Great Escape

Posted on 13 Sep 2007 at 6:50pm
By Casey Williams Auto Reviewer

With a more efficient gas-electric system, bolder styling and a comfy enviroconscious interior, Ford re-energizes their SUV Hybrid



GREEN MACHINE: The new Escape Hybrid not only looks good and drives well, it also has all the amenities of a midsize SUV without the midsize SUV gas bills.

Hybrids have become synonymous with saving the environment. They sip gasoline, use electricity to help the old lump of fossil fuel-burning engine, and they’re about as 21st Century a car as you can get.

Most of them, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, look pretty cool. So you might find it strange that Ford would find its baby SUV the best place to enter the hybrid fray. Then again, not so strange. It gets better for 2008.

Similar to a Toyota Prius, the Escape Hybrid is a “full hybrid,” meaning it automatically switches between full gasoline power, full electric power or a combination of both, depending driver needs. The engine and generators in the braking system charge the batteries, so the Escape never has to be plugged in.

A 2.3-litre 4-cylinder engine makes up the gasoline-burning half while batteries and a 70-K-watt motor store and move electricity. The system produces a combined 155 horsepower and performance similar to a V6-powered Escape, but with 80 percent better fuel economy in town.

Fuel economy for front-wheel-drive models is 34/30 miles per gallon city/highway. All-wheel-drive versions get 29/27 mpg city/hwy. Unlike gasoline-powered cars, city mileage is usually higher for hybrids because they can creep through traffic on electricity alone. And Escape Hybrids can go up to 25 mph on pure electricity.

Escape Hybrids save the environment in other ways as well. Cloth seats are made from recycled post-industrial waste, which is expected to conserve 600,000 gallons of water, 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents. The clean-burning gasoline engine qualifies for the government’s Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle and Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle standards to minimize pollution.

Even without its high-tech powertrain, the redesigned Escape is stylish and practical. Based on a car chassis with a sport-tuned independent suspension, the Escape is actually a crossover. Its short wheelbase and tall body make parking easy while still enclosing plenty of space for four passengers and their gear. With the rear seats folded, bicycles and home supplies fit with ease.

Since its launch, the Escape has been the best-selling compact SUV in America. For 2008, it’s more stylish with a bold chrome grille, domed hood, beefy bumpers, strong wheel arches and redesigned head- and tail-lamps. It looks tougher from all angles. Special badges identify Hybrid models.

Interior upgrades were also dramatic. The center control area features a new display screen at the top of the dash for the climate control readouts, exterior temperature gauge, and radio settings. Silver paint gives it a high tech ambience. All interior panels are reshaped and accent the new analog gauges with ice blue lighting.

Our test vehicle also had in-dash navigation, Ford’s Audiophile sound system with six-disc changer, redundant radio controls on the steering wheel, leather seats, power sunroof, Sirius Satellite Radio and a 110-volt AC power outlet for laptops and other electronics. A touch-screen monitor in the dash lets you see how energy is being generated or spent. Safety is enhanced by side curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitor.

As with other Escape models, the Hybrid was noticeably quieter and more refined on the highway. Where before it felt somewhat cheap and chattery, the ’08 model seems much more upscale and “grown up.” Bumps are hardly felt or heard. You certainly won’t feel like you bought an entry-level SUV.

Prices start at $25,265 for front-wheel-drive models, and $27,015 for all-wheel-drive, but came to $31,335 with virtually every option installed. Competitors include the Saturn VUE Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid and similar Mercury Mariner Hybrid.

E-mail: CRWAuto@aol.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2007

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