NEW FOR 2008:

– New interior and exterior styling
– Redesigned controls with “top of dash” information display
– New “Ice Blue” interior lighting replaces green
– New speed-sensitive electric power steering
– Standard electronic stability control
– Standard side and curtain airbags
– Manual transmission discontinued

For 2008, the Ford Escape continues to be offered both as a conventional gasoline vehicle and as a gasoline-electric hybrid. All models feature new exterior styling, including a higher beltline, truck-inspired grille, higher hood, new fascias, and new headlamps. Inside, seat fabrics are made from 100 per cent recycled materials and carpet is up to 50 per cent thicker; there is a new centre stack, a console large enough to hold a laptop computer, and a “top of dash” information display at eye level.

The conventional Escape is offered with a choice of 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine or 3.0-litre V6, both mated to a four-speed automatic transmission; the Hybrid uses the 2.3-litre with electric motor and nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All engines base with front-wheel drive but can be optioned to all-wheel drive.

The XLS uses the 2.3-litre and is only available in FWD; features include 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry, CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input jack, cloth seats, front and rear floor mats, tire pressure monitoring system, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, tilt wheel, variable intermittent wipers and two-speed rear wiper.

The XLT uses the 2.3-litre but can be optioned to the V6, and can be had in FWD or AWD; the trim line adds 16-inch alloy wheels, premium-grade cloth seats, cruise control, automatic headlamps, fog lamps, privacy glass, roof rack with crossbars, and six-way power driver’s seat.

The Limited uses the 3.0-litre with AWD, and adds 16-inch bright aluminum wheels, six-CD/MP3 stereo with Sirius satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, power sunroof, reverse sensing system, body-colour door handles and mirrors, compass, keyless entry keypad, and heated leather seats.

Features on the Hybrid include 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, tire pressure monitoring system, premium cloth seats with six-way power driver’s adjustment, six-CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack, fog lamps, privacy glass, roof rack side rails and chrome grille. Electronic stability control and traction control are not available on the hybrid.

The Escape’s new tough-guy styling is deceiving: although it looks much bulkier than the 2006 version, it’s virtually the same length and it’s not as tall, although it’s 25 mm wider. Chassis refinements give it more of a car-like ride compared to the previous model’s more truck-like manners, and the new electric power steering gives it a nimble feeling.

The Hybrid is a “full hybrid”, meaning that its electric motor teams with the engine for better performance on acceleration, while enabling the vehicle to run on its battery for short periods up to about 48 km/h, and shut off at idle. The system’s software has been improved to improve transition between gasoline and electric operation.

Overall, this facelift has turned out an impressive vehicle, although some might find the Limited’s full chrome grille a bit too nose-heavy. The introduction of side and curtain airbags, electronic stability control and roll control as standard features across the line is a welcome addition, but some may mourn the loss of the stick shift on the four-cylinder version, where it was able to make the most of the smaller engine’s power.

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