2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid, the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle from a U.S.-based carmaker and the first one built in the United States, doesn't get 50 or 60 miles a gallon like some of the first hybrids.
Nonetheless, it's getting a lot of attention, because even at an overall fuel economy rating of 33.5 miles a gallon, the Escape Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market. It's also the cleanest, producing virtually no smog-producing emissions. And, despite having only a 4-cylinder engine under the hood, the Escape Hybrid often feels lively and responsive.
Last but not least, the Escape Hybrid has beaten other hybrid SUVs onto the showroom floor. Others are due from Lexus and Toyota as 2006 models.
The Escape Hybrid is pricey, though. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $26,000 for a two-wheel-drive model with continuously variable transmission is some $7,000 more than a base, two-wheel-drive Escape with 4-cylinder gas engine and manual transmission. It's also some $3,000 more than a base, two-wheel-drive, V6-powered Escape.
No lack of interest
For one thing, this five-passenger hybrid provides versatile cargo hauling, towing and off-road capability that has been unheard of in other hybrids.
And there is a sense among some consumers—maybe because of fuel price hikes, maybe because Mideast tensions have brought home the reality of U.S. oil dependence, maybe because of environmental concerns—that SUVs need to be "greener."
Inside the Escape Hybrid, the display screen in the middle of the dashboard draws immediate attention. Its graphics display and constant fuel economy calculations aren't as flashy as those in the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight but serve to remind riders that stretching every bit of gas is a key benefit.
Note, though, the Escape display screen that shows the power grid of the vehicle's powertrain is small and unimpressive. It's also paired with a navigation system, operates only when the radio is on and is optional. In contrast, in the hybrid Prius and Insight, fuel-economy and energy-flow graphic displays, sans nav system, are standard equipment.
In the Escape instrument panel, there's also a standard battery monitor and a special part of the tachometer that indicates when this Escape is in "green mode," or operating via electric power only. The Escape Hybrid can travel up to 25 miles an hour solely using the electric motor.
At the back of the vehicle, there's a bit less cargo room than a regular Escape has because the hybrid's electric battery pack, composed of 250 D-sized cells in a sealed unit, sits under the cargo floor. So, while a regular Escape offers 29.3 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats and maximum 66.3 cubic feet if the rear seats aren't used by passengers, the corresponding numbers in the hybrid are 27.6 and 65.5 cubic feet, respectively.
The hybrid's fuel tank also is smaller—15 gallons vs. 16.5 in a gas-only Escape. And towing capacity for the hybrid tops out at 1,000 pounds vs. 3,500 pounds max in a traditional Escape with V6.
Fuel economy details
This bests the previous SUV leader, the Toyota RAV4, which was rated at 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, or 27 mpg overall for a two-wheel-drive, 4-cylinder model with manual transmission.
The four-wheel-drive, 2005 Escape Hybrid is rated at 33 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, for an overall rating of 31 mpg.
The city rating in the Escape Hybrid is higher than that for the highway, since the electric motor can be providing much of the power for city driving, while the 4-cylinder engine will be working mostly on its own on the highway.
In the test Escape Hybrid—a four-wheel-drive model that topped out at more than $32,000 with options—I managed, with a lot of slow driving, coasting and general nerve-racking, traffic-dodging maneuvers on flat streets, to eke out 40 mpg.
On the other hand, when the vehicle capably managed an off-road, pretty rigorous, dirt trail, I got just 13.1 mpg.
The Escape Hybrid uses a revised version of Ford's 2.3-liter Duratec 4-cylinder engine and pairs it with a 70-kilowatt, permanent magnet, AC synchronous electric motor.
The only transmission is a continuously variable unit that the driver operates like an automatic, and there's a 330-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack that stores excess energy for use later and powers the electric system.
The Escape Hybrid drives like a normal vehicle, with the engine controls deciding when the vehicle should be using electric power, or gas power, or both. All a driver does is drive.
But he or she can feel and hear, at times, the vehicle's workings. For example, at slow speeds, there was a slight "bump" feel and sound as the Escape gas engine kicked in to add to the electric power in the test vehicle. An engineer explained this comes because the wheels already are moving from the electric power and the gas power must join in. The 4-cylinder engine also can get noisy during aggressive highway driving.
On occasion, I heard unexpected sounds that I learned had to do with a fan that helps keep the proper temperature for the nickel-metal hydride battery pack at the back of the vehicle.
The Escape Hybrid's gas engine can produce a maximum 133 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm, while the electric motor has maximum 94 horses and nearly instantaneous torque from startup. The result is a maximum combined hybrid horsepower of 155, which compares with 153 horses in a regular 4-cylinder Escape and 200 horsepower in a V6-powered Escape.
But the real change is in acceleration, where the Escape Hybrid can zip forward quite responsively. Indeed, Ford officials said acceleration is more like that of the V6-powered model.