Performance of the Escape Hybrid is almost indistinguishable from the conventional Ford Escape with the 200hp V-6. The main difference is the Hybrid is capable of an honest 40mpg in stop and go driving and 500 miles between fill ups. Cost differential between the conventional Ford Escape XLT and the Escape Hybrid is about $3,500. MSRP: $26,970 (FWD) and $28,595 (4WD); Warranty: 3yrs/36,000 miles overall and 8 years/100,000 miles on Hybrid components.
This is the first of the new breed of fuel-efficient hybrid SUVs to appear in the US. What is significant is Ford chose its popular Escape as the vehicle. The full hybrid drive system used in the Escape is based on the technology developed for the Toyota Prius, which means it is essentially an electric car with gasoline engine back up. In low load situations such as stop and go, city-type driving, the vehicle runs exclusively on electric power. The battery pack is re-charged or re-generated both when the vehicle is decelerating and when it is braking. It is also recharged when the gasoline engine is operating. The battery pack is located under the rear storage area and doesnt occupy any of the available storage space. Apart from the very unconventional hybrid drive, the rest of the car is a conventional Ford Escape XLT with either FWD or 4WD. The Escape Hybrid will be assembled in Kansas City (Mo) on the same line as the regular Escape (and the Mazda Tribute). Ford maintains it has no idea what the demand will be but according to the affable Saud Abbasi, SUV Brand Manager for Ford of Canada, they are prepared to produce however many or however few are needed to meet it.
In the Drivers Seat
The Escape Hybrid is basically an electric car with a gasoline engine back up. The main components of the system are a conventional Ford Duratec 2.3L 4-cylinder gasoline engine matched up with a 70KW (equivalent to 94hp) permanent magnet traction motor. The electric motor can propel the car on its own or in concert with gasoline engine to provide performance equivalent to a conventional V-6. The gasoline engine fires up seamlessly (within 400 milliseconds) when additional power is needed such as under hard acceleration or during high speed highway driving. It will also start when the battery charge falls below optimal levels. A planetary gear set connects the drive wheels to the gasoline engine and the electric traction motor so that the vehicle can move on any combination of electric and gasoline power depending on which is more efficient at that instant. The electric motor is most efficient at low vehicle speeds where the gasoline engine is least efficient and vice versa. The Escape Hybrid can be driven up to 25 miles on electric power alone, thus using no gasoline and causing no emissions. Electric assist steering ensures power steering even when the gasoline engine is off.
On the Road
While the basic system used in the Escape Hybrid is licensed from Toyota, Fords engineers claim they have considerably modified the Toyota system and, in many instances, improved on it. I dont know about that but I can say the Escape driving experience is quite different from the Prius. In fact, if you did not know the Escape was a hybrid, youd be hard pressed to realize you werent driving a conventional 200 hp V-6. It is smooth, quiet and amazingly quick. The 0 60mph time has to be below 9 seconds, which again puts it well into V-6 territory. In order to optimize the efficiency of the mostly conventional 2.3L Duratec 4-cylinder engine under the hood, some interesting modifications have been made to it. One of the most interesting is the Atkinson-Cycle variant of the conventional 4-stroke cycle. It is tailored to the hybrids specific driving characteristics and reduces fuel consumption by an additional 4%. The Atkinson-Cycle variant reduces low-end torque, which is not needed on a Hybrid drive since the electric motors provide instant maximum torque. Power gets to the wheels via a fuel efficient, electronically controlled continuous variable transmission (eCVT). Towing capacity is 1000 lbs.
Ford really has to be commended for this initiative. It almost (but not quite) makes up for a portion of the Expedition and Excursion SUVs it has inflicted on thousands of unsuspecting suburbanites over the past few years. Alain Bratty, who is president of Ford of Canada, said the Escape Hybrid is a perfect example of Bill Fords idea of flexible manufacturing. You build however many vehicles the market wants rather than however many you have capacity to manufacture. Lets hope that the market the critically important US market in particular - wants this one and wants it now. It is a harbinger of the future propulsion systems Americans will have in their automobiles in coming years. And not a moment too soon. After all, who doesnt want to be able to drive twice as far on a tank of gas while getting great performance? Apart from the living roof on the refurbished Ford Rouge manufacturing complex, this is the first tangible sign Ive seen that Bill Ford is serious about doing the right thing for the environment and about eliminating North Americans completely unnecessary waste of costly imported fuel. Bravo, Bill.