|Ford Escape Hybrid
|2008 Ford Escape Hybrid Review||Ford Escape Hybrid
|Ford Escape Hybrid
By Alex Kramer
- Excellent gas mileage (32 mpg average)
- Spacious interior
- Confident handling (for an SUV)
- Surprisingly powerful (for a fuel sipper)
- Seamless hybrid technology
- Expensive for its size
- Questionable reliability (2 warranty repairs so far)
- No frills interior design
I drove into the dealership in a sporty Ford Focus with tricked out rims and suspension. I drove out of the dealership in a hybrid SUV. Was I going nuts? Well, perhaps a little bit… but after a lengthy test drive (and the realization that I was turning 30 in a month, gas prices were going up, and I could use a bit more space) the Escape Hybrid just made sense. An impulse buy, yes, but one year and 13,000 miles later, I don’t regret the decision one bit!
Ever since that first test drive, I’ve been amazed by the sophistication of the Escape Hybrid’s gas-electric power train. At first you don’t even really notice it, in that the car drives like every other car on the road. You push the gas and it goes, you push the brakes and it stops, and a tug on the wheel makes it turn. But once you start paying closer attention, the many hours spent developing this new technology becomes apparent.
For starters, when you press on the gas pedal to accelerate you’ll notice that at low speeds the engine RPMs don’t change much at all. This is due to both the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which has an infinite number of gear ratios and thus doesn’t shift like a traditional transmission, and the fact that the electric motor is supplying some of the power. If you listen carefully, you can even here the low pitch whine of the electric motor spooling up and down as you apply the throttle.
When you dip a bit deeper into the throttle, the engine will rev up to generate more power, but as soon as you let off the gas, the revs will drop way down again to conserve fuel. Furthermore, if your speed is below 30 mph and you aren’t accelerating heavily, the engine will shut off entirely and all power comes from the electric motor. This is such a seamless process that I still sometimes don’t notice when it happens. Similarly, when you use the brakes, the electric motor becomes a generator and captures the kinetic energy to recharge the battery. If you push the brake pedal hard enough it will also activate the disk brakes, but once again the computer is doing such a good job of managing these tasks that it’s hard to tell which is happening.
As I mentioned before, if you’re not paying very close attention, you won’t even notice the complexities of all this technology, and you can just drive along without being reminded that you’re in a hybrid car. And since the exterior of the Escape Hybrid is no different from a regular Escape, others won’t be reminded either (which is nice if you live in places that are a bit less liberal than, say, Palo Alto, CA). But all the while, the hybrid technology is working furiously behind the scenes to make sure that you use as little of that pricey petrol as possible.
Since the only difference between an Escape Hybrid and a regular Escape is the power train, the rest of the car is a standard Ford SUV (built Ford tough!). This is both good and bad. Good, in that Ford has been making SUV’s for a while and has sold more of them than anyone, and bad in that it’s still a Ford. The exterior of the car is well put-together, with solid, dent resistant sheet metal, durable paint, and bumpers made out of tough plastic. Several small run-ins with parking garage support poles and car doors have only resulted in a few hard to notice scratches. The doors close with a solid “thunk” and the keyless door locks, electric windows, and other accessories all work well.
Having said that, the Escape has already been in for warranty repair twice: once for a defective drive axel, and once for a blown rear shock. Although both of these were factory defects and were promptly repaired by the dealer, it did remind me that this is a Ford product, and wasn’t built by Honda or Toyota.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
Let me state up-front that I’ve never been too picky about the interior of a car (having owned two tiny Honda CRXs teaches you to make do with very little!). For the Escape Hybrid, this was a good thing, because the interior doesn’t really stand out in any way. My Escape came with the standard cloth seats, in a light gray color, and lots of matching gray plastic panels and more gray carpet. The controls are easy to reach and operate, and the seats are reasonably comfortable, although I’d rather be in any Lexus for a cross-country trip.
One of the reasons I bought the Escape was to make hauling my stuff around a lot easier, and it accomplishes that task reasonably well. The rear seats fold down to create a decent sized cargo area, although like most SUV’s, the floor is fairly high, so actual cargo capacity is less than a comparably sized minivan or wagon. For a compact SUV, the interior is quite spacious, especially for the front passengers. I’ve had several friends comment on the generous amount of leg and headroom.
Let me offer two qualifiers to the performance of this car. First, it’s designed to maximize fuel efficiency, not 0-60 sprints. Second, it’s a fairly tall, heavy, boxy SUV, not a sleek, low-slung sports coupe. Given these two considerations, I’ve been very happy with the performance of the Escape Hybrid. The beauty of electric motors is that they have a lot of torque, especially at low speeds (150 ft/lbs at 0 RPM). Jam on the throttle from a standing stop, and you can easily squeal the large Continental truck tires. Even at higher speeds, the electric motor provides a healthy amount of boost.
In addition to maximizing fuel economy, the continuously variable transmission also maximizes the power from the 130 horsepower, 2.3 liter gas engine by constantly adjusting the RPMs to fit the demands placed by the driver. If you’re just cruising at 65 mph on the freeway, the engine will be loafing along at 1500-2000 rpm, barely using any fuel. Stand on the throttle to pass a big rig, and the engine jumps to 6,000 RPMs to achieve maximum horsepower, while the CVT adjusts the gear ratios to accelerate the car. This is a bit disconcerting at first, since you don’t experience the rising engine RPMs and gearshifts of a normal car. But the net result is a surprising level of power for an SUV that gets higher combined gas mileage than must sub-compacts.
The only times I’ve felt that the performance was hampered occurred when the battery started to run low, at which point the gas motor is used to charge the battery, robbing some of the available power. This has only occurred when climbing lengthy grades in the mountains, and isn’t usually a problem, especially in everyday driving.
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