Ford may not have been first to market with a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle, but it was first with a full-hybrid SUV. The 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid is also the first American-made hybrid. Launched two years ago, the Escape Hybrid-also the first full hybrid offering four-wheel drive-was named North American Truck of the year by an impartial jury of journalists at Detroit’s 2005 North American International Auto Show.
The highly-praised Escape Hybrid compact SUV is a “full” hybrid, meaning it can run on its electric motor only below 25 mph, its gasoline engine only at higher speeds, or the most efficient combination of both, as determined by its sophisticated hybrid system controller. Because it is most efficient at low speeds and in stop-and-go driving, the standard FWD Hybrid rates an impressive 36 EPA city mpg vs. 20 mpg for the V-6 Escape. Ford says it can deliver as much as 55 percent better fuel economy under those conditions, as well as up to 500 miles of range from a tank of gas in around-town driving. Also extremely clean, it meets Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV II) and in California and states adopting California standards it meets Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards.
This remarkable full-hybrid powertrain is a happy marriage of six key components: An efficient 133-hp 2.3-liter Atkinson cycle I-4 engine; a 70-kilowatt electric motor; an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) that receives power from the engine and electric motor and routes it to the drive wheels; a second motor/generator for starting the engine, recharging the batteries and helping to seamlessly blend the two power sources; a 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack; an electronic vehicle controller that monitors system inputs, conditions and demands and manages all vehicle drive, engine starting and battery charging functions.
The 2.3-liter I4 provides a total peak output of 155 hp and 0-60 mph acceleration equivalent to that of the 200-hp Escape V-6, mostly because the electric motor supplements the gas engine with an instantaneous torque boost at low rpm.
Inside and Out
The Escape Hybrid looks like the gas-powered model-a good thing since Escape is America’s best-selling compact SUV. Sharp eyes will notice its (Ford environmental) road and leaf badges and a discreet battery-cooling vent in the driver’s-side rear quarter window.
Inside is a unique gauge package that includes an economy indicator with a “green zone” that shows when the vehicle is operating on battery power. A separate display shows charge level and assist for the battery pack. The optional navigation system brings with it a premium Audiophile stereo, an energy flow diagram that displays hybrid system operation and a fuel economy display of instant and average mpg.
As in all ’07 Escapes, there’s seating for five with a 60/40 split rear seat and over 62 cu. ft. of cargo capacity with the rear seatbacks folded flat. Because the sizeable battery pack is efficiently packaged as the rear load floor, cargo space behind the rear bench is a respectable 27.6 cu. ft., only 1.7 cu. ft. less than standard Escapes.
If you’ve driven the other Escape, you won’t notice much difference during normal driving. You will note that the engine shuts down on deceleration, stays down at rest, then restarts when you lift off the brake, and that the eCVT transmission seeks the engine’s most efficient speed, which pushes rpm ahead of vehicle speed during hard acceleration and sometimes uphill. The controller switches the drive motor to generator duty for battery charging during braking (“regenerative” braking), and you won’t feel much braking effect from the (shut down) engine while coasting.
Acceleration is about as strong as the V-6, at least to 50 mph or so. The electric power steering provides light effort at parking speeds and crisp feel and response as speeds increase. Handling is agile for a small SUV and little different from non-hybrid Escapes. Braking is normal except for some (hybrid-typical) low-speed non-linearity as regenerative braking phases in and out. The optional “intelligent” 4WD is completely transparent until you need it, if the front wheels lose traction. The capable hybrid will do everything the gas model does apart from match the V6’s 3,500-lb. towing capacity.
Features and Options
New paint colors for 2007 are Dune Pearl Clearcoat Metallic, Tungston Grey Clearcoat Metallic and Vista Blue Clearcoat Metallic. Special packages include an Appearance Package featuring silver metallic fascias resulting in a monochromatic look when combined with the Silver Clearcoat Metallic paint. Step up to the Leather Comfort Group for leather-trimmed seating and steering wheel; Premium Package adding heated front seats, heated side view mirrors, Hybrid Energy Audio and Navigation System, an under-the-seat 6-disc CD changer and more. Available in five exterior colors, this package also offers a Reverse Sensing System, a cargo area retractable cover, rear floor mats and a handy 110-volt outlet.
Standard equipment includes Hybrid-unique 16-inch aluminum wheels, 4-wheel ABS and power 4-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, power windows and locks, 6-way power driver’s seat, steering wheel mounted cruise control, front fog lamps, AM/FM/6-Disc in-dash CD player, center console with two cup holders and storage bin, dual vanity mirrors, passive anti-theft system and tire-pressure monitoring. Options, in addition to Intelligent 4WD System and the Premium Package, include a highly recommended Safety Package (Ford‘s patented Safety Canopy system with side air curtains and a rollover sensor along with the front seat side airbags), a moonroof and a retractable cargo cover available with Premium Package.
At about $27,845, Ford‘s 4WD Escape Hybrid is roughly $1,500 more than a V-6 4WD Escape XLT Sport. For your additional dollars (the Hybrid technology is more expensive than the regular Escape), you get great fuel economy and can also make your own personal contribution to helping preserve the environment. (www.fordvehicles.com)