Full 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid Review
What's New for 2008
As with the regular gasoline version, the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid gets an exterior makeover. Inside, the cabin has been updated to improve its appearance and functionality, and there's extra insulation to quiet the highway ride. Side and head curtain airbags are now standard, as are automatic climate control and an MP3 player input jack. The optional navigation system runs off a DVD instead of CDs this year and has a larger display with a touchscreen interface.
The Ford Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid SUV to enter the market, and for 2008, it's still the most fuel-efficient. New EPA testing procedures have lowered its mileage ratings this year, but the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid remains one of the few sport-utilities capable of returning 30 mpg in real-world driving. At the same time, it offers ample room and comfort for a family of four and a golden retriever. Bottom line, you don't give up much in the way of practicality when you choose to wear the "Hybrid" badge.
Like the regular Ford Escape, the Escape Hybrid gets a fresh look for 2008. New, square-jawed bodywork gives Ford's hybrid SUV a tougher appearance. Inside, Ford designers have made some important upgrades. The climate and stereo controls have a tidier layout this year, and the instrumentation has a more upscale and modern appearance -- replete with ice-blue lighting at night. In addition, there's now justification for spending extra to get the navigation system, as it runs off DVDs this year and has a larger touchscreen display. Ford also took measures to address its small SUV's noisy highway ride, redesigning the roof panel and fitting a laminated windshield, acoustic headliner and thicker carpeting.
Aside from its more serene cabin, the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid offers an identical driving experience to last year's model. Its powertrain still consists of a 2.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, a pair of electric motors and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) that basically works like a regular automatic transmission. Although the cumulative horsepower rating of 155 doesn't sound very impressive, the Escape Hybrid is quicker than the regular four-cylinder Escape and feels almost as fast as the V6 model. The main difference between driving an Escape Hybrid and driving a regular Escape comes down to handling: The Hybrid feels top-heavy around turns due to its extra 300 pounds of curb weight.
Buyers who drive the Ford Escape Hybrid back to back with newer small SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 will likely be disappointed by the Ford's comparatively noisy power delivery and sluggish dynamics. And given that both of these competitors are capable of returning mileage in the high 20s, there's a good case to be made for buying a traditional gasoline-powered small SUV instead of a hybrid. However, if you compare the Escape Hybrid to the less refined Saturn Vue Green Line and the more expensive Toyota Highlander Hybrid, it becomes a much more attractive candidate. Add in the fact that buying a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid will still net you a nice tax credit, and it's certainly worth considering if you'd like to do something nice for the planet and save a little money on gas without giving up the SUV lifestyle.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A compact SUV, the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid is available in one four-door body style with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a four-speaker CD stereo with an MP3 player input jack, cruise control and full power accessories.
On the options list for the Escape Hybrid you'll find a DVD-based navigation system (with a hybrid energy flow/fuel-consumption display) bundled with an upgraded seven-speaker audio system with an in-dash CD changer. Another popular add-on is the Premium Package, which offers leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 110-volt AC outlet, a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, a roof rack and rear parking sensors. Several of these items can also be purchased à la carte. Other options include a moonroof and running boards.
Powertrains and Performance
The Escape Hybrid power plant consists of a 2.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators. Net output is 155 hp. Ford calls the transmission a CVT, but there's no rotating belt as in a conventional CVT. Instead, the motors work in concert with the gas engine through a planetary gearset to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency. If you're the driver of an Escape Hybrid, all you have to do is move the shift lever to "D" and press the gas pedal. On AWD Escape Hybrid models, a third electric motor steps in to drive the rear wheels when extra acceleration or traction is needed. It's not a true all-wheel-drive system, though, and buyers needing a serious snow vehicle will be better served by the regular gasoline-powered Escape. With the EPA's adjusted fuel economy ratings for 2008, the front-drive Escape Hybrid comes in at 34 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, while the AWD version is listed at 29/27.
Antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor are standard. Stability control is not available. Crash tests of the '08 model have not yet been performed as of this writing but we expect it to earn scores similar to the 2007 model. In NHTSA frontal-impact tests, the '07 Escape Hybrid earned four out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection. In side-impact crash tests, it received five stars for both front- and rear-seat occupants. In frontal-offset crash testing conducted by the IIHS, the '07 Escape received an "Acceptable" rating (the second-highest on a scale of four). In side-impact testing, it received a "Good" rating (the highest).
Interior Design and Special Features
The Escape has never been known for its exciting interior, but most buyers will find the 2008 model's cabin layout functional and user-friendly. The front seats can accommodate adults of all sizes, while the backseat is roomy enough for adults and children, even if its cushions are a bit flat. Note that the standard cloth upholstery is made out of 100-percent recyclable material for '08. There are 28 cubic feet of cargo space behind the 60/40-split rear seats, and you can fold them down to open up 65 cubic feet of capacity, a decent figure for this class. One annoyance particular to the Escape Hybrid is the fact that the air-conditioner only cools the cabin when the gasoline engine is running. Using the "max A/C" setting keeps the engine from shutting off in stop-and-go traffic, but prevents you from reaping the fuel savings of electric-only propulsion in these situations. (Other hybrids get around this problem by using an electric A/C compressor.)
Although the gasoline engine makes too much racket during hard acceleration, the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid feels nearly as quick as the V6 Escape, while returning outstanding fuel mileage. Ride quality is acceptable for this class, but handling is a bit of a letdown. With an extra 300 pounds of curb weight compared to a regular Escape, the Hybrid model exhibits considerable body roll around turns and generally feels less agile than most small SUVs. The Escape Hybrid's regenerative brakes provide solid stopping ability, but can be difficult to modulate due to the brake pedal's excessive stiffness at the top of its travel.