I last drove the Ford Escape hybrid in the summer of 2006 and while it was impressive it had more than a few foibles. Obviously the best-selling small SUV, as well as the best-selling hybrid, is very important to Ford, because they gave the Escape a facelift and an interior upgrade for the 2007 model, and continued with even more upgrades for the 2008 model.
It was time to re-visit the almost-new 2008 Ford Escape hybrid, but this time I put it through its paces during the winter months. The temperature hovered from just above freezing to several degrees below freezing for the week we had the Escape in our possession. We had some frost, freezing rain and snow to add to the mix, so the test was a good indication of what it would be like to live with a hybrid during the winter months.
When I picked up the Escape at Ford’s Canadian headquarters in Oakville Ontario it was a very wet and cold day. Up until this point the closest I’d gotten to the re-designed Escape was when I passed one on the highway. The Escape has taken on a more truck-like appearance – more like the Ford Explorer and I think that it’s a big improvement. The test vehicle had the optional Chrome Trim package and it really makes the Escape look more up-scale. Grabbing the thick door handle and climbing inside, the first thing that I notice is that it’s not quite as much a step-up to get into the new model. You just slide into the seat instead of having to jump into it. That’s a nice improvement over the last model – especially for those that are vertically challenged. Ford have decided to discontinue the running boards that were available and have installed a tough plastic strip piece along the bottom edge of the doors, but in doing so they’ve created a wider than anticipated step-over when getting in and out. It didn’t bother me at all, but my wife commented that it was an issue when wearing a skirt. So that’s something to keep in mind.
The interior of the Escape is a big improvement over the old, both in looks and logical layout. The plastic used however are very cheap and more in keeping with a $10,000 vehicle. Ford made a big deal in the press material about the heads-up display in the centre console and I have to agree it is a welcome addition to the Escape. The display gives you the climate control temperature settings, clock, outside temperature and audio system information nice and high where you can find it with the quickest of glances and just as important, it’s all logically placed. Ford have also changed the dials and display colour from the usual green to a cool-blue colour that also makes it easier on the eyes – especially at night. The audio system and climate control system are easy to understand and use without the need to search out the owner’s manual. The large round dials have a solid click to each movement, making it easy to make adjustments. I was quite surprised to find individual climate controls for each front occupant.
There is very little difference when staring a hybrid versus a regular vehicle. Turn the key and wait for the engine to start. The hybrid usually has a few different noises and clicks emulating from the rear of the vehicle where the battery resides, but otherwise that’s it. The instrument cluster on the 2008 Escape hybrid is a bit different from the 2006 model. Gone is the large – and in my opinion – useless dial that tells you whether the engine or the battery is powering the front wheels. In its place is a traditional tachometer that was not even in the previous model. There are a couple of small dials that let you know when the battery is being used or recharged and there’s a green area within the tachometer to tell you when you’re running 100% on electric power.
Where the Escape differs from other hybrids is that the electric motor and 4-cylider engine work together, but at lower speeds the electric motor works alone. Many other hybrids work with one or the other, but not at the same time to achieve the maximum fuel economy and maximum power. When operating in unison, the Escape hybrid produces 155 horsepower. It can be driven up to 40 km/h [25 mph] using the electric motor only, but I couldn’t get anywhere near that speed before the engine started up. Maybe with more practice I could have done it, but that would have required taxing my brain and right foot way too much!
Once up and running the Escape was extremely quiet. The previous model was also very quiet, but the new one is outstanding. Even without telling my wife that Ford had mentioned it in the press material, she commented right away how quiet the interior was when she got in. One thing that stands out in all hybrid vehicles is the brake-feel. The best way to describe it is that it feels like you’re pressing down on a piece of wood – not a brake (mostly due to the re-genitive nature of the brakes), but surprise! Ford have gotten the Escape hybrids brake-feel much closer to that of a traditional vehicle. It feels a little spongy, but otherwise it’s a huge improvement in pedal feel – and in turn confidence – for the driver when braking hard.
The steering feel also has to be mentioned because it is very light, but still very communicative at parking lot speeds, while firming up nicely at higher speeds. The steering wheel is a little on the larger side and lacks audio controls. Oddly Ford have put the cruise control buttons on the left-hand side instead of the more traditional right side of the steering wheel. Another glaring and very annoying anomaly is the windshield wiper control. Instead of the better and more popular use of a dedicated stalk on the right side of the steering wheel, the Ford interior “designers” have decided to add it to the turn signal stalk. To get the scoosher to work you have to push a button on the end – that inevitably results in the right turn signal coming on. To turn the wipers on, you have to twist a ring on the stalk and for more confusion, there’s an additional ring for the rear wiper control. It’s a dumb and awkward set up that should be binned.
The climate control and audio system are very easy to understand and use at a glance, but each has its own quirks. First up – the automatic climate control. With separate controls for each front occupant, that came as a nice surprise. However, during a cold spell when the temperature dipped below freezing, I had an issue with the heating aspect. With the heat on full-blast for my feet, I ended up with my upper body over-heating while my feet remained frozen. There didn’t appear to be any heat coming out of the lower duct so basically it was useless for heating my lower extremities. I tried all of the modes but nothing changed the situation.
As for the audio system, I didn’t expect it to be very spectacular since it was the base unit after all, but its sound quality was very good. I’ve heard very expensive and optional systems from other manufacturers’ that could only dream of sounding this good! Added to that was the inclusion of an in-dash 6-disc CD changer and satellite radio. My previous experience with XM Radio has been less than impressive and this time with Sirius it was just barely better. I just don’t see the advantage of paying for satellite radio.
The suspension on the hybrid is quite firm until you push the CUV into a corner such as an on-ramp to the freeway – then it leans like a minivan cornering too fast! I thought I might have been pushing the Escape too hard around one particular on-ramp ‘til I looked at my speed – I was only doing 40kp/h!! My wife was following behind me in her Mazda5 and thought I was goofing around with the extremely relaxed – and very unlike me – speed at which I entered the freeway.
Flooring the throttle I encountered the now-familiar wheeze of the 4-banger as the countryside whizzed past at a pedestrian pace and eventually arrived at a respectable 100 km/h [60 mph]. Keeping the hybrid above 130 km/h [70 mph] required the engine to stay at or just above 4,000 rpm the entire time, with the slightest of inclines resulting in much wheezing reminiscent of my jogging excursion with cousin Bob that smokes 3 packs a day and has emphysema! Maintaining that speed is more annoying for the driver than the passengers because Ford have done such a wonderful job at insulating the interior of the Escape that they don’t even notice the added sound. If you’re the typical driver that stays in the 100-120 km/h range [60-70 mph] then you’ll not have the same issues, because the tach, and in turn the engine is turning over at a more sedate 2,500 – 3,000 rpm.
Like the front seats, the rear seats are very firm – yet still very comfortable. Folding them for maximum cargo capacity is very easy – just lift and tumble the seat cushion, then drop the back (after first removing the rear headrests), locking them completely flat. You are however left with the problem of where to store the 3 headrests though, because there’s nowhere for them to go once both seats have been folded. Unfortunately, the front passenger seat doesn’t fold forward for added versatility – especially since Ford has been smart enough to include a separately opening rear glass that’s perfect for transporting long items. As for transporting items, the Escape has a cargo capacity of 29.2 cu.ft with the rear seats upright. I measured 57” x 44” x 36 ½” with the seats folded for maximum capacity which translates into 66.3 cu.ft.
The Escape Hybrid comes in a choice of FWD or 4WD. Standard features include: Front side seat airbags, Safety Canopy System with roll-over sensor, alarm system, 6-way power driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel with cruise control, an AM/FM 6-disc in-dash stereo system with 4 speakers, dual-zone climate control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 16” Aluminum wheels, remote keyless entry and air conditioning and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TMPS).
Pricing for the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid:
Base price: $31,499 Cdn [$26,265 U.S.]
As tested: $33,219 Cdn [$27,930 U.S.]
Destination & Delivery: Canada – $1,250 / U.S. – $665
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel – 87 Octane/Electric]
The FWD hybrid is listed at City 6.9L/100 km [34 mpg] and Highway 7.8 L/100 km [30 mpg]
I averaged 10.7 L/100km [22 mpg] in mostly freeway driving at or above 130 km/h [70 mph]. The onboard fuel consumption gauge listed it as a constant 10 L/100 km [23.5 mpg]
Even quieter than the previous model – and that one was very good!
Very comfortable seats
Much improved interior look and feel
The price of the Escape hybrid is lower than the 2006 model – you’ve gotta love that!
Rebates lower the cost substantially
Cheap plastic interior bits
Poor floor heating – bordering on non-existent
Fuel economy is nowhere near as good as expected, in fact the 2006 model got much better fuel mileage compared to this 2008!!
It’s got the economy of a V-6, with the power of an asthmatic 4-cylinder.
Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
The back seat drew lots of praise from my mother-in-law and her friend…. “Surprisingly comfortable, with lots of legroom.” “The seat back angle is perfect and very comfortable.” “The seat is very firm, but still very comfortable – I like it” “Getting in is a little awkward because of the step-up, but getting out is very easy.”
Mazda Tribute hybrid, Toyota Highlander hybrid
By The Numbers…
Powertrain: 2.3 Litre 4-cylinder engine plus an electric motor; CVT transmission; FWD
Horsepower: 155 (net) (Engine: 153@ 6,000 rpm / Electric motor: 94@ 5,000 rpm)
Torque: Engine: 124@ 4,250 rpm / Electric motor: 152@ 4,250 rpm
0 – 60 mph: 10.1 seconds
Bumper to Bumper for 3-years/36,000-miles /60,000 kms and a special 8-year/100,000 mile/160,000 kms warranty on unique hybrid components. (Some states have a 10 year/150,000 mile limited hybrid battery warranty – CA, ME, MA, NY and VT and Canada has a 10-year/240,000 km Battery warranty).
Road side assistance is included for 5 years/60,000 miles/100,000 kms.
Towing is NOT recommended with the hybrid.
I liked the Escape hybrid, but I’m probably not the intended purchaser of this vehicle. For one, I’m far too heavy with my right foot therefore I’ll never get the full benefit of fuel savings that a hybrid can offer. That being said, I still got a very good 10.7 L/100km [22 mpg] in mostly freeway driving at or above 130 km/h [70 mph]. My best 0 – 60 mph time of 10.1 seconds wasn’t as bad as I expected prior to getting out my test equipment – it certainly feels slower than that. I did try to get the Escape to use the electric motor up to Ford’s claimed 60 km/h [40 mph], but alas the best I could do was 28 km/h [20 mph] before the 4-cylinder engine came to life. Obviously, the full benefits are realized in stop-and-go city traffic and driving around parking lots (basically any freeway in the Toronto region). The 2008 Escape is a very big improvement over the last iteration of the Escape, so there’s no doubt Ford will continue to dominate the small SUV category sales charts for the foreseeable future.
Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk.com