Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2004   by David Booth

Ford’s Keen On Its Green

As powerful as the V6 Escape, Ford's new hybrid SUV consumes far less gasoline.

Ford wants to be clear about one thing. Its new gasoline/electric powered 2005 Escape is a “full” hybrid, — in fact the very first such full hybrid to be built in North America. Strewn throughout the copious press literature Ford’s marketing scribes have generated on the hybrid-powered Escape are numerous comparisons, never favourable, with so-called “mild” hybrids.

According to Mary Anne Wright, Ford’s director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicles, mild hybrids are hardly hybrids at all, with neither a huge battery pack nor the ability to power the vehicle by electric motor alone.

The Escape, by contrast, has a whole bank of 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride batteries under its rear floor and a huge 70 kilowatt (94 horsepower) electric motor that can scoot Ford’s best-selling sport cute to almost 50km/h all by itself.

The rest of the drivetrain is more familiar standard Ford fare, with a few minor twists. Along with the 94 hp electric motor, the Escape is powered by the Duratec 23 2.3-litre four-banger now used as the base engine in the conventional Escape. Designed by Mazda, the Escape’s version is further modified for use with something called the Atkinson Cycle, which Ford says improves fuel economy by four percent compared with the Escape’s conventional Duratec 23.

Along with the electric motor, which is most powerful at low speeds, Ford claims that the Hybrid also has the same acceleration as the top-of-the-line, 200 hp, V6-powered Escape, albeit with fuel economy improved by as much as 50 percent.

The addition of the electric motor’s 94 peak horsepower to the gas engine’s 133 indeed adds up to something that feels akin to a V6. In fact, because the electric motor is so torquey down low, the Hybrid feels spunkier when throttling up from a standstill. It’s so powerful that I regularly got the Escape up to 40km/h before the gasoline engine kicked in (I never got much past 15km/h in the Prius). And though the eCVT transmission keeps the engine running at a semi-constant speed during acceleration, there is none of the droning exhaust note that typifies four-cylinder engines until the 2.3L passes 4,500 rpm. The bottom line is that for all intents and purposes the Hybrid equals, or betters, the V6’s performance.

Because the electric motor adds most of its boost at low speeds, the Escape Hybrid’s biggest fuel economy gains are in the city, where Ford brags of a 72 to 75 (depending on whether it’s an RWD or AWD application, both of which will be available in Canada) percent reduction compared with the V6 model. But since the gasoline engine predominates on the highway, the reduction in fuel consumption is a much more modest 16 percent. I never duplicated Ford’s numbers, but achieved about 36 miles per U.S. gallon in the city, despite a leaden foot that was more interested in testing the Hybrid’s acceleration than eking out every last drop of fuel economy.

Like other hybrids (Honda’s Civic and the Toyota Prius), the Escape shuts down the engine when the SUV is stopped for fuel consumption purposes. However, Ford found that, for many motorists, having the engine shut down at traffic intersections was disconcerting.

To ease the transition, the Escape’s gas engine typically shuts off while the vehicle is still coasting to a stop, so the vehicle becomes quiet gradually. And because the engine is started by a high-voltage electrical system instead of the typical small, 12-volt starter, it springs to life almost instantly, a boon for driver confidence and performance.

Which is exactly the feeling Ford is striving for. The entire raison d’tre for hybrids is to offer fuel economy and emissions advantages without changing the driving experience to any noticeable degree. Judged on those standards, you’d have to call the Escape Hybrid a tremendous success.


Base Price:$33,195

Engine:2.3L/Electric hybrid


Length: 4,442.5 mm (174.9 in.)

Fuel, L/100 km:City – 6.6, Hwy. – 7.0

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