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2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

Science Meets Sheetmetal

     “Is that the thing that runs on water?”
     “Pardon me?” I exclaim, with a half confused, half grimaced look on my face; yet another classic example of mainstream media leading to public confusion. Current events mix with auto tech about as well as the weather and sports. Sure, you still get the score, but what does the dewpoint have to do with the bases being loaded? Not much. But with fuel prices looming in the stratosphere, even the cameraman has something to say about gas savings. So without further ado, lets dive into the meat and potatoes of this FrankenUte (and no this isn’t a culinary review either)!
     According to Webster, a hybrid is an offspring of two different races; in this case, combustion meets GE. Ford has taken a 2.3-liter four cylinder with Atkinson cycle combustion and mated it with a 65-kW electronic traction motor to create the propulsion system for this engineering wonder. Separately, the gas engine produces 133 horsepower while the electric motor emits about 87. Ford claims that when used together the duo produces 155 horsepower, not sure who was adding those numbers, but evidently there is parasitic loss somewhere. A smaller 28-kW generator motor is used for recharging the batteries. An electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT) determines gearing ratios, a tranny not found in the standard Escape lineup. To further augment efficiency, our tester was equipped with the standard front-wheel drive setup, but four-wheel drive is available with the hybrid as well.
     Starting up the Hybrid is as simple as any normal SUV. The engine fires each time you twist the key, so as to warm fluids up to operating temperature. Once underway, however, road conditions and power utilization dictates which power source to use when. If your motoring through town and hitting stop lights along the way, the engine will take a breather and let the electric motor handle things using power stored in the 330V Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack under the rear cargo mat. Regenerative braking is the primary source of recharge energy, utilizing what would otherwise be lost as friction heat. When braking alone doesn’t recoup enough energy, the engine will kick in using the smaller motor in reverse like a generator. Like any other hybrid, the Escape is most efficient in the city where the brakes are used most often. However, as Editor Dye found out, even over long highway miles where the gas engine is the primary source of propulsion the Escape was capable of delivering 30 mpg. When extra power is needed for passing or quick acceleration, both the battery and engine are sourced to deliver V6-like performance. Driving the Hybrid is for the most part like driving any other Escape. The powertrain feels a bit smoother, with a bit of a disconnected feeling–being that most of it is electronic. The engine sounds a little coarse at times, depending on where the revs fall, but the eCVT is much smoother and graceful at its work than the CVTs found in the Five Hundred or Freestyle. Driving with the engine turned off takes a few minutes to get used to, especially when all you hear is road noise and the fan cooling the battery pack. Seeing the rpm gauge fixed on 0 while doing 25 mph is pretty cool as well.
     Appearance wise, very little actually distinguishes our Escape Hybrid from that of its less efficient brethren. Apart from the Hybrid badges adorning the flanks of the sheetmetal, silver lower accents and unique 5-spoke wheels are all that set the gas/electric’s apart from the petroleum burners. Our green (as in environmentally safe) Escape came in an environmentally friendly Titanium Green finish (as in paint). The interior remains as cheap as ever. All of the same gripes we had about the last non-hybrid Escape we tested still exist. Hard plastics, hard armrests, cheap feeling touch points and acres of more hard plastic top the list. Added safety features including side airbags and head side curtains did find their way onto the options list and were checked for our vehicle. Also checked was the Hybrid Energy display monitor with Navigation system. While being a cool feature, you gain very little for the $1800 you pay out. The screen displays where the power is coming from and going to, but there is little useable information from this. The screen is small and the Navigation system requires the use of a CD, thus you can’t listen to the Stones and find directions at the same time.
     So what is the real benefit of owning a hybrid SUV? Well, for starters, you won’t have to borrow your neighbor’s F-350 every time you want to pick up more than one bag of mulch from the local greenhouse, just because you want a commuter car that is easy on your wallet at the fuel pump. That, and it is a bit amusing to silently roll up to a stoplight next to a guy in his Civic with the windows down and a Sierra Club bumper sticker on a hot sunny day while you’re running on electric power, have the kids in the back seat eating ice cream, listening to SmileFM and have the A/C on.
     Unfortunately, there is always a downside. Technology comes at a cost. In the case of the Escape, a similarly equipped non-hybrid model will save you about $2,000 in initial cost. If you crunch the math, at 12,000 traveled miles a year using 22mpg for the non hybrid and 33mpg for the hybrid, at $2.20 per gallon of gas, it will take five years to see the benefit of that extra dough spent upfront. However, if you plan to put more than 60,000 miles on your vehicle in 2 years or less, than you have a business case. As well as being that much easier on the environment. All those extra components add weight as well, with our front-wheel drive tester tipping the scales at 3,620 lbs; or just under 200 lbs more than the fully loaded Limited 4×4 Escape that we tested a year ago. Fortunately, the Hybrid carries its weight well, distributing the load by placing the battery pack at the rear of the vehicle.
     In retrospect, Ford has built an all around very practical, efficient SUV. The hybrid system works seamlessly and will surely lengthen the time between fuel stops. Ford claims a 400 mile range on a tank of gas, while we didn’t achieve this number, it isn’t out of the question considering our feet are heavier than most and our trips were long with the A/C cranked up (which we found to be just a bit weak by the way). Last time we reviewed an Escape we found it hard to justify the near $30 grand sticker price. With the Hybrid powertrain however, this unique piece of technology makes the sticker more attractive. Our front-wheel drive model listed out at $30,825, so if you can live without 4-wheel drive and you dump the Nav screen option, it is possible to drive a nicely equipped Hybrid Escape home for about $29 large. Not bad, all things considered. And no, I don’t know who will win the playoffs, but I can tell you that you don’t have to plug it in at night!

The Good:
High-tech powertrain, much welcomed fuel savings.
The Bad:
Still a cheaply furnished interior, higher initial cost.
The Verdict:
With all the high-tech, fuel saving gadgetry, it’s easier to forgive a cheap door pull and a hard armrest.


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