Thursday, June 24, 2004

I can finally report that there is an alternative in gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles. For those of you chomping at the bit to express your greenness, but who don’t want to downsize to a small compact vehicle, now there is an alternative.

Ford has readied its Escape Hybrid for sale to the public. This is, however, one of those good thing/bad thing situations. Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad. And, upon reflection, the bad isn’t all that bad.

With the Escape Hybrid comes a larger passenger compartment, allowing more room for passengers and cargo. The elevated seating position, one of the main reasons buyers look toward SUVs, offers increased visibility. And certainly the hybrid aspect of this Escape gives those folks who want to project an image that they are environmentally correct an alternative over compact cars. And in this day of sky-rocketing gasoline prices, saving at the pump is a good thing.

The Ford Escape hybrid also offers a choice in modes of drivetrain. This Ford is available in either a two-wheel-drive model or a four-wheel-drive version, widening its appeal. This is the first offering of a four-wheel-drive hybrid vehicle, and will certainly make this Escape a popular choice.

According to the folks at Ford’s advertising agency, the ones who conceptualize the ads for the Blue Oval, now your hybrid vehicle can take you to the very places you are helping to save.

While the mileage achieved from a gallon of gasoline is substantially better than a normal gasoline-only-powered vehicle it isn’t going to shatter any world record. But again, looking at the price of a gallon of gasoline, every little bit helps.

To be as fair as possible, we have to look at a comparably equipped gasoline-powered Escape and weigh its actual mileage against that of the Escape Hybrid. A two-wheel-drive Escape equipped with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine has an EPA rating for fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg for highway driving. This is a general rating and my numbers usually run between the EPA’s. During my adventure with the Escape Hybrid, I averaged just under 39 mpg.

Where this gets even better is when you realize this figure was achieved across a wide range of driving scenarios. I traveled along busy city streets, high-speed freeways and twisting country roads.

The actual driving experience is little different from an average SUV. The Escape is a well-equipped vehicle, offering plenty of comfort for five persons and their cargo. When outfitted with the gasoline/electric hybrid system, towing and load carrying capacity is a bit lower, but you won’t really notice.

Another thing, you won’t get noticed as readably as you might in one of those odd-looking hybrid sedans. You see, the Escape looks identical to its gasoline-only siblings.

The only way observers will ever know you are driving a hybrid is if they spot the rather small hybrid badges on the front fenders and tailgate. So if you are one who just must get noticed for your green attitude, you may have to design your own paint scheme.

The Escape Hybrid offers more than just the increase in mileage; it offers V-6 performance in the coupling of an in-line four-cylinder with the electric motor. But that is only part of the way you save fuel. Drive smoothly under 13 mph, much like you might in stop-and-go traffic and the electric motor does all the work. When you need the additional boost from the gas engine, put your foot more aggressively into the throttle and the gas engine instantly starts up and powers you off.

While the jury is still out on whether a hybrid gasoline/electric system is the answer to our gasoline situation, it is a very good start. When you analyze the Ford Escape for its performance, economy, roominess and comfort, it is easy to see that this vehicle is one that can bridge the gap.

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