By Casey Williams Auto Reviewer

Check the new Focus and the re-tooled Escape Hybrid

REAL CAR. REAL POWER. REALLY ROOMY: The 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid also gets compact-car fuel economy.

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

I love small European cars especially their efficiency. But I’m also an American, who loves driving comfortable and practical SUVs.

Ford understands this dichotomy. And they developed an efficient hybrid of its popular Escape Hybrid. It was redesigned for 2008.

As expected with a hybrid, the Escape achieves decent fuel efficiency: 36/31-MPG city/highway. It’s better in the city because it can run on 100 percent battery power at speeds up to about 25 mph. When the batteries run low or when greater speeds and power are required the Escape runs with a 2.3-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission. A combined 155 horsepower and tons of torque from the electric system allows the Escape Hybrid to accelerate as quickly as V6-powered Escapes. But with in-city fuel economy that is 75 percent better. All-wheel-drive is optional.

The look is bold, modern and clean: Up front, the redesigned Escape is highlighted with a large chrome grille, upswept clear lens headlamps, raised chiseled hood, high windowline and detailed wrap-around taillamps.

A blacked out B-pillar, integrated running boards and 17-inch wheels put some sport into this utility vehicle.

Inside, the dashboard was redesigned to echo Ford’s full-size SUVs and is available with automatic climate control, in-dash navigation and an MP3/iPod audio system. Center console storage is ample enough for a laptop computer and provides space for 32-oz McCups. Escape is an entry level SUV, but there is nothing entry level about its interior.

Nor is there anything entry-level about the way it drives.

Engineers made the engine start-up much more seamless than last year’s model so drivers will hardly notice whether the Escape is burning electricity, gasoline or both. You could really call the Escape a crossover because it rides on a car-based four-wheel independent suspension system without a full frame underneath. According to Ford, the Escape is 12 percent quieter on the highway. I didn’t measure cabin sound levels, but it is very quiet for a compact SUV.

There are already more hybrid choices than colors of M & Ms.

If you want even more luxury and upscale style, check out the similar Mercury Mariner Hybrid. It’s easier than ever to be green. With base prices starting at $25,075, competitors include the Saturn VUE Green Line (hybrid) and Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

stepped-up DESIGN: The new Focus should keep loyal buyers coming back.

2008 Ford Focus

You can tell the new Focus by its chrome grille, raised side profile, sleeker windowlines, front fender vents and less edgy body panels.

The third brake lamp is integrated into the trunk-lid. A thin spoiler gives the car a touch of sport. Interior panels were softened and updated with a more contemporary style.

Via a dash-mounted switch, LED lights inside the cupholders and footwells can bathe the interior in seven colors including red, orange, blue, indigo, violet, green and yellow. It’s a small (and optional) detail that links the Focus to the sporty Mustang. Side curtain airbags protect all outboard passengers.

Owners can access their Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and address book with the touch of a button on the steering wheel, then by voice commands. Drivers can also have text messages read aloud and respond either by voice or with pre-set responses.

iPods can be plugged in and commanded by you guessed it voice. A USB port allows easy transfer of music. These systems are becoming commonplace in high-end models, but getting them in a sub-$20,000 compact car is amazing.

Powering all of this technology and style is a 136 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine connected to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is rated 27/37-MPG city/highway. Quick steering, a tight suspension system, and spirited acceleration provide at least a little excitement on the road.

Deliveries begin this summer with prices starting around $16,000.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007. siteнастройка рекламы гугл эдвордс