2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Photos: Ford. Click image to enlarge


by Greg Wilson

The good news is that the new Ford Escape Hybrid offers approximately the same performance, passenger capacity and cargo capacity as a standard Escape V6 SUV for about the same price, but gets considerably better fuel economy and offers a big reduction in exhaust emissions.

The bad news is that its fuel economy isn’t nearly as good as advertised, and its performance is affected somewhat adversely by its continuously variable transmission and regenerative braking system.

And then there’s the unknown factor of its long-term reliability and the replacement costs of its unique electrical components. It helps that Ford offers an 8 year/160,000 km warranty on the high voltage battery and continuously variable transmission.

If current trends are correct, the Escape Hybrid will be just the first in a new generation of hybrid vehicles coming onto the market in the next few years. Toyota will soon be introducing a new Highlander hybrid and Lexus RX400h hybrid, and others not yet announced, are on their way.

The hybrid powertrain

The concept of a powerful battery and electric motor supplementing an internal combustion motor, thereby saving fuel and reducing exhaust emissions, is a simple one in theory. In a ‘full’ hybrid like the Escape, the extra battery and electric motor do the work of the gasoline-fuelled engine in light-load driving conditions, and supplement its power under higher-load requirements. Under certain conditions, the gasoline engine will operate alone.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

In addition, the powerful battery and starter-generator allow a stop-start feature where the gas engine can shut off automatically when not needed and re-start instantly when required. When braking or coasting, a regenerative braking system will charge the Escape’s 330-volt battery under the rear cargo floor. Unlike a pure electric vehicle, the Escape Hybrid never needs to be plugged in.

The trick is to make this all happen seamlessly, and the Escape Hybrid does a good job of this.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

The Escape’s gasoline engine is a 2.3 litre four cylinder unit, similar to the one in the four cylinder Escape, with a slightly different combustion cycle for improved efficiency. It produces 133 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 129 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm.

A 70-kilowatt (equivalent to 94 horsepower) electric traction motor provides an added boost to the drive wheels and a 28-kilowatt (equivalent to 38 horsepower) generator motor recharges the batteries, starts the engine and helps regulate the two. A 330-volt sealed nickel-metal-hydride battery pack beneath the rear load floor serves as the electric powertrain’s “gas tank”. Crucial to the whole system is an electronic vehicle system controller that manages charging, drive assist and engine-starting functions.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

The combined equivalent output of both the gasoline and electric motors is 155 horsepower. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the Escape Hybrid’s 133 horsepower gas engine and 94 horsepower electric motor add up to 227 horsepower, but I’m told that’s not the equivalent horsepower.

Instead of a conventional four-speed automatic transmission, the Escape Hybrid has a continuously variable transmission, which courtesy of its infinite gear ratios, has no shift points. The CVT is integral with the generator motor.

Significantly for SUV buyers, the Escape Hybrid is the first hybrid electric vehicle to offer four-wheel-drive and a towing capability of up to 1,000 pounds. That’s less than the 3500 pound towing capacity of the Escape V6, but it’s better than nothing.

Performance and driving impressions

If the reason that purchasers choose the Escape Hybrid over an Escape V6 is that it gets much better fuel economy while still offering the capabilities of a standard SUV, then they might be a little disappointed, unless they drive in the city all the time.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

In city driving, the Escape runs on battery power alone quite a bit, thereby reducing gasoline consumption. Ford claims an improvement of “at least 75% over the city fuel economy rating..for the conventional V-6 powered Escape.” According to Transport Canada’s official fuel consumption figures, the Escape Hybrid offers 7.1 L/100 km (40 m.p.g./Imperial gallons) in the city while the Escape V6 offers 13.3 L/100 km (21 m.p.g./Imperial gallons) – that’s a 47% difference. But during my city driving tests, the best I could manage was 9.3 L/100 km (31 m.p.g./Imperial gallons), a 30% improvement. The Escape Hybrid’s optional display screen shows an average fuel consumption reading for the last 15 minutes of driving enabling the driver to get a ‘real-time’ readout of fuel consumption.

On the highway, the Escape Hybrid is rated at 7.5 L/100 km (38 m.p.g./Imperial gallons) by Transport Canada while the Escape V6 is rated at 9.9 L/100 km (29 m.p.g./Imperial gallons). The best I could manage was about 9.5 L/100 km (30 m.p.g./Imperial gallons), only slightly better than the V6 Escape.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

Overall, I estimated fuel consumption to be about 20% better than a V6 Escape in combined highway and city driving. With a hybrid, mileage will vary significantly depending on where you drive, but even at the best of times, I can’t see the Escape Hybrid’s mileage matching official figures. It’s not just the Escape Hybrid that demonstrates this discrepancy – the Toyota Prius has been shown to use more gas in real-world driving that it does in official test figures.

With this in mind, it might be difficult to accept Ford’s claim that the Escape Hybrid produces 97 percent less hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen emissions than vehicles that meet today’s nationwide Tier I emissions standard, and as little as half the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). These figures depend, at least in part, on the amount of gasoline burned. Still, it’s certain that the Escape Hybrid is cleaner-burning than non-hybrid vehicles.

With its heavy battery and electrical components, the Escape Hybrid weighs about 144 kg (318 pounds) more than an Escape V6, so you might expect performance to be less exciting. But according to independent acceleration tests by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (www.ajac.ca), the Escape Hybrid does 0 to 100 km/h in 10.5 seconds while Consumer Reports says the Escape V6 does 0 to 60 mph in 10.2 seconds – not a huge difference.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

Where you will notice the difference in performance is with the CVT transmission. Under mild acceleration, the engine immediately speeds up to about 2,000 – 3,000 rpm, and stays there as the vehicle accelerates up to cruising speed. Under hard acceleration, the engine speeds up to 4,000 – 6,000 rpm, staying there until you start to back off the accelerator. In the latter situation, the engine lets out a constant buzz which some may find annoying.

However, in city driving situations, the powertrain is quieter than a non-hybrid powertrain. The engine revs very low, and when driving under battery power alone, the silence is almost eery. A consequence of this quiet operation is that pedestrians often don’t hear your vehicle coming, and some will step off the curb right in front of you because they’re not aware the vehicle is coming.

Another difference in performance is the slight drag on the brakes when coasting and braking. The regenerative braking system harnesses energy when coasting and braking to charge the large battery, but it has the effect of making the brake pedal slightly more sensitive, and offering a slight sensation of dragging when coasting downhill.

As the power steering and power brakes need to operate while the engine is shut off, the Escape Hybrid features electrically controlled steering and brakes. The steering has a very low effort feel during city driving, and offers a turning circle of 11.5 metres (37.7 feet). Like other Escapes, the Hybrid has a four wheel independent suspension and a fairly wide track, so handling is quite good and the ride is comfortable – but I would say the handling is not as lively due to its extra weight.

The optional 4WD system is an on-demand system that runs in front-wheel-drive until slip is detected, and then sends power to the rear wheels.

Interior

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Click image to enlarge

On the outside, the Escape Hybrid is almost identical in appearance to other Escapes except for unique badges, an air vent in the driver’s side rear quarter window, and the availability of silver body-side cladding.

On the inside, the Escape Hybrid features a flow-through console and unique gauges, including a “green zone” gauge that shows when the vehicle is operating on battery power. A separate gauge displays levels of charge and assist for the battery pack. An optional navigation system features an energy flow diagram that displays hybrid system operation and a fuel economy screen that displays instant and average fuel economy.

An optional, dash-mounted 110 volt AC power outlet is also available.

Like other Escape’s, the Hybrid has seating for five and includes the same 60/40 split folding rear seat. The interior and cargo area are marginally smaller in size because of the battery pack located under the rear floor, but the difference is minimal (cargo area seats up: 27.6 cu. ft. vs 29.3 cu. ft.)

Two well-equipped trim levels are available ranging in price from $33,195 (FWD) to $35,925 (4WD) plus options, freight charges, and taxes. With options, my test vehicle came to over $42,000. For more information on features, see www.ford.ca

Verdict

The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid offers SUV buyers a more fuel-efficient alternative to traditional SUVs that doesn’t compromise performance or passenger and cargo space. However, its actual fuel consumption is not as good as advertised, and transmission performance is unusual.

Technical Data: 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD

Base price (2WD) $33,195
Base price (4WD) $35,925
Options Navigation and centre screen display $2,595; Leather comfort group $995; Safety package front side airbags and curtain airbags $960; premium audio w/7 speakers $380; Appearance package 2-tone silver $700; cargo cover $95
Freight $995
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $42,745
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact SUV
Layout transverse front engine/on-demand all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.3 litre four cylinder
Horsepower 133 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 129 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Combined horsepower of engine and electric motor equivalent 155 horsepower
Electric motor Permanent magnet AC synchronous motor
Power 94 hp (70kW) @ 3000 – 5000 rpm
Battery Nickel-metal hydride
Voltage 330V maximum
Transmission continuously variable
Tires P235/70R-16 all-season
Curb weight 1716 kg (3782 lb.)
Towing capacity 454 kg (1000 lb.)
Wheelbase 2621 mm (103.2 in)
Length 4442 mm (174.9 in.)
Width 1824 mm (71.8 in.)
Height 1778 mm (70.0 in.)
Cargo area 782 litres (27.6 cu. ft.) rear seat up
  1855 litres (65.5 cu. ft.) rear seat down
Fuel consumption City: 7.1 L/100 km (40 m.p.g.) (Imperial gallons)
  Hwy: 7.5 L/100 km (38 m.p.g.) (Imperial gallons)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Battery/CVT warranty 8 yrs/160,000 km

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