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2005 Ford Escape Hybrid - Clean and Green


by Ken Gross/

With its clever Escape Hybrid SUV, Ford Motor Company minimized a popular complaint—that contemporary sport-utility vehicles are hopelessly fuel-inefficient and thus symbolic of the biggest challenge facing internal combustion technology. The Escape Hybrid offers front-wheel drive or automatic intelligent four-wheel drive, along with impressive 31/36 city/highway fuel economy. That figure compares well with a 20-mpg city rating in a V-6-equipped Ford Escape.

And itís a true Hybrid, meaning that the Escapeís dual power plants can run separately, or together, depending upon your requirements, rewarding you with what Ford claims is up to a 50-percent improvement in fuel economy during typical, gas-guzzling, stop-and-go driving.

We noted there are two power sources. Hereís what you get: an Atkinson cycle (for improved combustion) twin-cam 133-hp four-cylinder internal combustion engine is mated to a continuously variable planetary automatic transmission (CVT). Thereís also a 94-hp generator electric traction motor, which provides additional boost to the drive wheels under hard acceleration, an electro-hydraulic brake-by-wire system and even electric power steering. A 28 g-watt (equivalent to 38 hp) generator motor recharges the batteries, starts the engine after shut-downs and helps regulate the way the two propulsion channels blend smoothly together in the Escapeís CVT transaxle.

Ford modeled its system after the successful Toyota Prius, and has licensed some Toyota technology, but the Escapeís twin-engined set-up includes several impressive elements where Ford has its own patents pending. Fordís hybrid drive system switches off when the vehicle is stopped, unless the HVAC systemís demands are high, and it restarts instantly when you step on the accelerator. Take off slowly and at speeds up to 25 mph, the Escape will run solely on electric power. Accelerate hard and the gasoline engine and the electric motor work together, for near-V-6 performance with 4-cylinder economy. Regenerative braking helps store energy that would otherwise be lost as generated heat. The hybrid system adds about 375 pounds to the overall vehicle weight.

The Escape Hybrid has an impressive range of 400 miles on its 15.0-gallon tank. Its electric motor draws from a 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack thatís sealed beneath the rear load floor. Best of all, the Escape Hybrid produces some 97-percent less HC and NOX emissions than vehicles that meet Tier 1 emission standards. CO2 emissions are one-half of a conventional power plantís. The Escape Hybrid qualifies for the Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standard.

Although some Hybrids have unusual exterior features and fairly advertise the fact that youíre driving something different, the Escape is subtle. Thereís discrete road-and-leaf badging and an available special bright trim package featuring silver-painted body side cladding and wheel lip moldings, along with body-color door handles. The Escape Hybrid rolls on handsome, five-spoke 16-inch wheels and P235/70R16 all-season tires. It also boasts a set of unique gauges, including a ďgreen zoneĒ gauge that displays when the vehicle is operating in its most economical mode. A flow-through center console is standard. It can be supplemented with an optional 110-volt, 150-watt AC plug that permits campers to run everything from TV sets to stereos.

Just because the Escape Hybrid is a fuel economy star doesnít mean you canít have a few luxuries. An optional leather comfort accessory group includes a leather-wrapped wheel and leather-trimmed seats. Although the vehicle is well equipped for safety with dual front airbags, you can also opt for Fordís Safety Canopy side air curtain system and front side-impact airbags, as well. Hedonists may insist on the optional MACH Audio six-disc in-dash CD changer. And the options list also includes a cargo cover as well as a Hybrid energy display or power flow monitor incorporating a navigation system, plus the aforementioned upgraded stereo, for $1850.

Inside, thereís comfortable seating for five passengers, fully 27 cubic feet of cargo space (the battery pack takes up about 1.7-cubic feet) behind the second row of seats, and 65 cubic feet of storage with the rear seat folded. Load up to 100 pounds on the sturdy roof rack and the Escape is capable of impressive hauling. The Escape Hybrid is rated to tow up to 1,000 pounds (the standard Escape can handle 1500 pounds)—enough for a light boat, camp trailer or a couple of dirt bikes.

Underway, the Hybrid nature of the Escape is partially masked when you dip heavily into the power. From the driverís standpoint, it feels conventional and responds normally. Of course, when youíre stopped in traffic and the gasoline engine shuts off all by itself, thereís no mistaking that this is no regular SUV. Other differences? Due to the CVT transmission you may note increased revs when climbing highway hills. Conversely, thereís not much engine braking when youíre descending. No matter, response to the throttle is lively, and the Escape Hybrid runs with even the fastest moving traffic much like a conventional V-6 Escape. Under hard acceleration, the four-cylinder gasoline engine sounds a bit busier than a conventional V-6-but the increase in fuel economy makes for a worthwhile trade-off.

The Escape Hybrid isnít a serious off-road vehicle, but it will handle uneven surfaces, gravel roads and, weíd expect, snowy surfaces, with aplomb. For drivers that need maximum grip, the Escape Hybrid 4WD is the clear choice—and ranks as the first ever hybrid to offer the sure all-season traction of four-wheel drive.

After a short time in the Escape Hybrid, you quickly adapt to the minor differences between it and a conventional SUV. One thing you may never adapt to, however, is the Escape Hybridís unique ability to roll past gas stations that seem to have a magnetic attraction for conventional SUVs. (


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