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2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

It’s Not Easy Being Green!

     The 2008 Ford Escape is like a breath of fresh air in a Ford lineup that has grown stale and boring. I dare say the Toyota Camry is more exciting than either the identity-crisised Taurus or razor bladed Fusion. Excluding the Mustang and its many special editions the bread and butter of Ford’s lineup is…well…bland.
     The previous generation Escape used to draw the same descriptors, but the ’08 and its squared-off styling comes off as substantial and possibly even upscale. The basic structure is carryover and the glass and roof are untouched, but all sheetmetal and the bumpers have been restyled. Gone are the busy body lines with the exception of a single crease running the length of the vehicle just below the beltline. Wheel arches are flared aggressively wrapping the 16-inch wheels and tires (wheels are carryover as well). New head and taillamp treatments actually incorporate a look beyond basic lighting elements. Though for a Hybrid, LED taillamps and running lamps would have been more fitting and energy frugal. The new Escape actually looks handsome and tough at the same time, and much of the visual weight has been lost by forgoing the acre of plastic cladding.
     Someone is finally earning their keep inside the Blue Oval design studios, because this interior is beyond the “just good enough” approach Ford seems to have employed the last few years. Lackluster attention to details has often plagued Ford interiors as far as we are concerned. The last-gen Escape’s sharp parting lines on the door handle pulls, the chintzy feeling of the shifter, the broad and boring steering wheel, the zero imagination white-faced gauges, and the laughable nav system are all thankfully gone.
     The interior materials and trim actually look as though they were intended to fit together; hence seam lines are much tighter. While little inside is actually soft touch it is aesthetically pleasing and more inline with the caliber and price tag of the vehicle. And you’ll never believe it but Ford actually designed new HVAC controls! Whoo hoo! But before you get all excited notice that the HVAC display is actually on top of the dash; a long ways from the controls. Making temperature adjustments is now a multi-step process of looking up, looking down, looking up, and looking down to see what you did. But, hey, it’s a start. The steering wheel and shifter are big steps forward and the gauges are actually pleasing to look at. The navigation system is very intuitive and incorporates the hybrid energy management displays. We’ve been fond of Ford’s nav systems for some time now and this is no exception with good use of ancillary buttons and touch screen capability with a neat built in calendar function. An auxiliary input jack is located low on the center stack for iPod use and keeps dangling wires to a minimum. Take note also of the 110V outlet that comes with the hybrid premium package. We probably would have located it somewhere not so close to the shifter, but it does come in handy for powering laptops and battery chargers in the oft case the photog forgets to charge the camera batteries.
     Whirring along in all-electric mode is as amusing as ever. The only audible suggestion the vehicle is even powered is a high pitch whine that kind of drones through the cabin. It’s a bit annoying, but not altogether unpleasant. Once I’d squeezed every last watt of electric power out of the batteries the computer would switch the gas engine back on. The switchover itself is smooth, but the engine is anything but. It is a 2.3-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine. A 133-hp power plant that is just adequate. Together the electric motor and gas engine produce 155 hp. As one might imagine that means less than stellar acceleration. The electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) does help matters, keeping the engine in the power band, but it doesn’t suggest that by its operation. The engine revs up, stays there a minute, and then falls back to cruising speed once the vehicle has reached the desired velocity. It is an altogether boring (and raspy) procedure which pings low on the enthusiast radar. As does the electric power steering, which has about as much feedback as an early 90’s video game.
     It is fun to be efficient, however, which is something that will not be stated often from this editor. It helps to turn driving Ford’s hybrid into a game where I see just how far and how fast I can go on nothing but electric power. And what I got was the toughest lesson on patience I’ve ever had. You can get to 35 mph on just electric, but you have to wait for it.
     This new Escape is brilliant, but not flawless. The brake pedal effort is ridiculously stiff due to the regenerative braking, no doubt. Oh, and get an NVH team on this thing quick because she is anything but a smooth running and sounding machine. It wouldn’t be so noticeable in say the new Ford Edge, where literally all noise has been filtered out of the cabin. But that is another story for another time.
     All said and done at the end of the week I got 31.4 mpg rolling all 3,638-lbs of my lumbering SUV down 600-plus miles of tarmac. This is not a cutesy jelly-bean shaped crossover, it is a real SUV. And that is what I liked about it. It is a practical and capable SUV with room for five and their luggage. As she sits our Escape Hybrid’s window sticker reads $31,010. With the upgraded appearance and interior appointments it is easier to justify than the previous gen was, but that is still a steep asking price for any compact SUV.

The Good:
Super fuel mileage (for an SUV), extensive vehicle refinements.
The Bad:
NVH issues, weak gas engine, vague steering.
The Verdict:
A hybrid with functionality beyond basic transportation.
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  1. June 9th, 2010 at 02:04 | #1

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  1. March 29th, 2010 at 08:12 | #1
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