2020 Ford Escape Hybrid First Drive: The Sweet Spot

The gas-electric model just may be the one to get.

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky—The Ford Escape was the first Ford—and the first crossover SUV for that matter—available with a hybrid powertrain, but it was eventually discontinued. Now, some seven years later, the company is finally ready to give it a go again with the new hybrid version of the 2020 Escape, a variant set to reap the benefits of advancements in Ford's electrified engineering.

Although the Escape hybrid's more conventional siblings that also we drove at the same event in Louisville are relatively quiet vehicles for their class, the hybrid offers next-level refinement. We noticed it from the moment we hopped into a 2020 Escape hybrid Titanium (it's also available in SE Sport trim) and silently motored away from our hotel.

As we made our way on our route and down a gorgeous, tree-lined path, we hit the accelerator pedal and the surprisingly refined 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle inline-four kicked in. Ford cites a net output of 200 horsepower from the hybrid system overall; 163 horses and 152 lb-ft of torque are credited to the engine. Mat the throttle off the line, and the powertrain has enough juice to get ahead of slow-to-respond traffic, although it won't be able to take down stoplight warriors. But the engine has an oddly cool note to it, and without much in the way of oomph, acceleration is all smooth and no torquesteer in front-drive models like the one we were driving. (On-demand all-wheel drive is also available.)

The Escape hybrid's 1.1-kWh, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack is positioned so that it doesn't intrude on cabin space. Ford says the hybrid can motor on electricity alone at speeds of up to 85 mph, but it wasn't prepared to provide a range figure; you can assume it isn't much. Those interested in longer EV-only drives will need to wait until the plug-in-hybrid Escape becomes available early next year; it's claimed to deliver in the neighborhood of 30 miles of electric range per charge.

Integrated with the hybrid system is Ford's new electronic continuously variable transmission, and it does a fine job of keeping the engine in its powerband without causing it to drone, as was the case with so many CVTs in the past. Ford's had four generations to refine its hybrid system, and all that time and effort has clearly paid off. The 2020 Escape hybrid's powertrain impressed us with its sophistication and refined application.

The brake feel was as stiff as the other new Escapes we tested, but it doesn't have any of the mushy regenerative character of some earlier generation hybrids we've driven. In another nod to the gamification of, well, everything, Ford included a fun readout that tells the driver how much power they've recaptured as the car slows down. Overall system efficiency is rather impressive; while instant fuel-economy data is often optimistic, we saw readings of close to 40 mpg during the course of our drive, and that was with three passengers plus luggage aboard. In addition to that load, the 2020 Escape Hybrid can also tow 1,500 pounds, enough to haul a Jet Ski or similarly hefty object. Although official EPA estimates have yet to be announced, Ford claims that the Escape hybrid has an overall range of more 400 miles with all-wheel drive and as much as 550 miles in front-drive guise.

We noted in our review of the gas-only Escape models a bit of an issue with the steering, which felt particularly balky and unpredictable. After some investigation and driving the hybrid, we believe Ford's attentive but intrusive lane-centering system may have been the culprit. The system, which turns out was defaulted to on during our drive, is a more advanced iteration of typical lane-departure mitigation in that it actively works to keep you centered in your lane. Given that you're fighting against an invisible, electronic force, this will affect the steering behavior. Unless you turn it off, which we'd recommend.

In general, the 2020 Ford Escape hybrid drives and rides nearly identically to the other offerings in the lineup, which is largely a compliment. The quality of Kentucky's country roads can fluctuate from incredibly smooth to horribly pockmarked, and the Escape never felt nervous or particularly out of sorts. It's quiet enough over the rough stuff, too, thanks to Ford's work to keep NVH intrusions to a minimum. The suspension components and calibrations remain the same between all Escape variants, and overall body control is excellent.

The hybrid's interior trim remains consistent with the rest of the Ford Escape lineup, too, which is to say it's an odd mishmash of semi-premium and downmarket materials. The available B&O sound system, however, is outstanding. Higher-trim versions like the Titanium get a speaker on the dashboard, and, thus equipped, the sonic landscape is noticeably more vivid. We'd suggest stepping up to more premium tiers of the Escape for the sound system alone.

While the 2020 Ford Escape hybrid starts at just $29,450, our more heavily equipped example rang up at $36,590. While it remains as one of the few hybrid offerings in the compact crossover SUV segment, the competition is no less than the Toyota RAV4 hybrid and the freshly announced Honda CR-V hybrid. While we have yet to sample the CR-V, it's clear Ford's Euro-influenced styling will allow it to stand somewhat apart. While the gas-only Escapes didn't quite scratch our itch, the better execution, increased refinement, and holistic execution of the hybrid would seem to make it the sweet spot for Ford buyers in this segment.

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid Titanium FWD Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $29,450/$36,590 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve inline-4; 163 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 152 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
MOTOR Permanent magnet, 1x
COMBINED OUTPUT 200 hp
BATTERY 1.1-kWh Li-Ion
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 40/39 mpg (city/hwy) (FWD, est)
L x W x H 180.5 x 74.1 x 68.6 in
WHEELBASE 106.7 in
WEIGHT 3,884 lb
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED N/A
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