Ford Escape Hybrid Rolls Into SUV Niche
lass=body>Take two hot automotive trends - hybrids and SUVs - roll them together, and what have you got? One hot new vehicle.
Introduced last year, the Ford Escape Hybrid is the world's first entry in the hybrid-SUV segment. For now, the Escape has this niche to itself, but soon the Lexus RX 400h and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid will join it.
Available in front- or four-wheel drive, the Escape Hybrid looks like a regular Escape. Hybrid badges on the liftgate and doors are the only clues that wizardry is going on inside. That consists of a 133-horsepower, 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder engine, a 94-horsepower electric motor (to drive the wheels), an electric generator (to recharge the batteries), a battery pack and a continuously variable transmission.
Like the Toyota Prius, the Escape is a "full hybrid," meaning it can run on electric power alone (up to 25 miles, according to Ford). The electric motor also kicks in to assist the gas engine when a surge of power is needed. To save fuel, the engine shuts off whenever the Escape stops, and the electric motor starts the engine when it's time to go. The batteries recharge when the brakes are applied.
The Escape Hybrid is EPA rated at 36 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway for the 2WD and 33 mpg city/29 mpg hwy for the 4WD. It can travel up to 500 miles on a tank of gas.
It's no wimp
To prepare for my Escape Hybrid test drive, I spent a week with a V-6 Escape. Fully expecting the hybrid to feel wimpy by comparison, I was pleasantly surprised by its power and spunk. The hybrid is nearly as quick as the V-6, hindered only by its extra weight. The Escape Hybrid has the same smooth and agile handling that made the conventional Escape popular.
The optional navigation system features a screen showing fuel consumption and energy flow. A "green zone" display in the tachometer illuminates when the vehicle is running in electric-only mode.
The seats offer comfortable accommodations for five, and the rear seats can be flipped to expand cargo capacity from 28 to 65.5 cubic feet. When all your stuff won't fit inside, the Escape has a 1,000-pound tow rating.
Changes for 2005 The Escape Hybrid joins the gas-only Escape, which is offered with a 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter inline 4 or a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6.
For 2005, all Escapes sport new front and rear fascias, grilles and headlights. The formerly bland interior has been spiced up with a floor-mounted shifter, new white-faced gauges and upgraded seat cushions. And the big safety news is the availability of side-curtain air bags.
The Escape Hybrid will be available nationwide this year, with sales limited to 20,000 units. The Escape has been one of the best compact SUVs, combining sport-ute packaging, versatility and all-weather capability with car-like handling. With the Hybrid, Ford offers the best of both worlds: SUV versatility and fuel economy, too.
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