automakers don't mind scrimping on safety tech on lower trims, but the Escape PHEV is pretty nicely equipped across the range. The SE and SEL trims get automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams and blind-spot monitoring, with adaptive cruise control and speed-sign recognition hidden behind an affordable $895 upgrade. The whole shebang is standard on the Titanium, as is Ford's excellent active parking assistant. The hands-on tech does a good job staying centered in its lane without any ping-pong lateral motions.
You're not buying this for aesthetics
I have discovered that there are two schools of thought surrounding the latest generation of Ford Escape. There are people who don't mind or don't care about how it looks, and then there are people who truly do not like it. Sure, it's a little fishy up front, and my tester's shiny Titanium grille evokes middle-school trips to the orthodontist, but I think it's fine. It's no Bronco Sport , that's for sure, but you also can't get a Bronco Sport PHEV, so there's that. I will say that my tester's $395 Rapid Red paint really pops in the sun.
I am a little less forgiving about the interior. Whereas the Bronco Sport seems like Ford put a lot of thought into it, the Escape comes off as a little more "They'll take what they get." Hard plastic surfaces abound, even with a base price pushing toward $40,000, and some of the stuff on the lower half of the cabin seems pretty easy to gouge on accident. The "wood" trim on the dashboard and door panels is almost offensive in how obviously fake it is. The ergonomics can be a little strange, too, especially the start button, which is angled toward the steering column.
There are some good parts about the Escape PHEV's interior, though. There's a commendable amount of storage between the lower door cards, the cubby under the climate controls and the other cubby under the center armrest. The rear seats can slide fore and aft to accommodate changing sizes of passengers and cargo alike. The trunk is less capacious than the Toyota RAV4 Prime , measuring between 31 and 34 cubic feet depending on second-row seat position, expanding to almost 61 cubes with the back seats folded down, but that's still plenty for family road trips.
Down to brass tacks
Electrification hardware ain't cheap, but the 2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid does a good job of keeping its starting price low. SE models start at $34,320 including $1,245 for destination, while the SEL bumps that up to $37,060. The Titanium opens at $40,130, and with the aforementioned paint upgrade and a $2,500 package adding a panoramic moonroof and wireless charging, my tester rings in at a sensible $43,025.
There are a few, but not a ton of competitors in the plug-in compact crossover segment. Its biggest rival is the Toyota RAV4 Prime, which offers more space, better looks and a rather potent 300-hp powertrain. The Kia Niro is a little more hatch-ish, if you'd prefer something closer to the ground, and Kia's cabin tech is second to none. If you're willing to ditch the big battery, the Ford Bronco Sport becomes a more appealing option, because it has, you know, character.
The 2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid isn't looking to compromise. This PHEV offers commendable electric range, good use of interior space and tech that's pretty well democratized across its lineup. If you're looking for something no-nonsense that will carry you around town without burning holes in your wallet, the Escape PHEV is a safe option that'll deliver everything you need.