When we first got our Escape Hybrid, nobody fought to get the keys for it. We all liked the updated grille, which is a much better fit with Ford's truck and SUV lineup. The all-new interior, minus a few gripes, was well-received. We even liked the color. Unfortunately, we all had the same preconceived notion that since it was a hybrid, it would accelerate like a slug and be absolutely no fun to drive. We were mistaken.

Senior Editor Dan Ward was first behind the wheel, and after driving it for a day, called me on his cell phone to remark on the fuel mileage he was able to coax out of the Escape. Dan's driving style, which consists of lead-footed acceleration to Southern California highway cruising speeds, is often reflected in the fuel mileage of some test vehicles. Dan got 29 mpg out of the Escape. He figured that my driving style, which he considers geriatric by comparison, should yield much higher mileage.

Once I was behind the wheel, I was able to get the average mileage to 31.5 mpg in mixed city and highway driving, but after a few hundred miles of highway-only driving in hilly conditions at 70+mph, the average dropped down to 29.5. I was paying attention to the fuel mileage meter in the center display, and would have had better results at 60-65mph, but keeping up with traffic dictated otherwise.

The performance is on par with a compact V-6 SUV, with just the slightest bit of lag when going from a dead stop to full-on acceleration. In other words, there are virtually zero compromises with respects to the powertrain. The only noticeable difference is in handling, as the Hybrid is heavier than a normal Escape, and it's slightly less like a go-cart.

Besides the powertrain, there were other things to like about the Escape. The size and packaging proved to be a good compromise. It fit five adults and a decent amount of luggage comfortably, and its size made it easy to park and navigate in congested areas. We feel comfortable driving a fullsize crew-cab truck, so the Escape felt nimble by comparison, which was good for a change. The new interior with contrasting dash panels and compact center console was both attractive and space efficient. Some of the controls on the center stack, however, were less than intuitive. The digital display at the top of the center stack displayed the time, date, and exterior temperature, which was fine by us, but it also displayed the temperature for the climate control. It was easy to get used to, but the dials for changing the HVAC settings were at the bottom of the stack where we expected to also find some indication of how cold or how hot we had just set it. It would have also been useful to have the upper display list artists and song titles from the satellite radio, as we were too busy toggling back and forth between navigation and the powertrain display to ever keep the radio display up for long.

Aside from these few minor complaints, we were very impressed with the updates for '08. We're probably not going to see a lot of lowered Escape Hybrids with custom interiors and paint, but the improvements should make it even more popular than it has been with suburban commuters and style-conscious buyers.

2008 FORD ESCAPE HYBRID FWD
Price (as tested)
$30,860
Engine
2.3L I-4 Atkinson Cycle
Horsepower
133hp at 6,000 rpm SAE
Torque (lb-ft)
124 at 4,250 rpm SAE
Motor
Permanent Magnet AC
94hp at 5,000 rpm
330-volt Nickel-Metal-Hydride battery
Transmission
Electronically controlled, continuously variable
Suspension
Independent MacPherson struts (front), multi-link with trailing arms (rear)
Brakes
Four-wheel disc, ABS with regenerative braking.
Wheelbase
103.1 in
Width
81.3 in
Curb Weight
3,792 lbs
Maximum Payload
1,008
Seating
2/3
MPG
34/30
29.5 (as tested)

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