- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Ford Escape is available as either a regular gasoline-powered SUV, or as a “full” hybrid. Ford is claiming that the Hybrid version is one of the world’s cleanest and most fuel-efficient available in today’s marketplace. There may be other manufacturers who will make the same claim. In any case, Ford’s Escape Hybrid does combine the benefits of a full hybrid in terms of both fuel economy and emissions. It was the first hybrid electric vehicle to provide four-wheel drive coupled with a towing capability of up to 1,000 pounds.

What is a full hybrid? you might ask. A full hybrid switches automatically between pure electric power, pure gasoline power, or a combined operation of both propulsion systems to optimize performance and efficiency.

Ultimately, full hybrids are capable of achieving a 50 percent or greater fuel-economy improvement in stop-and-go-driving, where the electric motor functions most efficiently. The Escape Hybrid actually improves fuel economy more than 75 percent in city driving over its conventionally V-6-powered Escape XLT sibling.

At a casual glance, discerning the difference between a conventional and hybrid Escape is difficult at best. There are, however, a few subtle, but key distinctions. The Escape Hybrid sports unique badging, utilizing Ford’s “Road and Leaf” insignia. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard fare, shod with Continental ContiTrac Eco Plus tires, and there is a discreet air vent in the driver’s-side rear quarter window.

A special Appearance Package is available, featuring silver body-side cladding and bright trim.

Power comes from a 2.3-liter DOHC, 16-valve Atkinson cycle in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine with electronic sequential multiport fuel injection that delivers 133 horsepower and 129 foot-pounds of torque; and a permanent magnet synchronous AC 330-volt electric motor generating 94 horsepower (70kW). The power reaches either the front wheels or all four wheels with Ford’s available Intelligent 4WD System via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT).

The electric motor and gasoline engine work together to provide performance similar to that of a normal V-6 engine. Or, in less demanding scenarios, the Escape Hybrid can run exclusively on the electric motor, on the gasoline engine alone, or the most efficient combination of both. The Escape Hybrid is capable of traveling more than 400 miles in city driving on a single tank of gasoline. Zero-to-60 acceleration performance is comparable to a 200 horsepower V-6-powered conventional Escape.

Moving to the inside, the Escape Hybrid is quite similar to the traditional 2005 Escape, with seating for five and the same 60/40 split folding rear seat. The 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is efficiently packaged beneath the rear load floor.

The Hybrid Escape comes with a flow-through console and uniquely specific gauges, including a “green zone” gauge that indicates when the vehicle is operating in the most economical mode. An optional 110-volt AC plug is also available on the center console, providing even more utility.

The test Escape Hybrid was a FWD model, finished in a Titanium Green over Silver cladding, with a Flint-toned leather interior.

The base price was set at $26,380, while the Appearance Package, Leather Comfort Group, Hybrid Energy Audiophile & Navigation System, 11-volt power outlet, Safety Package, cargo cover, rear floor mats and destination and delivery charge all contributed to bumping the final sticker to $30,825.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is an exceptionally clean machine to operate in terms of environmental friendliness, producing 97 percent less hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen emissions than vehicles that meet today’s nationwide Tier 1 emissions standard.

It qualifies for the stringent Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) classification. The intriguing part is that the operation isn’t noticeably different from that of a conventionally powered Escape. It drives and handles quite like the regular version, with all of the same amenities and conveniences.

The Escape full Hybrid features a distinctive blend of four major functions or systems: engine stop-start, which automatically shuts off the engine when it isn’t needed; engine assist, which teams the electric motor with the gasoline engine for higher performance; regenerative braking, which recovers and stores energy that otherwise would be lost as heat; and electric drive, which under certain conditions propels the vehicle exclusively under electric power.

Full hybrid systems may not be the ultimate solution to energy and pollution problems, but they are a definite step in the right direction toward preserving our environment. The Escape Hybrid makes a statement that not all SUVs are bad. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

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