Here at The Garage, I’ve had plenty of seat time in the new Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, and GM has made clear that the Ford Escape is one of their main competitors. Naturally, we were eager to sample an Escape, and I’ve just concluded a week with the Escape Hybrid in top-spec Limited trim with all-wheel drive. The Escape is hardly a new-comer to the market, having been around since 2001. The Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid SUV, debuting in 2004. Ford has recently freshened the small SUV inside and out, with new powertrains along with a host of other improvements.
The Escape has traditional, upright SUV styling, something you don’t see much anymore. Ã‚Â The exterior design is simple, with little in the way of flash or adornment, though the chrome grill and roof rails added some visual interest. The 16″ alloys looked puny, and there are no other wheel choices for the Hybrid (you can get 17’s on other Escapes). But compared to the latest from GM, Honda and Toyota, the Escape looks old-fashioned. Not a bad line on the car, but cutting edge, the Escape is not.
The interior of the Escape is inviting. Visibility is excellent, and the interior is bright and cheery, a contrast to the dark, cave-like interiors of the GM crossovers I sampled. That said, I did wonder how our tester’s lightly colored Stone leather interior would hold up to the rigors of family use; my thought was a bottle of leather cleaner would be a must for this car. The flat seats aren’t big on support, but proved to be comfortable. There is more than enough room on the inside of the Escape, and it was easy to quickly find a comfortable driving position.
The chrome trim and piano black interior accents added some pizazz, and passengers had positive comments about the ambient lighting. The interior surfaces were of generally good quality and soft to the touch, but the buttons on the steering wheel and center stack felt mediocre, and the parking brake release felt like it could break in my hand. That said, the Escape’s layout is pretty intuitive, so there’s no need to dig out the owner’s manual.
With fuel economy the name of the game, performance takes a back seat. Power comes via a 2.5L four and an Atkinson cycle hybrid system coupled to a CVT transmission. Still, the Escape Hybrid is no slug, and power is available when needed. Ã‚Â For the hybrid system to be fully functioning, the Escape likes to be good and warmed up. But once it is, the transition from EV to the gas engine is seamless. In some instances I was able to drive the Escape at 35mph on the batteries alone. The Escape is happiest when driven gently, which is fine-no one who buys an Escape Hybrid has any expectation of carving up twisty roads. Although Ford has made improvements and upgrades over the years to the Escape, the chassis itself is now nine years old, and it feels it. Compared to the competition, the Escape simply feels old. Not bad-just old.
The most shocking thing about the Escape Hybrid was the sticker price. As tested, the car is priced at a staggering $37,525USD, which included optional navigation and auto-park. Still, our Escape is priced higher than an Audi Q5 or a base Cadillac SRX, and the Audi is way out of the Escape’s league. Although the tax credit for buying a hybrid offsets the cost a bit, at this price, the Escape is in way over its head. Though well-equipped with the options mentioned, along with standard two-zone climate control, heated leather seats, back-up camera and power moonroof, items you expect at this price like power seats and a power rear lift gate aren’t just not included, they’re not even available.
True, the Audi won’t give you 30mpg driving around town, but I should mention the GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox equipped with four cylinders (and AWD) deliver better highway mileage (29mpg vs. the Escape Hybrid’s 27mpg). The Escape Hybrid is not a bad car by any means. It is perfectly competent, goes about its business quietly, and should more than meet the needs of the modern North American family. Are there other SUV’s and crossovers that do a lot more for much less coin? Yes, and sadly, the price of the Escape Hybrid is the car’s biggest liability.
Obviously, the sticker price of our test car had an impact on my overall opinion. Before dismissing the Escape Hybrid solely on price, it should be noted Ford offers the buyer other choices worth considering before choosing an Escape. Still crave the sense of doing the environment good, but don’t need all the extras that ran up the price tag? A base Escape Hybrid with front-wheel drive is very reasonably equipped, and starts at $29,750. Do you like what the Escape has to offer, but are afraid you won’t keep it long enough to see any return on the money saved at the pump for the extra price paid up front? A ‘regular’ Escape Limited AWD with the 2.5L four, equipped exactly like our Hybrid Limited, would have a sticker price of $30,600-quite a difference, but still delivering reasonable fuel economy (20/26mpg).
A check of Ford’s US sales through October 2009 show buyers are able to find an Escape that is right for them, be it gas or hybrid. Sales are up over last year, and so far the Escape has outsold the newer Flex and Edge combined by a margin of over 34,000 cars. The market has spoken.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on 11/19/2009, and revised on 11/22/2009. TW