By on February 8, 2008

fordescape_la_349_hr.jpgFord’s marketers often appear to live in a sort of surrealist parallel universe. How else to explain their enlistment of Kermit, the self-effacing, hand-operated amphibian, to pitch the Ford Escape Hybrid? This SUV has the makings of a game-changing, ass-kicking product. It’s a genuine full hybrid, with components licensed from Toyota.  It’s sized, styled and priced to the mainstream’s liking. Yet, saleswise, the hybrid Escape is croaking. Methinks Ford’s spokesfrog hasn’t given the Escape Hybrid the marketing momentum it deserves.

For 2008, Ford’s stylists breathed upon the entire Escape line to stop it disappearing into the crowd. But oy, what a crowd. The compact-‘ute party has been crashed by twelve newcomers since the Escape’s 2001 debut (one suspects free beer). The Escape’s new chromey, square-jawed mug is handsome enough— a little less Kenmore, a little more Clark Kent— but the mechanicals underneath remain largely unchanged.

pop_nimhbattery.jpgThat’s less a problem for the Hybrid than its gas-only siblings. While the rectilinear sheetmetal marks it as a veteran in this class, the Hybrid’s gas-electric powertrain is as bleeding-edge as anything you’ll find under a Japanese-badged hood. The Hybrid Escape is powered by a 133 hp 2.3-liter four cylinder gas burner, paired with a 70 kw electric motor. The Escape’s prehistoric four-speed auto is replaced by a planetary-type CVT. Under the cargo mat, you’ll find 330 volts’ worth of NiMH batteries.

Drop the spec sheet and plop into the Hybrid’s cabin, and the picture dims a little. The ‘08’s interior also gets a gentle makeover. Ford’s replaced dark, oily-grained stuff polymers with sandy, pebble-grained plastics du jour. A new dash upholds Ford’s blocky, neo-Lego motif. But the appointments remain stark. Touch points are hard. The gauge cluster glares with obnoxious reflections, and the center stack’s tightly-clustered, lookalike buttons are only slightly less busy than a TI-83 graphing calculator’s.

2008_ford_escape_hybrid_2.jpgLook up from the IP (needn’t twist your arm there) to spot the upside of the Escape’s advancing years. That’s right, you can actually see out! Sightlines are wide and bright from the Hybrid’s upright, elevated helmspot. Roof posts are no girthier than a pine sapling. And despite the sprawl-out space within, the Escape Hybrid feels tidy and manageable in close quarters, its bluff-cornered hood simplifying distance-to-crunch judgments.

Distance-to-empty is, of course, the more relevant figure. So fire it up and check the trip computer. “Average MPG” should ring in around 30 mpg, given the 34/31 EPA estimates of my $29,865 front-drive tester. The AWD model surrenders a couple of mpg, at 29/27, in exchange for whatever peace of mind the front-biased, on-demand system affords. It also commands a $2500 premium over its FWD stablemate.

08fordescapehybrid_02.jpgWho needs it? At its core, the Hybrid— like other Escapes— is a spacious grocery-getter that places you a foot or two above the madding crowd. And so, we drive.

The gasser four delivers moderate pep, humming benignly under a light throttle foot; heavier inputs send the CVT into the drone zone. The Escape’s chassis tiptoes daintily from block to block, driving lighter than its 3,638 lbs suggest. And the ride, while lumpier than a car’s and noisy over textured surfaces, is solid and rattle-free.

The rest of the Escape range has been prescribed rear drum brakes and electric power steering for 2008, leaving little conceivable reason to buy one. But the Hybrid retains its rear discs, and its steering has always been the fun-free electric variety. As such, it’s no surprise that the four-spoke helm feels vacant and numb in the hands. Fortunately, the rack’s accuracy is unimpeachable, with strong self-centering (insert SUV joke here) and a pleasing hollow heft off-center.

esh08_021_int_enl.jpgMore surprising: the transparency of the Escape’s hybrid system. Far from a stilted freshman effort, the Escape’s drivetrain phases in and out of electric mode quickly and seamlessly. Moreover, its gas engine’s startup/shutdown shudders are subtler than a Prius’. Its regenerative brakes boast a natural pedal feel, too— the action’s a bit stiff, but it’s not at all nebulous or grabby.

So, what’s not to like about the Escape Hybrid? Two things. First, you don’t get an animated power-flow display, a la Toyota, unless you stump for the $2,695 navigation system (a quaint “charge/assist” gauge is standard issue). And second, this Ford is only a pleasure to drive in appliance mode. Pushed hard, the engine brays, the suspension sways, and the hard-compound tires shriek and forget to grip.

08fordescapehybrid_03.jpgBig deal. The Escape Hybrid is for people who’d rather save gas than haul ass. As such, it’s perfectly suited to drivers who want to realize significant fuel savings, but don’t want to sacrifice riding tall in the saddle. Or are only comfortable in a plus-sized vehicle. Or simply don’t want to be pigeonholed politically.

Sink the real marketing dollars into this one, Ford; it’s worth it. It ain’t easy being green? Says who?

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48 Comments on “2008 Ford Escape Hybrid Review...”


  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Ford announced the 2009 Escape Hybrid a couple of weeks ago arriving this summer, featuring a bigger/badder 2.5L engine, improved braking, and ESC. Press release here:
    http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=27548

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Interesting review. I think this is the first vehicle I MIGHT look at from an American manufacturer since I bought my last car (2005). At that time, the American manufacturers made nothing I wanted (awd “sports” car…I bought an STi). In hindsight this was an AWESOME choice for Chicago/Suburban winters which has proven itself in the last 3 weeks.

    Now that I’m married, the wife has SUV syndrome (“We need one to haul stuff or future kids”) and she thinks our 2000 Neon (bought used with 125k for $1k) is not big enough. The neon so far has been pretty much completely problem free which totally surprised me. Outside of regular maintenance it has not really required anything except a motor mount.

    Hopefully by 2011-2015 they will have a diesel/hybrid suv as that would be ideal. I am not an SUV/big car fan but could probably live with one if it got mileage comparable to a car from 5 years prior.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    As I understand it there are 300 D type batteries in the trunk, is this really the case?

  • avatar

    The Escape Hybrid is not a two-mode hybrid. It is a full hybrid (not an assist hybrid like the GM BAS setup), but does not have two planetary gearsets as the GM/DCX/BMW two-mode setup has.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AHS_II
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_Synergy_Drive

    Also, just to clarify, Ford did not receive any technical assistance from Toyota in the development of the Escape Hybrid (PJ doesn’t say that they did either). The companies had a patent sharing arrangement because the independently-developed Ford system was coincidentally so similar to the Toyota HSD system. Supposedly Toyota got some diesel and direct injection technology in return from Ford.

  • avatar
    dwford

    #1 Good luck finding one. Unless you stumble on one by accident, be prepared to factory order (government and taxi fleets are taking priority over retail customers) and wait 4 months. Oh and the 08 order book is closed, so you’ll be getting an 09 (with the powertrain upgrades) sometime in the summer.

    #2 Unless you drive mostly in the city, be aware it’ll take you about 14 years to pay off the hybrid premium over the regular 4 cylinder (including the $2500 rebate not available on the Hybrid).

  • avatar
    zenith

    My question is whether or not they’ve fixed the flex-y floorpan that bugged me about the ’01 gas version we used to have at work.The front footwells were damn narrow as well.

    Also, I hated the teeny little buttons, all the same size and texture, used in the radio/CD player.

  • avatar
    jaydez

    My mon has an 06 Escape Hybrid (last body style). She absolutly loves the thing. I just think it feels weird when I drive it.

  • avatar
    blautens

    GS650G :

    As I understand it there are 300 D type batteries in the trunk, is this really the case?

    They look like conventional D batteries in shape, but if the pack is using the same cells as the Prius (and I believe it is) they are probably 1.2V cells. They are slightly smaller than an actual conventional D battery (they are sometimes referred to as sub-C).

    The Escape uses 250 cells. The Prius 228. If you’ve ever spent any time with anyone into electric R/C, the technology is very familiar to them.

    R/C racers with serious cash spend a lot of time making sure their 6 cell packs use cells with equal capacity and charge and discharge rates (a process called “matching” cells) – then they work hard to keep them that way. I can’t imagine expanding that process into 200 + cells to make sure you get the most out of them.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    ChrisHaak:

    GM’s two-mode hybrid IS a full hybrid. They have two systems. The full hybrid two-mode, and the mild hybrid BAS. I think you got confused.

    If I didn’t have so much money on my GM card, I’d get the Escape Hybrid in a flash. Now I’m stuck waiting for the two-mode 2009 Saturn VUE Greenline.

  • avatar
    middon

    These things are in high demand -I had to wait 12 weeks to get one.

    I’ve been driving it for about 2 months now and I’m pretty happy with it. I’m getting about 27 mpg (AWD version). This is during the winter months when the batteries don’t hold their charge as well. This is also as the car is breaking in so, it should best that figure in the near future.

    The interior is a little crappy but so far its rattle free and functional. Its a very easy car to drive -steering is light and visibility is outstanding. The reviewer is spot on about the transition from electric to gas power -its very smooth. I don’t even notice it.

  • avatar

    Owners responding to TrueDelta’s Fuel Economy Survey report low to mid 30s:

    http://www.truedelta.com/fuel_economy.php?stage=pt&bd=Ford&mc=82

    No reliability info on any Escape yet. They’ve proven to be an ellusive group of owners.

  • avatar

    Buick61:

    My comment about two-mode versus full hybrid was because the initial version of the review incorrectly labeled the Escape Hybrid’s system as a full hybrid. The review has since been corrected. I am aware that the GM/DCX/BMW system is considered a full hybrid and am not confused. :)

  • avatar
    crc

    I stopped at a Ford dealer in the area to look at an Escape(non-hybrid). The salsesguy started telling me about the vehicle and then said that they don’t sell the hybrid version(although they could order me one) because people in my area didn’t believe they got enough gas savings to offset the hybrid cost. Then he made some other knock on the hybrid that I halfed listen to. Not much of a salesman in my opinion. The best though was when he didn’t know that Volvo was Swedish.

  • avatar
    NN

    Buick61…I hate to kill your buzz, but you can’t use GM card savings on Saturns.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    NN:

    I used it once on a 2000 Saturn L-series (which has since blown its transmission up).

    Every now and then, GM gets generous and lets Saturn in on the GM Card action. I’m holding out hope that it’ll happen again.

  • avatar

    It’s been a while since GM has allowed Saturn buyers to use GM Card earnings. I’ve been watching for three years, but haven’t seen anything. Also, it seems likely that if they would, they wouldn’t extend it to all models, just the slower sellers. I’m guessing that the two-mode VUE Greenline would be a really popular one on which incentives were not necessary for a while.

  • avatar
    wsn

    dwford said:
    #2 Unless you drive mostly in the city, be aware it’ll take you about 14 years to pay off the hybrid premium over the regular 4 cylinder (including the $2500 rebate not available on the Hybrid).

    That just sounds like a lie. You don’t even know how many miles this car will be driven for each year. How can you make such a prediction?

    And the “unless” doesn’t really apply. Most people driving this car will be in big cities.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    ChrisHaak,

    Thanks for catching the typo. Sorry it fouled up the comments’ train of thought.

  • avatar
    storminvormin

    Are the IC engines in these still Atkinson cycle? I always thought that was pretty cool. 3600lbs is actually pretty light for a hybrid SUV considering the battery weight.

  • avatar
    tony-e30

    @ storminvormin:

    According to Ford, yes.

  • avatar
    RobertSD

    I have heard two stories with regards to the Toyota/Ford deal:

    1) as an above poster stated, Ford’s system was SO similar that they wanted to swap some patents in order to avoid getting tied up in court – Toyota didn’t actually provide assistance.

    2) Ford couldn’t quite get the shift from electric to gas correct and asked Toyota to peek at code. Toyota said sure, if we can peek at your diesel technology, because we can’t develop diesels as well as you. Toyota peeked and invested in Isuzu to develop diesel tech. Ford peeked, said “oh…” and ended up building their own code anyway that arguably shifts better than Toyota’s drivetrain. Both companies learned something, neither used specific pieces of the other’s tech.

    I don’t know which is right, but in neither case does Ford “use” Toyota’s system as this and many other articles imply. Both systems were developed independently and have continued to develop independently.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    RoberSD: Everything I have heard is similar about Toyota and Ford regarding their exchange of hybrid knowledge and agreement to cross-license it. But the part about diesels is questionable to me, because Toyota has been selling a leading edge diesel in Europe for a number of years, including the development of the D-Nox cat technology for diesels. It’s a bit of a myth that Toyota needed to buy Isuzu for their diesel tech.

    But what you say may have happened nonetheless.

  • avatar
    pdub

    Low sales of the Escape/Mariner Hybrid have nothing to do with bad marketing. The demand is high. The problem is the supply. We turn 10-20 customers away each month because there are none to be had. Now one’s order won’t be processed until April for a 2009 (and the wait will be just as long). It is especially frustrating that dealers aren’t even provided with a demo to show prospective ordering customers. The customer must buy on faith alone.

    How agonizing to have a product that people are excited about, and then you can’t sell it. A salesperson has 2 options: turn the customer away quickly or trash his own product on the basis of it being overpriced and unavailable in order to sell a gas powered Escape/Mariner instead.

    This is the biggest production failure in Ford’s lineup. We need 5 times the number produced – at least.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    I suspect Ford loses money on every one they sell, hence the shortage of supply of them (they are making as few as possible and still get the green halo effect yet lose as little money as possible).

    Since Toyota doubled production of the Prius about a year ago, I have no doubt they make money on it. Just shows how more efficient Toyota is compared to Ford.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Right you are Pdub. 3 times this week I had to give the “you’ll never pay for the hybrid premium with gas savings ” speech. One guy got indignant, the other said “oh, so I’ll look at the 4 cylinder instead.”

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Geotpf: You nailed it.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Shhhhhh. You are ruining Ford’s plan to leave their genuinely good vehicles in utter obscurity.

  • avatar
    empowah

    About FEH profitability: http://www.leftlanenews.com/ford-hybrids-will-become-profitable-this-year.html

    About FEH reliability: http://www.greenhybrid.com/discuss/f33/cabbies-love-escape-hybrid-16959/

    Ford isn’t losing money on each hybrid they sell; rather supply is limited because, well, the supply of Sanyo batteries and Aisin transmissions is limited.

    Ford is using a different battery supplier on the upcoming Fusion Hybrid, so hopefully they’ll make them in greater numbers.

    Since its release in late 2004, they have sold ~70,000.

  • avatar
    NickR

    The problem is the supply. We turn 10-20 customers away each month because there are none to be had.

    If Ford’s product planning fumbles the ball on this, there should be heads rolling down the aisles in Dearborn. Seriously, what’s worse than a flop? A success you can’t make enough of.

  • avatar

    I sat out a light next to a pale green SUV last week. I saw the hybrid badge, then the name Ford painted on the side and thought, “So that’s the Escape hybrid they’re making into a PHEV. Not bad.” Between LionEV and a bad case of new car fever, I’ll probably see them everywhere now.

    I also sat in one at the Motor Trend Auto Show this evening. Kermit was not in the building, but the organizers had green trail markers pointing out every hybrid on the floor. As previously noted the interior is nothing special, but at least I didn’t hit my head getting in or out. I can’t remember the last time I saw an energy sticker with a higher city score than highway score, but it was probably inevitable considering the flat slab front end. Somehow the Escape looked sleeker on the road.

    I also noticed a new message on LionEV’s site:
    Orders for Escape PHEV’s must be in by May Second in order for Ford Motor Company to fill the order. Orders after that date will not be filled until 2009.

    There will be a price increase on all vehicles and battery packs on March 1st, 2008. This is due to the weakening US Dollar on the world market. Current prices will be honored until the first of March. New prices will go in to effect on the first.

    Who does PR for these guys? Yeah, I’d love to buy a car with my weakening dollars.

  • avatar
    veefiddy

    I would’ve considered one only I really didn’t want a truck…wish they’d share the hybrid setup with Volvo and drop it in a V50 or V70. A wagon+hybrid=the dorkiest car ever, but that’s what I really actually need.

  • avatar
    VJW

    This is a great start, as the only reasonable sized SUV with full hybrid, thanks to Toyota technology. The really big news is the Ford Escape PHEV with L-ion batteries right around the corner! NMHi batteries are old school, big and heavy. The new PHEV is a real paradigm changer and the big winner will be who ever can put a PHEV into full production first. I just assumed it would be Toyota but If Ford can get their PHEV Escape to the market first, it would put them back on top!

  • avatar
    TaxedAndConfused

    News from France – Hybrids suck.

    http://www.alphagalileo.org/index.cfm?_rss=1&fuseaction=readrelease&releaseid=526948

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    TaxedAndConfused: That article hardly says that hybrids suck. Did you actually read it?

    Anyway, the French as well as some of the other Europeans are a bit miffed about hybrids, because Toyota has such a lead, and they’re being dragged into hybrids partly against their will, and because its a huge investment that certainly won’t improve their profitability.

    The Prius is a game changer, and a lot of manufacturers don’t like the new game.

  • avatar
    rtz

    This vehicle would be a whole lot more interesting if it had a lithium pack and could be plugged in. Beat GM to the punch and make this Escape Volt like?

    Or since it’s already using Toyota guts… Remember when Toyota made an electric Rav4 not too many years back? Make an all electric Escape. Lithium and 250 mile range?

  • avatar
    alpha94

    I had a 2005 Escape Limited for 3 years (lease was up) and seriously debated getting the hybrid. The problem for me was the same problem that existed in 2005. The interest rates on leasing or purchasing these vehicles makes it not worth the while.

    We’re talking rates of 10 and 11 percent here and with a premium like that it would take me, personally, 5-7 years minimum just to break even on the cost difference between a Limited and the Hybrid (4WD). This didn’t make sense to me.

    I love the idea of a hybrid and really wanted one but it’s just too expensive for them to produce so they drop the MSRP but get you with the interest.

  • avatar
    alpha94

    RE: Paul Niedermeyer
    European’s don’t like hybrids or the prius specifically because it costs a whole lot more and gets a whole lot less mileage than your typical European car.

    A prius was tested on Top Gear and got about 45MPG and a Lupo diesel gets around 70MPG and costs a whole lot less. That’s the problem, we’re stuck with these gas guzzlers here for no reason.

  • avatar
    trk2

    Can we please stop spreading the myth that Ford bought Toyota’s hybrid system and installed it in the Escape. Ford independently developed their own hybrid system and certain features were close enough that they liscened the patents from Toyota. This stuff happens all the time. There are no Toyota parts in the Ford Escape Hybrid. Ford should be praised for developing their own system that works as well (or better) then Toyota’s, and not stereotyped as being so incompetent that they needed Toyota to develop it for them.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    My girlfriend loves Kermit the frog.

  • avatar
    RobertSD

    Didn’t you get the memo, trk2? We need to perpetuate the lie that Ford’s hybrid was designed by Toyota. That way we don’t have to admit that Ford can actually develop a good piece of technology. Remember, Ford supports the complete burning of the rainforests while Toyota kisses baby seals.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    http://www.hybridcar.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=81&Itemid=2

    So, Why did Tom Watson work so hard to develop a hybrid engine for Ford?

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    FWIW, I was aware that Ford developed this system more or less on their own, and didn’t intend to perpetuate the myth that Ford simply bought and installed Toyota’s system.

    That said, I think that to the average motorist, associating Ford’s hybrid drive with Toyota’s can only help consumer confidence.

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    dwford said:
    #2 Unless you drive mostly in the city, be aware it’ll take you about 14 years to pay off the hybrid premium over the regular 4 cylinder (including the $2500 rebate not available on the Hybrid).

    Not sure how these numbers were run, but here’s how I ran mine:

    Comparing the Escape Hybrid FWD to the 6 cyl Escape (when C&D did a road test some years ago, the 6 was a bit faster than the hybrid, but the 4 was way way slower),per our own True Delta comparo software, the feature adjusted difference between the 6 and the hybrid was $2925 (including rebates from Ford and the US Gov’t)

    Next turning to epa.gov and comparing the annual fuel cost for the two (while adjusting the price of regular to the $3.25 I paid this morning in San Francisco), their algorithm kicked out a savings per year of $915 (it assumes 55% city/45% hwy).

    Number of years to pay back the “hybrid premium”:
    3.2.

    No wonder they’re having trouble keeping these things in stock.

  • avatar
    trk2

    P.J. McCombs

    I didn’t mean to imply that you’re article perpetuated the myth that Ford’s hybrid design was developed by Toyota. My comments were more directed at some of the other responses. I agree at this point that Ford is probably better off being associated with Toyota. It would have been nice however to give Ford the proper credit for developing independentaly a system that rivals Toyota’s. Overall a nice review.

  • avatar

    You’re being really nice about the interior.
    After test driving one myself for a few days, all I can say is that it does not belong in a car sold in 2008.

  • avatar

    I honestly dont know where you are coming from when you say that Toyota does not have a good Diesel! I have a friend in Scotland that has been driving a Corolla diesel for several years and really loves the Car, for several years she used to drive a GM Vauxhall Petrol engine, she tell me the difference between the two is like night and day!
    I also know that about 60 percent of Vehicles in Europe are Oil burners! Only wish we had them here,maybe someday as I think that to Hybirds are only a stop gap measure and E85 is not with it either.

  • avatar
    moto

    So, Ford, please tell us:

    If you’re trying to impress us with your fuel economy, why do you offer a vehicle that is less aerodynamic than a cinder block?

    If you’re trying to impress us with advanced technology, why does the driver not have any indication of it, other than the badge?

    Say what you will, Toyota did the Prius right. Its distinctive, very practical, and it is a very different driving experience. That’s what hybrid owners want. If Ford wanted to offer a cute ute hybrid, then they should have made it look and feel like something that was designed in the current decade.

  • avatar
    digitalsoul

    Maybe there is some math that says that gas savings won’t make up for the price premium paid for a hybrid. So? That’d a pretty weak argument against buying a hybrid vehicle. Assuming you’re making a fair enough salary to make such a purchase, I’m sure one could make a few reasonable adjustments to make up the difference.

    Motivation for buying a hybrid doesn’t have to be based solely upon environmentalism. You could simply enjoy the convenience of few fueling trips, or want to reduce your individual use of foreign oil.


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