When we had the Ford Escape Hybrid in for review a bit back, it held a lot of interest for us. We personally own a 2005 V6 Limited Escape and we wanted to see how the vehicle had evolved, both from an interior refresh and with the hybrid drivetrain. Making this comparison easier was that we received a loaded Limited model, though this was all wheel drive where ours is a front driver.
Lets first take a look at the interior. Interestingly, getting into the 2010 Escape was a lower ride height than in our personal ‘05 model. We say interesting because again, ours is a front driver and 2010 model was all wheel drive. At just shy of 5’10” and a 33” inseam, our personal Escape is not a step up to get into, but it does require an upward movement to get into. In the 2010 model you actually sat down into the vehicle.
Once inside, the updates are immediately noticeable. The combination of contrasting colors and textures gives it a nice feel. The material choices give the appearance of a higher quality than they actually are. We are not saying that the materials used are cheap; it’s just that we’ve seen higher quality materials used in vehicles the Escape competes with head to head.
With the lighter colors used here, along with the large sunroof, our review unit had a very open and airy feel to it. The shiny black around the touch screen audio/navigation unit and center consoled, was a nice contrast to the tan and grey but, as with just about every use we have ever seen of the material, it is a magnate for fingerprints.
The touch screen unit is a generation behind in size: Ford has moved to a much larger size in it’s more recent models. The unit is the same as the one in the Lincoln MKX we reviewed last year and while in the MKX, the unit seemed too small, here it was okay. Sure, it would have been nicer to have the additional real estate of a larger screen, but this one worked just fine.
The Microsoft SYNC system works as advertised and is the best in the business although it still has some issues with the iPod Touch. Looking through several forums, others have had similar issues and, that said, since we tested the Escape, Ford has issued a couple updates to the SYNC firmware to address the issue.
One of the reasons you buy a hybrid, obviously, is to get a bump in fuel mileage but one of the questions is, can that premium you pay for the hybrid pay for itself in improved fuel mileage. If you go on the premise that figures lie and liars figure, it all depends on how you count.
The EPA rates the all wheel drive Escape Hybrid at 30 city/27 highway, the four cylinder all wheel drive Escape is 20/26 and the V6 is 18/23. If you go front drive, it sorts out as 34/31 for the hybrid, 21/28 for the four cylinder and 19/25 for the V6. We got mid 27’s in mixed driving and we tried to drive the Escape like a “normal” car, rather than a hybrid for most of our time with it.
If we look at our personal ‘05 Escape with a V6, it returns 22-23 MPG in mixed driving and has been pretty consistent with that number since we’ve owned it. One point to make is in the interim Ford has upgraded the transmission for the four-speed automatic on ours to a six-speed auto across the line in the Escapes. If we take a guess, 30MPG would be realistic from the front drive model in combined real world mileage. A 7-8 mile per gallon change in fuel economy is significant. Now, factor in abut a $4500 premium for the hybrid option, trying as much as we can to outfit the vehicles as similarly as possible, go with 15,000 miles a year for an average driver and you get a 167 gallon difference in fuel used. Right now, 87 octane gas around Metro Detroit is $2.75/gallon, so that is $459.25 a year difference in your fuel bill. Depending on how much you financed to purchase the vehicle, that may not even be one month’s payment. With those numbers, if you are buying a hybrid only on the idea of better fuel mileage, then it’s not really a winning proposition. If your issues are more with your personal carbon footprint or the usage of foreign oil in our economy, then you have to ask yourself how much extra “voluntary tax” you are willing to pay.
Even though on straight horsepower and torque numbers the Hybrid Escape is way down on the V6 model, the driving experience isn’t all that different. That, in part, goes to the electric motor that is part of the hybrid system. It can, when needed, help boost performance by supplying extra power. The electric motor proves an additional 94 horsepower when called for to make up the difference between the four and six cylinder in total power. The Atkinson Cycle 2.5 inline four isn’t the snappiest power plant, but it’s okay. Passing situations and merging onto the highway, you notice the power deficit somewhat but it wasn’t by a large measure.
As for the actual driving experience day to day, it proved to be just as competent as our ‘05 model and with some of the updates Ford has made, it rides a little quieter. The hardest part we found was trying to maximize the hybrid part of the drivetrain.
We’ve driven the Fusion Hybrid on multiple occasions and driving on just the electrics and batteries isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it. The pulse and glide method worked best rather than just accelerating using the electric motor. This was also the case with the Escape Hybrid, but it seemed that once you were in the glide mode, it took a very, very light pedal not to have the gas motor kick back in. It, in fact, required a lot of effort to do so. The difference between the Fusion experience and the Escape experience probably come down to weight, aerodynamics and the Escape being all wheel drive, with a greater drivetrain loss through frictions.
Yes, you have to retrain yourself how you drive to maximize any hybrid experience but with the Escape, it seemed even more so. We also wonder if the typical consumer who buys it will take the time and effort to do so. Yes, some will but we are talking about the 60-80% in the middle of that bell curve who think that having a hybrid just nets you more mileage with no change in driving behavior. We also wonder what their thoughts are two, three or four years in to the buying experience.
I let my wife drive the Escape since the ‘05 is her primary vehicle and while she thought the changes to the interior were nice and that it drove fine, she didn’t get the hybrid system to engage even though we had gone out before and I had instructed her on how to use it. I bring this point up just to drive home the point about the average driver, because I think she typifies that.
In the end we can look at the Escape Hybrid as a competent vehicle that stands up well to others in it’s category, hybrid system aside. The Escape, in its current form, is at the end of it’s life cycle and it’s been a good ten year run for it. The decision to go with the hybrid system will not be one of dollars and cents we think, but rather one of personal conscience. On straight money, the hybrid system doesn't really pay for it’s self, at least in the current environment where gas is sub $3/gallon. It would have to be more than $5/gallon for it to make economic sense. The real question then is, can we recommend the Escape Hybrid? The answer is, it depends on what your goals are in owning the Escape. If you have the extra money to spend and you just want a vehicle that gets good mileage, but you aren’t worried about a pay back period, then the Escape works. If you are concerned with the environment or the geo-political issues associated with the amount of oil we import, then the Escape could work for you. If you are interested in a hybrid that makes financial sense then, while a good effort, this, like every hybrid at this moment in time, is a pass.