Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, CanadianDriver.com
Hybrid hype is flying high at my current place of employment, the Toronto production of the hit show Jersey Boys.
Many of the young cast members covet a hybrid vehicle. They want to be green. They want to be cool. They want to stick it to Big Oil. Bless their socks. They don’t really know what a hybrid vehicle is, or what it does, but they’re sure that with a little green hybrid badge they’ll drive around for free and butterflies will come out the tailpipe.
When I showed up in a 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid Limited 4WD, a twenty-something chap asked me what it was like.
“It has very good full hybrid powertrain, but you’re paying about an extra seven grand for it.”
“That’s okay.” He replied. “You’d make that back in no time.”
Uh, maybe if your commute took you to Timbuktu.
There is no question the Ford Escape Hybrid works as advertised. Over a week of mixed driving this top-line 4WD Escape returned 7.6 L/100 km, and it doesn’t suffer (much) from being a hybrid. Official figures are 6.6 L/100 km city and 7.3 L/100 km highway. The front-wheel-drive model does better: 5.8 city and 6.5 highway.
But no one will be (or should be) buying this boxy hybrid to save money. The Escape Hybrid starts at $32,409 for the FWD model, stretching to my Limited 4WD tester’s base of $42,299. Out of a total 36,980 Escapes sold in 2009, 1,143 Canadians sprung for the Escape Hybrid’s “feel good” premium. That’s less than three per cent.
The Ford Escape Hybrid goes down the road courtesy of a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder working with a traction motor/generator through a continuously variable transmission. All-wheel-drive models come with a third electric motor to power the rear wheels when additional acceleration or traction is needed.
New this year is electrically powered A/C, replacing the less efficient belt-driven system.
Toyota may be winning the gas/electric hybrid public awareness campaign, but Ford has the edge in drivability. As with the excellent Fusion Hybrid, “seamless” best describes the operation of this complex full hybrid powertrain. Transitions between gas and electric power are imperceptible, you barely notice the start/stop system, acceleration is more than adequate, and the regenerative braking (usually the bane of hybrid vehicles) is smooth and progressive.
Of course, for all the extra greenbacks you’ll be wanting the ultimate hybrid party trick of fully electric motoring, and here the Escape does not disappoint. Light throttle applications will have you humming through parking lots and down side streets, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much the Escape Hybrid will operate on battery power once up to speed in urban settings. Officially 60 km/h but I saw 70 km/h on a few occasions.
There are some drawbacks. The batteries and hybrid bits add about 136 kg to the vehicle, which has an adverse effect on handling. There’s no “sport” in this sport utility vehicle. The Escape Hybrid lists and understeers at the mere sight of a swift bend, and the lifeless steering only adds to its non-athletic nature.
As is the case with most CVT (continuously variable transmission) equipped vehicles, you get some engine drone when you mat the pedal, but at least the result is some decent acceleration. In a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, meek thrust is accompanied by the painful moaning of a stuck yak.
Having been with us since 2001, the Ford Escape is the senior (if still sprightly) citizen in this hotly-contested compact SUV segment. Upgrades have kept the interior fresh, and the light coloured cabin of this tester featured nice quality materials and tight tolerances.
The base hybrid comes well equipped with 16-inch alloys, dual zone auto climate control, auto-dimming mirror, a hybrid-exclusive110-volt outlet on the console, power driver’s seat, Ford’s clever SYNC voice-activated communications and entertainment system, a new integrated blind-spot mirror, cruise and a multi-function leather wrapped steering wheel.
Even your tush can feel eco-savvy in the base Hybrid, resting as it does on seats stuffed with soy-based foam cushions and trimmed in fabric made from recylced plastics and polyester fibres.
New this year is standard MyKey wherein parents can keep a check on their testosterone-drunk teens with a 130 km/h top speed, undefeatable traction control, limited audio volume and three speed alert chimes.
The Limited adds rear-view camera and park assist, exterior chrome accents, sunroof, leather, heated front seats, multi-colour ambient lighting and piano-black interior trim. Automotive bean counters must love this stuff, but there will come a time when cars buyers slap themselves on the forehead and yell, “Hey! Instead of wood, aluminum, or carbon fibre, they gave me crappy shiny black plastic!”
My tester also featured navigation ($2,300) and Auto Park System ($450) that cleverly scans for a parallel parking spot and does all the steering while you work the pedals.
While the Escape’s upright body architecture is in contrast to such rivals as the swoopy Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rogue, it pays dividends when one is perched in the seats. The beltline is low, the greenhouse is high, and in the great Land Rover tradition, outward visibility is excellent with all four corners of the vehicle in view.
In the big picture, the Ford Escape Hybrid is a pricey niche-vehicle that doesn’t really hold up if scrutinized with a pragmatic eye. The all-new Chevy Equinox is a better drive and returns an impressive 9.2 L/100 km city and 6.1 hwy with front-wheel-drive – starting from $25,995. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder gas Escape XLT FWD with automatic is rated at 10.0 city and 7.1 highway and bows at $23,708. For my money, I’d get the VW Golf TDI Wagon (starts $26,875) – similar cargo capacity, better fuel economy, premium build, fast and infinitely more enjoyable to drive. Best car in our world, if you ask me.
But if you wish ride the wave of hybrid-hype, the Ford Escape Hybrid is a fine choice. I will confess, it feels good to hum by your local gas station with nothing but butterflies in your wake.
Pricing: 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid Limited 4WD
Base price: $42,299
Options: $2,750 (Navigation/single disc radio $2300, Auto Park System $450)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $46,549
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)