One of the motivations to go hybrid is the promise of significantly higher fuel efficiency. This has never been lost to us at Green Car Journal, though it did take quite a few years to catch on with car buyers in general since the very first Honda and Toyota hybrids were introduced here more than two decades ago, followed by the first gas-electric SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid.
Today, the reasons to opt for a hybrid are more evident than ever. In the midst of historically high gas prices, we seriously appreciate that the Ford Escape Hybrid we drive every day is amazingly fuel efficient. Even though we complain like everyone else whenever we fill up now, we gripe perhaps a bit less because we know our Escape is consistently delivering its promised 41 mpg combined fuel economy. As many know quite well, EPA fuel economy estimates lend an idea, but not a promise, of what actual fuel efficiency expectations should be for any given model. In this case it’s spot on based on a lot of miles on the road.
Escape Plug-In Hybrid Delayed
We feel compelled to point out that the Escape, which Ford introduced as an all-new generation in the 2020 model year, is a bit of a tease. True, Ford made waves at its introduction by offering a pair of EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, an efficient hybrid, and promising a plug-in hybrid. But the ever-changing automotive field that’s been hugely impacted by the pandemic and a persistent silicon chip shortage upended lots of plans, including the rollout of the new Escape and in particular the Escape PHEV.
To wit: Whatever the reason – though the pandemic likely had as much to do with it as anything – the abundance of new-generation Escapes on Ford dealer lots was significant in 2020 and 2021. Loads of 2020 Escapes were still being heavily promoted and discounted well into the 2021 model year, with the same occurring with 2021 models when 2022 Escapes were on sale. That meant some pretty sweet deals for those on the hunt for a new crossover SUV.
That’s all changed now that the chip shortage has become entrenched, new car availability tightened considerably, and prices shot upward across the board. Amid this changing backdrop, the highly-anticipated 2020 Escape PHEV variant never happened. The aforementioned challenges and a battery issue delayed the planned plug-in hybrid intro here until late in the 2021 model year.
When the all-new, fourth-generation Escape debuted it did so with a lower and smoother look and a distinctively more car-like front end than earlier iterations. A bit longer and wider with a slightly lower roofline, the popular crossover features slightly more interior space with additional rear legroom and up to 37.5 cubic feet of useable stowage behind the rear seats. A Panoramic sunroof is available on specific models like the Escape Hybrid Titanium we drive daily.
High MPG Hybrid Power
Gasoline and standard hybrid variants of the Escape are offered with front- and four-wheel-drive, while the plug-in hybrid comes exclusively with front-wheel drive. Our Escape Hybrid test car’s combustion part of the power equation is a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. This engine is augmented with two electric motors that bring total combined system power to 200 horsepower. A PowerSplit electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) transfers power to the road. The hybrid is energized with a 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack positioned under the floor.
Start-stop engine technology enhances efficiency, though we’ve found it to be a bit abrupt under certain conditions, like when backing out of a driveway on brief battery power and then shifting into drive. Every time, we’ve found the changeover from electric to combustion power happens within seconds of moving forward and feels more noticeable than we’d like.
Being the car enthusiasts that we are, there’s always a yearning to eke more performance from many of the most efficient vehicles we test drive. But honestly, the Escape Hybrid hits a pretty impressive sweet spot. Acceleration and overall performance are just what you need in an efficient compact SUV, with its 200 horsepower delivered confidently and seamlessly whenever needed for passing or just a bit of fun on twisty roads.
Big Features in a Smaller SUV
Inside, this compact SUV strikes a good balance of comfort and economy of space, the latter expected in a crossover in this segment and the former not always delivered in smaller SUVs. In this case, the Escape Hybrid feels like a good fit. There’s plenty of seating and elbow room up front and a good amount of space for rear seat passengers. Of course, squeezing three adults in the back is possible since this is a five-seater, but we’ll bet that most families will have at least a few younger passengers in the rear so three side-to-side adults riding along will be a rarity. Legroom in the back is reasonable though things can get cramped if tall folks are up front and seats are adjusted considerably back. Adding comfort to the rear are 60/40 split back seats offering limited recline and the ability to slide rearward to add extra legroom when needed.
Escape Hybrid offers an array of desired comfort, infotainment, and driver assist systems to enhance safety and the driving experience. Our Titanium model includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and center 8-inch touch screen display. Ford Co-Pilot360 features include Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane-Centering, Evasive Steering Assist, and Voice-Activated Navigation. Wi-Fi for up to 10 mobile devices is provided through FordPass Connect. We found USB connections in the front console to be handy, along with the 110-volt AC outlet located in the rear seat area below the center console’s air register. For everyday drives when the weather turns colder, we especially like the heated steering wheel and front seats, which come up to temperature surprisingly fast.
Our considerable time behind the wheel of the Escape Hybrid has found us appreciating its welcome compact SUV functionality, satisfying performance, and comfortable ride. It has proved to be an enjoyable and dependable daily ride that lends some comfort during these times of exceptionally high gas prices. An additional benefit is that the Escape Hybrid runs on less pricy regular grade gas and its combined gas-electric power provides a 550 mile driving range that means fewer fill-ups…something that’s just fine by us.
Photography by Sheree Gardner Cogan