Ford put a toe into the hybrid waters with its Escape and found the temperature comfortable enough to stick around for the little SUV's third year. In fact, the times are definitely in favor of the Escape Hybrid, as it pretty easily fits the profile of a cross-over utility vehicle (CUV), the hot new segment that every automaker is jumping into. We got the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid in our garage this week, and although it's virtually unchanged from the prior year's models, I like the look of this one better. Maybe it's the new colors available--our tester is cloaked in a fetching blue. Or maybe it's Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David driving one in the most recent season of that show. One of our other reviewers said the car felt like it had better build quality than our previous testers. Whatever the case, in spite of the car's serious cabin tech shortcomings, I look forward to driving it.
Although the Escape Hybrid has navigation and a six-disc CD changer, the implementation is as awful as it ever was. I hope Ford can finish its reorganization and get its finances under control so that it can pay attention to the current state-of-the-art car technology and load up the Escape Hybrid. The car's LCD is tiny, the navigation points-of-interest database doesn't include regular retail stores, and the CD changer is mounted under the passenger seat. There is a telephone button on the navigation/stereo unit, but pressing it merely mutes the audio--no Bluetooth yet. The stereo system isn't designed for audiophiles. It has enough speakers to drown out road noise, but it doesn't offer clarity or depth. The car does have an AC outlet on the center console, a nice little touch for powering a laptop or a toaster oven.
The hybrid power train delivers a unique driving experience. One of our reviewers got the car up to 25mph under electric power before the gas engine kicked in. I spent some time silently creeping up on pedestrians in a parking lot. But in actual driving, the hand-off from electric to gas power is seamless, with the continuously variable transmission delivering completely smooth acceleration due to the lack of shift jolts. The car moves through the cluttered streets of San Francisco with ease, although it's not the smoothest ride over the potholes. In our full review we will add some commentary about driving at freeway speeds.
The design of the car is good and comfortable, offering the high seating position and easy access of a small SUV. Those are the attributes that make CUVs so popular. Headroom is good, and there's reasonable cargo room in back. Fold down the rear seats (which don't fold anywhere near flat), and the back looks cavernous. Our photographer, who just drove across the country with all her worldly belongings stuffed into a Honda Civic, expressed appreciation for the interior dimensions of the Escape Hybrid.
While we have a strong appreciation for hybrids, the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid won't escape our criticism. During our test period with the car, we'll come up with plenty of things we hate or love about the car.