2007 Ford Escape Hybrid Review
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD
Five or six years ago, gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles were novelties driven by high-tech early-adopters as much for making a statement about technology and environmentalism as for any practical purpose. But for hybrids to become the mainstream of personal transportation, as has been predicted by some pundits, the vehicles have to be as practical and useful as any regular gasoline-powered equivalent. And they have to appeal to a more mainstream market.
This is happening, and one of the first hybrids to be something other than a compact -- or smaller -- sedan was the Ford Escape Hybrid, introduced for the 2005 model year. I drove one then, and found that it combined all of the good traits of the basic Escape with a nearly 50 percent improvement in fuel economy, and no serious drawback other than its higher price, which was offset some by tax credits.
Much has happened in the world of hybrids in the intervening two years. The tax credits and exemptions that have been in place in some states to encourage their purchase are about due for retirement. As are solo-driver carpool lane privileges. It's time for hybrids to succeed or fail on their true merits. Can they do so?
No doubt about it. If the somewhat exaggerated EPA mileage claims aren't usually reached (and they rarely are for regular internal-combustion cars, either), hybrids still go further on a given amount of fuel than their regular counterparts. Performance is not compromised in the newer examples, and hybrid operation brings no major readjustments to the driving experience except for longer intervals between visits to the gas station.
Case in point: the 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid I've been driving for the past week. There have been no major changes since its debut, and none were really needed. Like the regular Escape models, it's a usefully-sized vehicle, with a comfortable amount of interior space in a small, easy-to-park package. Its full hybrid drivetrain consists of a modified version of the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine found in some other Escape models matched with a 94-horsepower electric traction motor via a computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and a 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack to store extra energy. It can operate on gasoline or electric power, or a combination of the two, but about the only way in which it feels any different from a regular, gasoline-only Escape in operation is that it is smoother, since the CVT has no discrete gears to shift. The engine, motor, and CVT fit into the engine compartment, and the battery pack is underneath the cargo floor. Less than two cubic feet of cargo space is lost.
My week with the Escape Hybrid was spent with plenty of high-speed highway driving and quick acceleration, not the best ways to get optimum hybrid fuel economy. Still, the real-world average was 27 mpg, and could easily had been improved by a lighter foot. That's definitely an improvement over the 18 to 20 I've seen in regular V6 Escapes, or the low-to-mid twenties of the four-cylinder models. Acceleration was more than adequate to deal with the demands of traffic. The Ford Escape Hybrid is most remarkable for being unremarkable, and that's good.
APPEARANCE: Differences between the standard Escape and the Hybrid are few, and easily overlooked. Most apparent are the leaf-and-road badges on the front fenders and tailgate. There is also a battery compartment vent in the driver's-side rear quarter window, but with the heavily-tinted glass in the quarter windows, that can be hard to see. Other than those features, the Escape Hybrid is a compact two-slightly-rounded-box, very traditional-looking crossover sport-utility vehicle.
COMFORT: It may be small, and easy to get into parking spaces, outside, but there is a useful and comfortable amount of space inside the Escape. And the Hybrid is no different, as the battery pack nestles conveniently under the load floor with no real impact on cargo or passenger space. The loss of 1.7 cubic feet is not likely to be a deal-breaker for anyone. Other interior differences may be found on the instrument panel, where there is an extra gauge showing the vehicle's state of charge or discharge and an electrical system information display set into the tachometer - which reads engine, not motor, rpm. If the optional navigation system is fitted, as in my test vehicle, there are two extra screen displays, one for fuel economy and another for energy distribution. Other than that, it's a Ford Escape like any other, with adequate space for four, or five in a pinch, and a split-folding rear seat for cargo versatility. Step-in is easy, visibility is good, and noise levels are low.
SAFETY: Safety equipment in the Hybrid is similar to that in other Escape models, with the Personal Safety System of front airbags and passenger sensing system and an available package option with front side and full-length side-curtain airbags and the rollover protection system.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The Escape Hybrid weighs about 350 pounds more than its gas-only equivalent, and has a slightly softer suspension tuning. As with the other models, the suspension is fully-independent, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear. It has unibody construction like a car, although it's not based on any car platform in the Ford lineup. On the road, it feels like a car with a high-eyepoint driving position for good visibility. The Hybrid has better braking abilities than its internal combustion counterparts, as even front-wheel drive versions like my test vehicle have four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and they are augmented by the hybrid drivetrain's regenerative braking.
PERFORMANCE: What you get: Better fuel economy and very good low-speed acceleration. What you give up: Towing capacity. The Hybrid can tow 1,000 pounds, the Escape four-cylinder 1,500, and the V6, with the towing package, 3,500. I may be wrong, but I don't think this will be a deal-breaker for many potential buyers. The Hybrid's economy and acceleration are products of its full-hybrid drive system. In it, the 2.3-liter gasoline engine is modified to use the Atkinson cycle, in which late closing of the intake valves increases efficiency. It also reduces torque, but that's not a problem as the permanent-magnet asynchronous electric motor develops its maximum amount of torque (not specified, but quite noticeable) as soon as it starts to rotate. The engine and motor both feed power into the CVT, which uses a planetary gearset and electronic controls to determine the most efficient mix of power and gear ratio to use at any given time. Since it has no discrete gear ratios, it never shifts in the manner of a conventional transmission, and so is extremely smooth. Low- and medium-speed acceleration, as needed for driving in city traffic and merging on to a highway, is at least as strong as in the V6. The engine and motor don't develop maximum power at the same time, so power output is not additive. The system horsepower maximum, 155, is similar to the four-cylinder Escape, but there is probably much more torque than the V6, for acceleration ability. As with other full hybrids, the Escape Hybrid operates in electric, gas, or combined modes, and it is very difficult to tell which without looking at the power distribution display.
CONCLUSIONS: Plusses far outweigh any drawbacks in the Ford
SPECIFICATIONS 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD Base Price $ 25,600 Price As Tested $ 30,300 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve Atkinson-cycle inline 4-cylinder Electric Motor Permanent magnet AC synchronous Engine Size 2.3 liters / 140 cu. in. Engine horsepower 133 @ 6000 rpm Engine torque (lb-ft) 124 @ 4250 rpm Motor horsepower 70 Kw (94 hp) @ 5000 rpm Combined maximum horsepower 155 Transmission electronically-controlled CVT Wheelbase / Length 103.2 in. / 174.9 in. Curb Weight 3594 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 23.2 Fuel Capacity 15 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P235/70 TR16 Continental ContiTrac Eco Plus Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 36 / 31 / 27 0 to 60 mph est 10 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES 110V AC power outlet $ 180 Energy, audiophile, and navigation system $ 1,995 Rear floor mats $ 25 Appearance package - includes: painted lower cladding $ 695 Safety package - includes: Safety Canopy(tm) side curtain airbags, rollover protection system $ 595 Leather comfort group - includes: leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather- trimmed seats $ 595 Destination and delivery $ 615