Full 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Review
What's New for 2009
A slightly larger, more powerful engine, the addition of stability control and the debut of Ford's Sync system (which allows voice commands to a cell phone, audio system and navigation system) highlight the tweaks made to the Ford Escape Hybrid for 2009. Other changes include the addition of a Limited trim level, the adoption of a capless fuel-filler system and ambient cabin lighting.
Which one of these associations isn't always true? A) Cinnabon = Calories. B) Amy Winehouse = Rehab. C) SUV = Gas Guzzler.
If you picked C, congratulations; you've just won a 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid. OK, so you didn't really win -- this isn't "The Price is Right," after all. But C is the correct answer. The first hybrid SUV to hit the market, the Ford Escape Hybrid is currently the most fuel-efficient ute available, with EPA figures of 34 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined. And this is with a slightly larger engine (2.5 liters versus 2.3) for the 2009 Escape Hybrid that makes 20 more horsepower than last year.
Other improvements this year for the Escape include the debut of Ford's Sync voice-interface system, a new processor to smooth out the transition between gas and electric modes, a capless fuel filler, a refined regenerative braking system and the introduction of a Limited trim level for those who want all the luxury with their fuel efficiency. There's also a new Economy mode for the air-conditioner, which allows the gas engine to shut down. Previously, if the A/C was on, the gas engine was on all the time, which obviously hurts the efficiency of a hybrid. One unwelcome change this year is the puzzling fitment of drum brakes to the rear. (Previously, the Escape Hybrid had four-wheel discs.)
As with other "full" hybrids -- the kind that can be propelled up to speeds approaching 30 mph or more solely by their electric motors -- the Escape Hybrid offers surprisingly sprightly acceleration. Thanks to the nature of electric motors (they make peak torque almost immediately) combined with this year's stronger engine, the Escape provides "have your Cinnabon and eat it, too" performance that is more V6-like than inline-4-like.
Although the Ford Escape lineup has enjoyed a respectable reputation in regard to its handling, it was never known for a plush ride. Revisions to the underpinnings this year have improved the latter without giving up much of the former. However, there is a difference in handling capability between the Hybrid and the regular Escape. The Hybrid can feel a little top-heavy when pushed around turns, due to its 300 pounds of additional curb weight. Still, most folks won't notice much of a difference and should be pleased by the Escape Hybrid's ride and handling balance.
Having said all that, consumers who cross-shop the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid with regular compact SUVs, like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, may be disappointed by the Ford's comparatively noisy power delivery, mediocre braking performance and somewhat sluggish dynamics. And given that both of these competitors cost thousands less and are capable of returning average mileage in the mid-20s, there's a case to be made for choosing a traditional gasoline-powered small SUV instead of a more expensive hybrid. However, if you compare the Escape Hybrid to the less refined Saturn Vue Green Line and the more expensive Vue Green Line Two-Mode and Toyota Highlander Hybrid, it becomes a much more attractive candidate.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A compact SUV, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is available in two trim levels, both with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Standard features on the base version 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 and satellite radio, cruise control and full power accessories. Spring for the Limited and you'll also get keypad entry, chrome exterior accents, rear parking assist, the Sync system (which allows voice commands for a cell phone, the audio system and the optional navigation system), leather seating, heated front seats, a sunroof, a six-disc CD changer, a retractable cargo cover, switchable ambient lighting and unique chrome and piano-black cabin accents.
Optional for the Escape Hybrid is a navigation system (with a hybrid energy flow/fuel-consumption display) that comes bundled with an upgraded seven-speaker audio system with an in-dash CD changer. Also available are a sunroof for the base Hybrid and running boards for both versions.
Powertrains and Performance
The Escape Hybrid power plant consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors/generators. Their net output is 177 hp and they're mated to what Ford calls a continuously variable transmission, 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 not a car buff, you needn't worry about figuring that out -- as with a regular automatic transmission, 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 AWD system, though, so buyers needing a serious snow vehicle will be better served by the regular gasoline-powered Escape.
The front-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid posts impressive mileage ratings of 34 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined. The AWD version is rated at 29/27/28.
Antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor are standard.
In government crash testing, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid scored four stars for the driver and five for the passenger (out of five) in frontal crash tests. In side-impact crash tests, the Escape Hybrid scored a perfect five stars for front and rear occupants. In frontal-offset crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the '09 Escape received an "Acceptable" rating (the second-highest on a scale of four). In that agency's side-impact testing, it received a "Good" rating (the highest).
Interior Design and Special Features
The climate and stereo controls have a tidy layout and the instrumentation has an upscale and modern appearance, thanks partly to cool ice-blue nighttime illumination. The Limited model takes it further with chrome and piano-black accents, along with choose-your-color ambient lighting. The available Sync system allows voice commands to your Bluetooth-compatible cell phone, the audio system and the navigation system. Additionally, the Sirius Satellite Link allows you to find current gas prices in the vicinity at the touch of a button.
A new feature this year is the Economy setting for the air-conditioner, which allows the auto-shutoff feature for the gas engine even while the A/C is on (such as when coming up to a red light or when driving in stop-and-go traffic). But unlike a few other hybrids out there, Ford's system won't allow the A/C compressor to run with the gas engine off, so you might have to endure an increase of a degree or two in cabin temperature while waiting at a light.
Even without the Sync system, you'll find the various functions and features easy to use, thanks to intuitive and well-placed controls. The optional large display screen can show the navigation, audio and fuel-economy functions at the same time, without appearing cluttered. The front seats will 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 recycled material.
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. Be forewarned that it's not a one-step process; you must first remove the headrests and flip up the seat bottoms before flipping down the seatbacks.
Although the gasoline engine can get noisy during hard acceleration, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid feels like it's powered by a sprightly V6, while returning outstanding fuel mileage. Ride quality is fine 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 more body roll around turns and generally feels less agile than most small SUVs.
The Escape Hybrid's regenerative brakes feel solid enough in everyday driving, but we have to question Ford's decision to fit them with rear drums. In a simulated panic stop from 60 mph, the last Ford Escape we tested with these brakes recorded a dangerously long 154-foot stopping distance -- a good 25 feet longer than expected -- and that was without the Hybrid's added weight.