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     CARS AND GIRLS GALLERY



CARS REVIEW - 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD Review


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Introduction

I drove into the dealership in a sporty Ford Focus with tricked out rims and suspension. I drove out of the dealership in a hybrid SUV. Was I going nuts? Well, perhaps a little bit… but after a lengthy test drive (and the realization that I was turning 30 in a month, gas prices were going up, and I could use a bit more space) the Escape Hybrid just made sense. An impulse buy, yes, but one year and 13,000 miles later, I don’t regret the decision one bit!

2006 Ford Escape Hybrid

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  1. Excellent gas mileage (32 mpg average)
  2. Spacious interior
  3. Confident handling (for an SUV)
  4. Surprisingly powerful (for a fuel sipper)
  5. Seamless hybrid technology

Cons:

  1. Expensive for its size
  2. Questionable reliability (2 warranty repairs so far)
  3. No frills interior design

Driving Impressions

Ford Escape Hybrid - badgeEver since that first test drive, I’ve been amazed by the sophistication of the Escape Hybrid’s gas-electric power train. At first you don’t even really notice it, in that the car drives like every other car on the road. You push the gas and it goes, you push the brakes and it stops, and a tug on the wheel makes it turn. But once you start paying closer attention, the many hours spent developing this new technology becomes apparent.

For starters, when you press on the gas pedal to accelerate you’ll notice that at low speeds the engine RPMs don’t change much at all. This is due to both the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which has an infinite number of gear ratios and thus doesn’t shift like a traditional transmission, and the fact that the electric motor is supplying some of the power. If you listen carefully, you can even here the low pitch whine of the electric motor spooling up and down as you apply the throttle.

When you dip a bit deeper into the throttle, the engine will rev up to generate more power, but as soon as you let off the gas, the revs will drop way down again to conserve fuel. Furthermore, if your speed is below 30 mph and you aren’t accelerating heavily, the engine will shut off entirely and all power comes from the electric motor. This is such a seamless process that I still sometimes don’t notice when it happens. Similarly, when you use the brakes, the electric motor becomes a generator and captures the kinetic energy to recharge the battery. If you push the brake pedal hard enough it will also activate the disk brakes, but once again the computer is doing such a good job of managing these tasks that it’s hard to tell which is happening.

As I mentioned before, if you’re not paying very close attention, you won’t even notice the complexities of all this technology, and you can just drive along without being reminded that you’re in a hybrid car. And since the exterior of the Escape Hybrid is no different from a regular Escape, others won’t be reminded either (which is nice if you live in places that are a bit less liberal than, say, Palo Alto, CA). But all the while, the hybrid technology is working furiously behind the scenes to make sure that you use as little of that pricey petrol as possible.

Ford Escape Hybrid - engine

Build

Since the only difference between an Escape Hybrid and a regular Escape is the power train, the rest of the car is a standard Ford SUV (built Ford tough!). This is both good and bad. Good, in that Ford has been making SUV’s for a while and has sold more of them than anyone, and bad in that it’s still a Ford. The exterior of the car is well put-together, with solid, dent resistant sheet metal, durable paint, and bumpers made out of tough plastic. Several small run-ins with parking garage support poles and car doors have only resulted in a few hard to notice scratches. The doors close with a solid “thunk” and the keyless door locks, electric windows, and other accessories all work well.

Having said that, the Escape has already been in for warranty repair twice: once for a defective drive axel, and once for a blown rear shock. Although both of these were factory defects and were promptly repaired by the dealer, it did remind me that this is a Ford product, and wasn’t built by Honda or Toyota.

Ford Escape HybridFord Escape Hybrid - instrument cluster

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

Let me state up-front that I’ve never been too picky about the interior of a car (having owned two tiny Honda CRXs teaches you to make do with very little!). For the Escape Hybrid, this was a good thing, because the interior doesn’t really stand out in any way. My Escape came with the standard cloth seats, in a light gray color, and lots of matching gray plastic panels and more gray carpet. The controls are easy to reach and operate, and the seats are reasonably comfortable, although I’d rather be in any Lexus for a cross-country trip.

One of the reasons I bought the Escape was to make hauling my stuff around a lot easier, and it accomplishes that task reasonably well. The rear seats fold down to create a decent sized cargo area, although like most SUV’s, the floor is fairly high, so actual cargo capacity is less than a comparably sized minivan or wagon. For a compact SUV, the interior is quite spacious, especially for the front passengers. I’ve had several friends comment on the generous amount of leg and headroom.

Performance

Let me offer two qualifiers to the performance of this car. First, it’s designed to maximize fuel efficiency, not 0-60 sprints. Second, it’s a fairly tall, heavy, boxy SUV, not a sleek, low-slung sports coupe. Given these two considerations, I’ve been very happy with the performance of the Escape Hybrid. The beauty of electric motors is that they have a lot of torque, especially at low speeds (150 ft/lbs at 0 RPM). Jam on the throttle from a standing stop, and you can easily squeal the large Continental truck tires. Even at higher speeds, the electric motor provides a healthy amount of boost.

In addition to maximizing fuel economy, the continuously variable transmission also maximizes the power from the 130 horsepower, 2.3 liter gas engine by constantly adjusting the RPMs to fit the demands placed by the driver. If you’re just cruising at 65 mph on the freeway, the engine will be loafing along at 1500-2000 rpm, barely using any fuel. Stand on the throttle to pass a big rig, and the engine jumps to 6,000 RPMs to achieve maximum horsepower, while the CVT adjusts the gear ratios to accelerate the car. This is a bit disconcerting at first, since you don’t experience the rising engine RPMs and gearshifts of a normal car. But the net result is a surprising level of power for an SUV that gets higher combined gas mileage than must sub-compacts.

The only times I’ve felt that the performance was hampered occurred when the battery started to run low, at which point the gas motor is used to charge the battery, robbing some of the available power. This has only occurred when climbing lengthy grades in the mountains, and isn’t usually a problem, especially in everyday driving.

Handling

Having owned multiple sporty compact cars, I was quite apprehensive about the Escape’s handling performance. Here I was once again pleasantly surprised. The suspension is nice and firm and doesn’t wallow in the turns, and the large tires have decent levels of grip before announcing that you’ve approached the limits of traction. The steering is light and accurate, but the high level of power assist does create a somewhat vague, disconnected feeling, especially when just cruising on the highway.

Given that the Escape Hybrid is so fuel-efficient and uses such a fancy, computer controlled drivetrain, some might wonder if it’s still off-road worthy. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to test this and probably won’t, especially since I opted for the 2WD model to gain a few extra MPG. 95% of Escape Hybrid owners will likely also never leave the asphalt jungle, so this is probably not a major consideration for most potential buyers. However, based on a few brief excursions on some local fire roads, the big tires and firm suspension inspire a decent level of confidence, and the availability of 4WD is an additional plus for those living in the snow belt.

2006 Ford Escape Hybrid

Styling

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the say, and being the owner of a car makes you a bit more biased than normal. But even before I bought it I thought the Escape was a nice looking compact SUV. More rugged than some of the mini-utes (Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4), but not so rugged that it seems out of place just cruising around the suburbs (Jeep Wrangler). I also like the two-tone body style, with bright, white paint for the top two-thirds of the car, and dark, rugged plastic for the lower body panels and bumpers.

For 2008, all Escapes have redesigned exteriors and interiors, although I’m honestly still conflicted on whether I like the new design. The new exterior is more rugged, with a bold chrome front grill and more chiseled, muscular-looking body panels. This makes for a more striking visual impact at first, but for me the cleaner, smoother lines of the 2006 model is more pleasing to the eye.

Value

Like many of the other hybrids on the market, the Escape Hybrid still comes at a cost premium. The basic hybrid model, which is the version I bought and doesn’t come with fancy leather seats or other expensive options, still comes in at around $26,000 MSRP. Add in tax, destination charge, DMV fees, and you’re looking at over $30,000. For a compact SUV, that’s a lot of dough. You could easily get a regular version of the Escape with a V6 engine and similar options for several thousand less. Although there is still currently a tax rebate for hybrid cars, it is set to expire soon.

Which leaves the fuel costs. Will the increased fuel efficiency pay for the price difference? Assuming you drive 15,000 miles a year for 10 years, a regular Escape (V6, 2WD, 22 MPG) will cost you $20,500 in gas, assuming gas prices average $3.00 a gallon for the next 10 years. For the same amount of miles, the 32 miles per gallon Escape Hybrid will cost you only $14,100, over $6000 less. The MSRP difference between the two cars is approx. $3000, depending on options. So, over time the hybrid will make-up for the initial price difference and if gas prices climb even more the savings only increase.

Conclusion

With all the hype surrounding hybrid cars, the Ford Escape Hybrid might seem ordinary at first glance. It looks and drives like a regular Escape, and unless someone notices the hybrid badges on the side and back of the car, no one will know that you’re behind the wheel of a sophisticated piece of technology that improves gas mileage by 50%. Yet, when you’re cruising around town, start to brake for a traffic light, and notice that the motor effortlessly shuts itself off, I guarantee that you’ll have a grin on your face.

Who Should Buy It

The Escape Hybrid is for anyone who needs the space and flexibility of a small SUV, yet doesn’t want to pay for the extra gas costs over a compact car. Ford has been actively marketing the Escape to outdoor enthusiasts and others with an active lifestyle, and the hybrid model should appeal to the segment of the market that is more environmentally minded.

Build

Interior

Performance

Handling

Styling

Value

Overall

Rating

3.5

3.5

4.5

4.0

4.0

3 .5

3.83/C+

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