As fuel prices climb, many people are looking at hybrid-electric vehicles. One of my favourites is Ford’s compact SUV, the Escape Hybrid.
Save for its badges and instrument cluster, it doesn’t look much different from its conventional Escape siblings. It’s what’s inside that sets it apart. It uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline, along with an electric motor and storage battery. You don’t plug it in — such hybrids are coming, but aren’t here yet — rather, Escape charges its battery while you’re driving. Under the right conditions, such as low speeds or when full power isn’t needed, it can run on electricity alone.
The electric motor can also boost the gasoline engine on acceleration, providing more power for less fuel. At a stop, the gas engine shuts off completely, so there’s nothing coming out of the tailpipe at stoplights or in traffic. The lights, heater and stereo continue to work, and the electric motor restarts the engine, so there’s no starter to wear out.
Available in both front- or all-wheel-drive, the Escape Hybrid starts at $34,899, while my top-of-the-line Limited AWD started at $42,299. That’s $2,750 more than a Limited AWD with 3.0-litre V6 gasoline engine, which is one of the drawbacks of hybrids: they cost more, and you’ll have to do the math to figure out if you’re going to save enough in gasoline to make up the difference.
Escape’s hybrid system works very well: it’s pretty much seamless between gas and electric, its continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission has none of the “rubber band” feeling these units can sometimes have, and the 7.5 L/100 km (38 mpg) that I averaged in everyday driving was much better than the 11.2 L/100 km (25 mpg) that I got in a regular V6 Escape.
The five-passenger seating is roomy, and the upholstery is made of 100 per cent recycled materials. The rear seats fold down to make a flat cargo floor that’s up to 170 cm long.
2011 Ford Escape Hybrid
Vehicle Type: Compact SUV?Hybrid
Price: $34,899 – $42,299, as-tested $45,049
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder with hybrid system
Fuel Economy: City 6.6, hwy 7.3, as-tested 7.5
What’s Best: Hybrid system works well, comfortable interior, practical design