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2006 Ford Escape Hybrid review

August 27, 2005 12:48 PM EST | Ford , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageFord introduced the Escape in 2001 to capture buyers in the rapidly growing small SUV segment. It quickly became a best-seller thanks to a desirable combination of size, power and ruggedly handsome styling. First-year Escapes suffered numerous recalls, but recent models seem to have the bugs worked out. Mazda also sells a version of this vehicle. Called the Tribute, it shares the Escape's basic structure, platform and powertrains. A more luxurious version is also available from Mercury, dubbed the Mariner. Appealing to a wide range of buyers, the Escape (and Tribute/Mariner) is intended for those who want the styling and all-wheel-drive capability of a traditional SUV combined with the size, price, practicality and driving characteristics of a midsize car. The Escape is more suited to on-road driving than off-roading, due to its light-duty AWD system and unibody construction, and isn't as rugged as some other compact SUVs like the Nissan Xterra and Jeep Liberty. Its main competitors include vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Saturn Vue and Toyota RAV4. Ford took a bold step for 2005 with the introduction of the very first hybrid-electric SUV. The hybrid drivetrain uses a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine in conjunction with electric motors to provide power while keeping emissions and fuel usage to a minimum. Under full acceleration, both power sources work together to provide maximum oomph, but under lighter load conditions, such as stop-and-go traffic, the Escape Hybrid alternates between the two, oftentimes running purely on battery power alone. A regenerative braking system converts energy normally lost as heat into electricity to recharge the car's batteries. Available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Escape Hybrid boasts V6-like acceleration and gets up to 36 mpg. If you like the idea of driving a hybrid that doesn't force you to give up an ounce of day-to-day practicality, you would be wise to test-drive Ford's Escape Hybrid.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Escape Hybrid is available in one four-door body style with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Standard amenities include air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, cruise control and an in-dash CD changer. The new premium package includes monochromatic exterior paint, heated leather seats, reverse-sensing system, an 110V A/C outlet and a navigation system. A moonroof is also optional.

Powertrains and Performance:
The Escape Hybrid power plant consists of a 2.3-liter gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators. Ford calls the transmission a CVT, but there's no rotating belt as is in a conventional CVT. Instead, the motors work in concert with the gas engine through a planetary gear set to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency. If you're the driver of an Escape Hybrid, all you have to do is move the shift lever to "D" and press the gas pedal. Fuel mileage is rated at 36 city and 31 highway on the 2WD model and 33/29 on the 4WD, making the Escape Hybrid the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market.

Safety:
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard. The optional Safety Package includes front side-impact airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor. The Escape has done well in government crash testing, earning a perfect five stars for the driver in frontal impacts and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact crash tests, it received five stars for both front- and rear-seat occupants. Less impressive is the Escape's "Acceptable" rating (the second-highest) in the frontal offset crash test conducted by the IIHS. When equipped with side airbags, the Escape merits a "Good" rating (the highest) from the IIHS for side-impact protection.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The Escape has never been known for its exciting interior, but most buyers will find the layout functional and user-friendly. The front seats can accommodate adults of all sizes, while the backseat is comfortable for kids and passable for adults. There is 28 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and you can fold them down to open up 65 cubic feet of capacity, a good figure for this class.

Driving Impressions:
Fun to drive, the Ford Escape Hybrid offers impressive road manners for a compact SUV. It drives much like a tautly suspended sedan, with little body roll and responsive steering. The swift hybrid powertrain is nearly as quick as the V6 Escape and returns outstanding fuel mileage.

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