2008 Ford Escape Hybrid Review – The 34 MPG SUV

Expert Reviews Ford hybrid

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

By Kurt Gensheimer


  • Most fuel efficient SUV on the planet
  • Cavernous interior
  • More masculine exterior appearance
  • Easy-to-use Nav system


  • Brake pedal like stepping on a wet Nerf ball
  • No traction control and downgraded NHTSA safety score
  • Limited A/C function in electric drive mode
  • No audio controls on steering wheel

Ruling: Unless you’re a devoted city dweller, being ‘green’ isn’t worth the added heft and expense.

On Ford’s website for the new 2008 Escape SUV, they boldly advertise “The End of Boredom is Here.” And if it’s true, it certainly isn’t to the credit of the redesigned 2008 Escape Hybrid. Purchasing the Escape Hybrid definitely won’t cure your boredom, but if you’ve got a case of nagging regret for not being more green, then maybe, just maybe, the Escape Hybrid is for you. Yes, Ford’s claim of the Escape Hybrid being ‘the most fuel efficient SUV on the planet’ is valid, but unfortunately, it’s one of the few merits we can find in justifying the purchase of one. Like making a donation to a smooth-talking evangelist, absolving your guilt of not being more green will come at a handsome price; and it’s more than just a financial one.

Now don’t misunderstand, we don’t hate the Escape. It would be foolish to write off a vehicle that has sold over a million units since it’s introduction at the beginning of the millennium. Obviously it’s popular with the American public for being an economical alternative to bigger, bulkier SUVs. In addition, the hybrid drivetrain is an innovative idea. At a minimum, it’s a gateway for helping create automobiles powered by alternative energy sources. So then what could be better than adding a ‘green’, innovative drivetrain to a platform as successful as the Escape, right? Seems like a no-brainer, to use the parlance of our times. But sometimes – like in the case of the Ford Escape Hybrid – the sum of its parts is greater than the whole.

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

Driving Impressions

The absolute first problem we noticed when driving the Escape Hybrid was not necessarily it’s cacaphony of hums, buzzes and wheezes, the irksome CVT (constantly variable transmission) or its dopey, top-heavy handling. Those items were something we managed to cope with. But what we couldn’t warm up to was the Escape’s horrendous brake pedal feel. Unlike hybrids from other manufacturers who manage to make regenerative brakes feel almost identical to conventional brakes, the Escape Hybrid has a quality which can only be described as stepping on a wet Nerf ball. It’s as flaccid as Alfred E. Newman at Muscle Beach. Easily the worst brake pedal feel in recent memory.

2.3L Atkinson Cycle engine and electric motor

The 2.3 liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors have a total system output of 155 horsepower and 152 lb/ft of torque, which for a vehicle that weighs 300 pounds more than its 3500 pound non-hybrid siblings, makes for sluggish performance. If you’ve never driven one before, a CVT is a transmission that has but one gear which is ‘constantly variable’ in its operation; revving this way and that to match the power potential of the engine. It’s awkward at first and takes a little getting used to. It feels like driving an automatic transmission that’s low on ATF, refusing to upshift. But once you’re acclimated, the CVT helps overcome the Escape’s general sluggishness by matching engine revs to peak torque, giving the Escape more than adequate lane change and highway acceleration.

But for most people interested in the Escape Hybrid, the fuel economy numbers are what really shine. For FWD models, 34 MPG city and 30 MPG highway are quite impressive, as are the AWD numbers of 29 and 27. Under light acceleration below 25 MPH, the Escape is all electric, and although the transition between volts and gasoline isn’t glassy smooth, its acceptable.


Like some other Ford SUV/CUV models, the new Escape is mixed in its build quality. On the freeway, the Escape’s cabin is quiet enough to meditate in, a testament to the quality efforts of Ford engineers. Although tippy and loose in handling, in straight line freeway driving, the Escape has reassuring presence. But since it’s redesign, the Escape has taken a hit – literally and figuratively – in its safety record, which is one of the bigger problems with this vehicle.

Because Ford engineers were not able to figure out how to make the traction control system work with the hybrid drive, there is no traction control available. And although it still comes standard with safety features like antilock brakes, front airbags and full-length head curtain bags, the Escape’s NHTSA safety record has actually suffered. Passenger safety is at least up to 5 stars from 4 in 2007, but it comes at a cost to the person behind the wheel. Driver safety is down to 3 stars from 4 in 2007, performance that many safety experts consider unacceptable.

Ford Escape Hybrid - front cockpit area

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