2010 Ford Escape Hybrid
I'm generally a fan of small SUVs -- like the Ford Escape and numerous others -- that have enough ground clearance to handle most Michigan snowfalls, enough people-and-cargo space for a long weekend trip or a big shopping hoist, and enough substance to tow a smallish trailer. The problem with such vehicles is that they're usually poor on gas compared with traditional mid-size sedans (which many of the cute-utes are based on).
Enter the Ford Escape Hybrid. Where else can you get an EPA-rated 30 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway in a four-wheel-drive SUV for just over $30K? Sure, if you want more prestige, the Lexus RX350h is rated at a 30/28 mpg, but you'll pay about ten grand. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid, on the other hand, gets a lower mileage rating of 27/25 mpg. The Saturn VUE Hybrid models aren't quite as efficient as the Escape, either...
How much does the hybridness help Ford's little ute earn its 30/27 mpg rating? The four-wheel-drive Escape with the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder but no electric-drive assistance is rated at 20/26 mpg. You'll pay dearly, of course: the base price for the Escape Hybrid is some $11,000 (!) more than that of the base Escape (although the Hybrid does get some extra goodies, such as Sync, as standard equipment).
This hybrid system seems to work quite well on the road, with smooth transitions and an eagerness to run in EV mode (gasoline engine off). I found the brakes to be somewhat grabby, though, and I feel as though the system in the newer Ford Fusion Hybrid runs even more smoothly. Also, the Escape's CVT causes some engine drone, which can be distracting. Still, the Escape can be amusing to hustle through corners, largely because its limits are so low.
The basic Escape looks good after its face-lift from a couple years back, but this more stylish interior sure fills with lots of wind noise when you're driving on the highway. There is, however, a significant amount of fun information available on color touch screen, including hybrid status, your efficiency performance, and satellite radio, along with navigation and Sync.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Honestly, I was disappointed by this Escape's 30 city/27 highway fuel economy rating. Compared to the front-wheel drive Escape Hybrid, this four-wheel drive vehicle takes a 4-mpg hit in both city and highway driving. What gives? Most vehicles today deal only a 1- or 2-mpg subtraction for the addition of all-wheel drive. With the price hike and substantial fuel economy hit, I would personally rather live with the front-wheel drive Escape Hybrid.
With EPA 34 mpg city and 31 highway, that front-wheel drive Escape Hybrid certainly stands out with phenomenal fuel economy. The hybrid powertrain provides seamless transitions between electric and gasoline modes and respectable acceleration when you want it. The continuously variable transmission will likely be the most noticeable change for drivers coming from conventional automatics. Particularly in this Escape Hybrid, the CVT provokes the engine to moan quite loudly during part-throttle acceleration when the revs are in the 2000 to 3000 rpm range.
Visibility is excellent and the ride height is good for peering over traffic. Rear seat room, however, isn't quite as cavernous as a Chevrolet Equinox, and Ford's simple interior styling doesn't have the panache of the Chevy. I was also frustrated by rear seats that don't fold flat unless you first move the seat bottom cushions. Furthermore, the gigantic rear headrests also mean you'll likely have to remove them prior to folding the seats. A little Honda Fit ingenuity would be much appreciated here.
There are plenty of things I'd love to see corrected with this Ford Escape Hybrid, but in all it provides a comfortable atmosphere and impressive technology. Of course, what I'd really like to see is the latest generation hybrid hardware and software pulled over from the Fusion Hybrid mid-size sedan. That technology seems more much willing to run in pure electric mode when pulling away from a stop, and especially when rolling down a city street at speed. With the Fusion Hybrid rated at 41/36 mpg, I'm sure Ford could get the Escape to push 37 mpg in the city and grab a couple more mpg on the highway.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
One of the most frequently cited justifications for purchasing a small crossover is to transport the family's canine(s). That doesn't jive with my personal experience because the pets that allow me to share their home prefer the easier climb aboard and more cozy seating provided by just about any coupe or sedan. So instead of shelling out more than $30,000 to drive a 30+mpg Escape Hybrid, I'd lean strongly in favor of a low-end Fusion that costs about ten grand less, comes close in mileage, and easily matches the Escape's 1000-pound tow capability. And for those who've gotta have a hybrid, my recommendation is the highly competent gas-electric Fusion. It's comparable in base price to the Escape Hybrid but delivers a few more miles per gallon. When my thoughts drift in the truck direction -- a rare occurrence I must add -- what appears in my mind's eye is a well used, low-built, park-out-doors pickup. A few years ago, I owned such a machine. But now that gas costs $2.50 per gallon, neither my dog nor I miss having such a beast of burden occupying the driveway.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
2010 Ford Escape Hybrid
Base price (with destination): $34,735
Price as tested: $37,525
Dual-zone electronic auto climate control
SYNC voice activated system
Electric power steering
ESP with roll stability control
Side curtain airbags
Heated front seats
Heated power side mirrors
Rear view camera
Rear parking sensors
Options on this vehicle:
Voice activated navigation - $2395
Auto park system - $395
30 / 27 / 29 mpg
Size: 2.5L four-cylinder hybrid
Horsepower: 191 net hp engine/electric motor
Torque: 136 net lb-ft engine/electric motor
17 in. aluminum wheels
225/50R-17 all season tires