2006 Ford Escape
2006 Ford Escape Expert Review: Autoblog
The first day with the Ford Escape was an interesting one. Normally when I get a vehicle, I do not get much seat time for the first day. Well, this time we made a 5 hour trek after getting the Escape. While the driving experience was valuable, it was almost all highway time. There were periods where traffic slowed to a halt and I received more of a 'city' driving experience. Regardless, the driving experience up front leaves me little room to discuss the exterior, which I will save for another day.
At first, I expected the Escape to be a little on the ’soft’ side. I found the Escape to be better damped than I originally anticipated. In fact, on the road it felt sure footed and stable. Ride quality was decent, especially for an SUV. The Escape is a crossover, however, and its Ford Mondeo/Contour heritage gives it very car-like ride and handling. It was a pleasant surprise to find that it is not totally incompetent as far as driving dynamics are concerned.
This particular Escape was a FWD model. The power delivery is a little slow off the line, but once the Escape reaches speed the power level was more than acceptable. Not once did I feel like I had actually given up anything for the terrific gas mileage the Escape gets. I averaged 31.2 miles per gallon on the entire trip, which is excellent for a vehicle of this size. The real-world gas mileage was very close to the EPA sticker, which was surprising considering the Toyota products delivery gas mileage that is significantly below the EPA sticker. After today, I am suspecting there is some kind of foul play here. For instance, the Lexus and Toyota SUV hybrids are rated at 33 city/28 highway and 31 city/27 highway by the EPA. In rear world driving, they provide fuel economy in the mid to low-twenties. Similar discrepancies have been seen in the Prius as well. It seems so far, that Ford is delivering on the promise of hybrids, the power of a larger engine with the fuel economy of a smaller one.
Tomorrow I will discuss the drivetrain in more depth, once I get the opportunity to test the hybrid system out in a wider range of situations. I originally wondered why Ford chose the Escape as its first hybrid platform. It is starting to make more sense. The Escape is probably the only model in their lineup which could accommodate the hybrid powertrain up front while still being light enough to benefit from it. I also did a short video clip (requires Quicktime) of the interior, it’s not the best quality but you get up close and personal with the dash.
We really want to discuss the Hybrid's powertrain in depth, however today we're going to discuss the interior. The Ford Escape Hybrid's interior is actually a nice place to spend some time. The seating position, with any SUV, is upright and provides an excellent view of the road ahead. The interior is certainly not the worst we've seen. It is, however, a little spartan. Everything works, however. None of the switchgear feels cheap, but it does not impress you with thought out tactile feedback.
The Escape is not a luxury vehicle, however. For those looking for more luxurious appointments in a hybrid SUV, right now the Lexus RX400h Hybrid is your only option. The Mercury Mariner Hybrid can be pre-ordered now, but, depending on your location, the Lexus RX Hybrid isn’t really available for instant gratification either. So if you absolutely need a hybrid SUV, but want luxury, get the Escape Hybrid but option it out with leather. Our tester came equipped with leather seating surfaces. The leather does add a touch of class to the Escape’s interior. We said that the Escape isn’t a luxury vehicle, but it does have a classiness that we weren’t expecting. Overall materials quality is good, and everything seems pretty durable. The only exception would be the rear cup holders, we feel like they’re just waiting to be kicked off the back of the center console.
The front seats are comfortable. The rear seats offer decent room for most passengers. Even this 6'4" passenger was able to get in there and find some comfort. This is one vehicle that would benefit if Ford decided to sacrifice some ‘ground’ clearance for a deeper foot well or lower floor over all, however. The short wheel base of the Escape means that there isn’t that much room from an interior perspective. We would say that is a lot roomier than it appears from the exterior. The interior dimensions compare well to the other SUV hybrids. When we looked at these numbers, we were shocked. We’ve seen the regular versions of both the Highlander and RX, but we would have never put them up against the Escape. The Escape may not be as wide as the Toyota products, but it can almost compete with their other dimensions. It makes the Escape more appealing, especially when you consider the price difference. All the numbers below are in inches.
Ford's approach to hybrid technology has some similarities with that of Toyota's Synergy system, however there are some key differences.
In the Escape application, Ford has decided to use an Aktinson-cycle four-cylinder as well as active battery cooling. Ford also integrates their high voltage hybrid components into the transaxle, which simplifies the engine compartment and helps prevent damage. The battery life and power is increased by using the auxiliary battery cooling system. The Aktinson-cycle engine offers improved fuel economy, while sacrificing low-end power. This sacrifice is well matched with the instant power available from the electric traction motor.
There are actually two electric motors in the Escape Hybrid. One 70 kW traction motor and one 45 kw generator/motor both contribute to the hybrid's powertrain. How this system works is actually pretty amazing. I will try my best to relay it to you accurately. The schematic below will show you the relationship of the hybrid's components. The planetary gearset is crucial to the operation of the entire system. Its simplicity is quite elegant.
The system has three modes, Electric vehicle mode, positive split mode, and negative split mode. There is also an idle charge mode, but that does not contribute to the vehicle's direct motivation.
In electric vehicle mode, the traction motor draws energy from the batteries to propel the car without using the gasoline engine. At this point, the gasoline engine is off. When in this mode, energy is also collected when the vehicle is slowing down. This regenerative braking is done in the other modes as well. The diagram below shows how the regenerative braking torque contributes to the vehicle's deceleration effort.
In positive split mode, the gasoline engine is on and works in concert with the traction and generator motors to power the vehicle at moderate speeds or loads. In this mode, the generator is producing energy from the gasoline engine's output. This energy can be used to charge the batteries or power the traction motor. The traction motor also contributes to the Escape's motivation.
During high speed or high load situations, the system operates in negative split mode. In this mode all three power plants are contributing to the vehicle's movement in some way or another. The generator motor operates to reduce the gasoline engine speed required while the traction motor operates as a generator to provide power to the generator motor.
The electrically controlled CVT or eCVT does not have the belts and chains typically found in other CVTs. Instead
the motors and planetary gear set work in harmony to operate in the most efficient manner possible. The planetary gear
set allows the contribution of the gasoline and generator motor to vary depending on the situation.
So what do we think of all this? It all works very seamlessly. In fact, the shutdown and start up of the motor is hardly noticeable unless you're watching for it. The power delivery is smooth, and there is a surprising amount of power available. Off the line, it is not that fast but once you are moving the entire hybrid powertrain can accelerate the Escape briskly. The Hybrid information screen will give you a diagram of what mode the system is running in, but if you're not paying attention to the system it operates fine on its own.
The sensation of driving a hybrid is a different from what most people experience in normal cars. Hearing the whine of the electric during assist or regeneration is strange at first, but then becomes a novel reminder that you're driving a hybrid. Of course, you can't really hear it with the radio on, but roll down the windows and turn off the radio. Then you can experience the eeriness of rolling way from a stop light with the engine off as well as the other audible indications of the hybrid's operation. This car would be great for the kid who lives at home and wants to avoid getting caught on those late night returns. No need to turn the engine and the lights off to coast in with stealth. Just stop a safe distance away, let the engine stop, and cruise in under 25 mph in the silent EV mode. How useful this would've been in our youth!
We did have a couple complaints. With any CVT transmission, you have to contend with engine noise. The engine noise
is really only a problem when accelerating, and is simply off-putting to the uninitiated. The other complaint is with
the air conditioning when the engine shuts off. The AC simply does not cool when the gasoline engine is off, in EV mode
or when you are idle. You can prevent this engine shut down with the AC set to Max AC, but that defeats the purpose of
having a hybrid. The AC compressor should probably be driven by another electric motor to keep the passenger
compartment cool. Ford has openly told us they have made a substantial effort to improve this problem in the 2006
models. Ford has also made some tweaks to the rest of the hybrid system to make it operate even smoother.
Based on what we've seen so far, we look forward to this power system finding its way into other Ford products. We could see where such a system would help give the Five Hundred more power or give Volvo a competitor to the Lexus RX400h in an XC90 Hybrid.
Also, look for an upcoming podcast where we interview Tom Gee with Ford's Hybrid team.
Our time with the Escape Hybrid now comes to a close. We were initially expecting to be under-whelmed by the Escape Hybrid. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the Escape's performance, utility, and quality. The Escape was nice to have in the Autoblog Garage. We're actually sad to see it go.
Regardless, after it was all said and done, we got 29.7 miles per gallon out of the Escape. This is very impressive for such a capable vehicle. At no point did we feel like we were really giving up much to get this kind of fuel efficiency. There is the issue of the air conditioning losing power when the gasoline engine is off. Otherwise, the Escape is comfortable, quick, surprisingly nimble, and fuel efficient.
So how much does all this cost? The base price for our 2005 Escape Hybrid was $26,380.00 Options take the vehicle to $30,235.00 before destination. Our tester was equipped with the appearance package which includes the silver painted cladding, which actually makes this metallic green Escape look smart. The Energy Audiophile & Navigation package, which includes the hybrid information screen, adds $1850.00 to the price as well. The leather and side and curtain air bag packages add a combined $1170.00. Floor mats, retractable cargo cover, and 110V AC inverter make up the remaining options on our test vehicles.
Overall, this is not a bad value in the hybrid arena. The Escape is more expensive than the Prius or Civic Hybrids, but it is a bargain compared to the Toyota Hybrid SUVs.
New Car Test Drive
America's best-selling compact SUV.Clean and fuel-efficient gas/electric hybrid.
The Ford Escape is America's best-selling compact sport-utility. And it's a good choice. The Escape offers comfortable seating for four and plenty of space for stuff. Folding down the rear seats reveals a moderately sized cargo area with a flat floor. Its smooth ride and agile handling make for enjoyable driving, and its compact dimensions make it easy to maneuver and park when you get there.
Propulsion comes in several forms including a 200-horsepower V6. It's quick and enjoyable and communicates very well with the automatic. The Escape is also available with a gas/electric hybrid system. The Escape Hybrid is one of the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class (see separate review) and driving one is easy and enjoyable, very little different from a regular Escape.
But the standard four-cylinder engine may be all you need. It was updated, beginning with 2005 models, and it offers decent power and works well with the automatic.
Four-wheel drive is also available, offering good wintry weather capability.
The Escape lineup has been broadened for 2006, but is otherwise unchanged. It was significantly revised for 2005, which brought a new face, a brightened interior, a new 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and a revised suspension. The Ford Escape became even more popular last year with a hybrid version that won the 2005 North American Truck of the Year award.
The first thing you should know about the Escape Hybrid is that, for the most part, it drives just like a regular Escape. It demands little, if any, additional effort or knowledge from the driver. That's impressive, considering its complexity. In short, the Ford Escape Hybrid is a superb vehicle, smooth, responsive, comfortable and convenient.
Hybrid vehicles are powered by the combination of a gasoline engine with an electric motor. By combining a four-cylinder gasoline engine with the boost from the electric power pack, the Ford Escape Hybrid provides acceleration much like a V6-powered Escape, but the Hybrid is estimated by the EPA to deliver twice the fuel economy in city driving and nearly double on the highway. Plus, its emissions are much lower.
Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that hybrid vehicles such as the Escape never have to be plugged into any sort of electrical outlet. The vehicle's specially designed battery pack is automatically recharged by the gasoline engine and by regenerative braking, technology that takes the otherwise wasted energy generated by braking and sends it to the battery pack.
There is a price premium that must be paid for equipping a car with hybrid technology, but there also are federal tax benefits, and sometimes state and local tax benefits, available to help offset that price. This is in addition to the fuel savings. In reality, it takes awhile to recoup the price difference, about $3,500 more than the retail price of an Escape XLT with the V6 engine. During that time owners can be comforted in knowing they're doing more than their part to reduce air pollution and consumption of fossil fuels.
The Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid-powered SUV available in the United States, and also was the first hybrid with available all-wheel drive and 1000 pounds of towing capacity, which allows buyers to enjoy the benefits of a small SUV while greatly enhancing fuel economy and lowering emissions.
The Escape Hybrid no longer has the hybrid SUV market to itself, however. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h were introduced as 2006 models using Toyota's impressive Hybrid Synergy Drive, but the midsize Highlander costs $6,000-$11,000 more than the compact Escape and the Lexus costs even more than that. The Escape's market is shared with the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and the Mazda Tribute Hybrid, which are nearly identical vehicles with different styling.
The Escape Hybrid is available with four-wheel drive (all-wheel drive) or two-wheel drive (front-wheel drive). All come with automatic transmissions; no manuals are available. The 2006 Escape Hybrid 2WD model appears to be the cleanest, most economical SUV available today. (Mariner and Tribute are only available with all-wheel drive.)
The Escape Hybrid was launched as a 2005 model, sporting upgrades made to the entire Escape lineup in addition to the hybrid technology, so there are no changes for 2006 except for the availability of a new Premium package and a new black clearcoat metallic exterior color.
The 2006 Ford Escape comes in three trim levels, XLS, XLT, and Limited. Each is available with front-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard on the XLS and XLT. The 3.0-liter V6 comes standard on the Limited and is optional on the XLT. The Escape Hybrid is fitted with a 2.3-liter gas engine with an electric motor.
The XLS ($20,070) and XLS 4WD ($21,820) come standard with air conditioning, low-back cloth front bucket seats, illuminated remote entry, power door locks, windows and mirrors, tilt steering column, speed controls on the steering wheel, privacy glass, 15-inch steel wheels and AM/FM/6CD. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder comes with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($690).
The XLT ($22,535) and XLT 4WD ($24,285) are upgraded with premium cloth upholstery, a power driver's seat, privacy glass, a power moonroof, cruise control, floor mats, a cargo cover and convenience net, fog lights, an in-dash six-CD changer, P235/70R16 tires on 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels. Safety is enhanced with the addition of anti-lock brakes (ABS).
The XLT V6 ($24,880) and XLT V6 4WD ($25,140) come standard with the automatic transmission.
Limited ($24,930) and Limited 4WD ($26,630) get premium leather seats, seat heaters, dual front sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated exterior mirrors, a reverse sensing system, and a MACH Audio in-dash six-CD changer with automatic volume control. The Limited is distinguished by its monochrome exterior with body-colored trim and bright machined 16-inch aluminum wheels. Limited models are upgraded with front side-impact air bags designed to offer torso protection.
A Safety Package ($595) for all models adds Ford's Safety Canopy rollover protection system and front side air bags. We strongly recommend getting it as it can provide head protection in side impact or rollover accident.
Option packages are available for each trim level. A Luxury Comfort Package ($1,095) for Limited models includes a 320-watt Audiophile stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer, six speakers plus subwoofer; heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and Reverse Sensing System.
The XLT No Boundaries Package ($1,055) adds all-terrain OWL tires, 16-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, black painted step bars, Class II trailer towing, and wheel lips. The XLT Sport ($24,185) and XLT Sport 4WD ($25,935) boast all the XLT standard equipment plus 16-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, P235/70R16 tires, painted Dark Shadow gray fascias, bodyside cladding, wheel lip moldings and black step bars.
A Leather Comfort Group ($595) is available for XLT and XLT Sport models, and Class II towing preparation ($395) can be ordered for XLT, XLT Sport and Limited models. A Cargo Convenience Group ($150) for all models adds a retractable cargo area cover and rear cargo storage bin. Stand-alone options include power moonroof ($585) on XLT, XLT Sport and Limited models; side step bars ($350) on XLS and XLT models, and a roof rack with horizontal bars ($40) on the XLS.
The Escape Hybrid ($26,900) and Hybrid 4WD ($28,525) are equipped similarly to the Limited models. The 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid comes in one well-equipped trim level, but with a choice of front-wheel drive ($26,900) or all-wheel drive ($28,525).
Options include leather seating, upgraded audio equipment, side-curtain airbags and a navigation system. The Energy, Audiophile and Navigation package ($1,995) includes an upgraded audio system, CD-based satellite navigation and a display on the navigation screen that illustrates instant and recent fuel economy and the way energy flows between the gasoline engine, electric motor, battery pack and wheels.
A safety package ($595) includes side-curtain airbags that cover all seating areas as well as side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Curtain airbags are designed to provide head protection in a rollover or side impact. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in such accidents.
Other options include a leather comfort group ($595), an appearance package ($695) with front and side fascias, Ford's MACH audio with six-disc CD changer ($595), a 110-volt AC power outlet ($180), a retractable rear cargo cover ($75), and rear carpeted floor mats ($25). A new Premium package ($3,995) for 2006 models includes leather sport bucket seats, the hybrid energy audio and navigation system, the retractable rear cargo cover, the AC power outlet, and floor mats. A sunroof with a shade a a mini overhead console with a storage bin and map lights ($585) is available when the Premium package is ordered. Many accessories from Ford dealers or aftermarket companies are available for the standard Escape, and they also fit the Escape Hybrid.
The Ford Escape is wide for the class (compact SUVs), giving it a well-planted road demeanor. Its forward-poised stance, large wheel lips, wide body cladding, and integrated bumper guard lend a functional appearance, while its short front and rear overhangs add to its sporting appeal. The Escape has a family resemblance to the Ford Explorer and Expedition, and looks bolder and more aggressive than the Honda CR-V.
Being able to see the leading edge of the hood from the driver's seat makes the Escape easier to maneuver in tight places. Its 7.8 inches of ground clearance may help clear some obstacles, but not big rocks. Outside door handles are easy to grab and feel like they're going to last.
The styling was freshened for 2005 with new headlamps, new fog lamps, a new egg-crate grille, new fascias, revised bumpers, and new wheels. The result of all this was a fresher, more contemporary look for Escape.
Accessories from Ford Outfitters include a snap-in pet barrier and a system to haul two mountain bikes in the cargo area. Bike racks can also be mounted on the roof; the standard roof rack with crossbars holds up to 100 pounds. Foot rails are designed to make it easier to lift kayaks, snowboards and other toys onto the roof rack. The rear bumper is also designed to aid roof access.
The No Boundaries Rack System features a sliding rail that can be repositioned from the roof to the rear of the vehicle, locking into the bumper. This provides two separate loading surfaces: a traditional roof rack and a vertically oriented rack across the rear. When not in use, the sliding rails can be stored within the conventional roof portion of the rack system. Ford says the Escape Hybrid is the cleanest of all sport utility vehicles, and while the automaker is talking about the hybrid powertrain system, which the EPA states does indeed produce less greenhouse gas emissions than the Mariner Hybrid or Lexus RX 400h, the adjective also applies to the Escape's exterior design.
The design of the Ford Escape is clean: Simple and practical without unnecessary flourishes and flares, contemporary and not likely to look outdated within just a few years.
Visually, the Escape Hybrid is barely changed from the standard Escape, and most people won't even notice that your SUV is different that the rest. There are small Hybrid badges just behind the front wheels and also on the rear hatch. The hybrid also has a vent built into its left rear quarter-panel glass; this vent helps cool the battery pack.
The standard fog lamps set toward the outside portion of the lower front fascia provide a nice balance to the car's face and visually widen the Escape Hybrid's stance.
Like many SUVs, the Escape Hybrid has a two-tone appearance, with body panels and lower fascia in complementary colors. Those who want a monochromatic look can order the appearance package in a choice of five exterior colors, including the new black clearcoat metallic.
Five-spoke alloy wheels are 16 inches in diameter and wear 235/70-aspect tires tuned to provide a smooth and comfortable ride, not for severe off-road duty.
One very useful exterior feature is the way the glass backlight opens separately from the rear hatch door, providing a quick and easy way to load or unload small packages. We also liked the fact that the top of the rear bumper cover is wide enough that we could set a 12-pack of soda on it while loading other groceries through the open rear window.
The Escape is a compact SUV, but the front seats are nearly as roomy as those in the midsize Explorer. Getting in or out of the front seats is made easier by low door sills and wide door openings. Overall, the cabin is a pleasant place. The XLS has manually adjustable seats trimmed with cloth. XLT gets premium cloth trim. Leather comes standard on the Limited, optional on the XLT.
A redesign of the interior for 2005 brought upgraded seats, new fabrics, new gauges, and more interior storage. The shifter on automatic models was moved off of the column and onto the floor. Illuminated switches for the power windows and power locks made them easier to find.
White-faced instruments are set in a simple, easy-to-understand instrument panel. The audio system and heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls in the center stack are angled slightly toward the driver for easier access while driving.
Side-impact airbags are optional, and are part of a Safety Package that includes Ford's Safety Canopy rollover protection system. Pretensioners combined with load-limiting retractors are standard on front-seat belts. In a crash, these pretensioners automatically tighten the belts, while the load limiters are designed to reduce the risk of chest injuries in severe collisions. We strongly recommend always wearing seatbelts as they are the first line of defense in a crash; more than half of the nation's approximately 42,000 traffic fatalities each year are people not wearing seatbelts.
The rear seats offer good knee room. The rear seats are split 60/40 for greater versatility.
The rear cargo area offers 69.2 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down, 33 cubic feet with the seats in place. The rear-seat cushion can be removed for more load-carrying capacity. The flip-up rear glass offers easy access to the rear cargo area for small items. Escape Hybirds come with flint gray interiors, either in a nicely patterned premium cloth or leather. The driver's seat has six-way power adjustment controls. All of the switchgear is easy to find and to use.
Seats provide an elevated vantage of the road ahead. They also are comfortable around town or on trips.
The rear seat has ample room and a 60/40 split back that provides several options for expanding the size of the flat rear cargo floor.
The gauges have black figures on a white background and are easy to read in even bright daylight. At night, the colors reverse, with white numbers against a glareless black background. The biggest difference between the Hybrid and the regular Escape is seen on the tachometer, which reports the revolutions per minute of the engine. In the Escape Hybrid, the tachometer needle has a sub-zero setting that it uses to indicate that the car is running only on electric power, such as while sitting at a stop or even while traveling on the road in certain conditions.
We recommend getting the optional Energy, Audiophile and Navigation package. If you're among those who want a hybrid, you likely will opt for this package because it graphically and immediately demonstrates the benefits you derive from the technology. By paying some attention to the graphs, you'll find yourself becoming an even more environmentally friendly and fiscally efficient motorist. It's fun to see how efficient you can drive. The screen isn't as large as those in some other vehicles, but its graphics are extremely clear and we had no trouble reading even the smallest details, either at night or while wearing sunglasses in bright daylight.
When you switch over to the energy reporting screens, the next navigation instruction remains as the bottom line on the display, sort of like the line at the bottom of the screen in some television newscasts. This can be a handy feature for those who aren't sure of their route but also want to keep an eye on fuel economy is shaping up.
The navigation system includes a Home button that can lead you back to whatever location you set as your home base, or you can easily program it to take you to various destinations.
The optional 110-volt AC power outlet (house current) can be a useful feature, whether tailgating or camping.
On the road, the Ford Escape offers responsive handling and brisk acceleration performance. The suspension has a comparatively taut ride quality, without the roly-poly and mushy ride that characterizes larger SUVs with big off-road tires and long-travel suspensions. The suspension was upgraded starting with 2005 models with larger-diameter front shocks and a new front stabilizer system to better control ride motions.
We've found the Escape handles well. The steering is responsive, direct and accurate with no dead spot in the center, and there's enough feeling in the steering to impart a sense of control. The tires offer respectable grip in paved corners. Transient response is surprisingly good, meaning the Escape maintains its composure in a series of left-right-left lane-change maneuvers. This permits quick, yet smooth, driving that will not upset passengers.
The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine offers good power, decent torque (that force that propels you from intersections and up hills), very low emissions. And we found it to be a good match for the automatic transmission. The 2.3-liter engine produces 153 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque. It uses a balance shaft for smoothness.
The 3.0-liter V6 engine delivers stronger acceleration performance and we don't pine for power in a V6 Escape. The V6 and four-speed automatic communicate and work well together. The transmission shifts smoothly up and down, and chooses gears appropriately for the situation. The engine's broad power band never lugs or strains. This is neither the smoothest nor the roughest V6 on the market, but it is smoother and more satisfying than the four-cylinder engines found in most compact sport-utilities.
We found the anti-lock brakes smooth and responsive. Drum brakes are used on the rear of all but V6 4WD models, which are upgraded with four-wheel disc brakes. While drum brakes are less expensive, disc brakes dissipate heat better, useful when braking frequently for long, downhill descents. ABS comes into play just when expected and is detectable by the familiar pulsating sensation in the brake pedal. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an emergency avoidance maneuver. Brake Assist is designed to assist the driver by maintaining full braking power when it senses the driver has mistakenly relaxed pressure on the brake pedal in an emergency stopping situation. Also added is electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) for more effective, more stable braking.
Noise, vibration and harshness is well within expectations. Noise reducing measures were upgraded beginning with the 2005 models, helping further reduce interior noise.
We found the Escape comfortable over a variety of on-road surfaces, eruptions and potholes. And this is where most Escapes live. Off road, we found the Escape a bit lacking. Even though it's available with four-wheel drive, it's based on a front-wheel-drive platform. (As with most compact SUVs, the 2WD models are front-wheel drive.) Rough, loose, steep trails leave it spinning its wheels. The suspension does not have the articulation needed for rugged terrain, there is no low-range set of gears, nor is the traction system that sophisticated. For everyday road travel, however, the Ford Escape is an excellent choice. It rides better and handles better than the Jeep Liberty, which is more capable off road.
Snow is not a big problem for the Escape, however. The automatic Intelligent 4WD System provides excellent traction and stability in slippery conditions. The computer-controlled system operates so seamlessly that its engagement is barely noticeable to most drivers, and it's a smooth, fuel-efficient system.
Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds when equipped with the V6 and the Class II towing package; otherwise, it's 1,500 pounds. The EPA rates the Escape Hybrid at 36 miles per gallon in town and 31 on the highway. The reason the city number is greater than the country number is because in slower driving the electric motor carries more of the load, plus the gasoline engine simply shuts off while you're sitting at a stoplight. To compare, the EPA rates the Lexus LX 400h with front-wheel drive at 33/28 mpg and the four-wheel drive Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute at 33/29 mpg.
As a publicity stunt, Ford had people drive an Escape Hybrid on every paved street in Manhattan, all 576 miles of them, which used only a single tank of gasoline, averaging 36 miles per gallon in the process, exactly twice the EPA's estimated mileage in the city cycle for the Escape V6.
To get the best fuel economy, be gentle with the gas pedal, and the Escape can travel a short ways just on electric power. The gasoline engine restarts immediately whenever you step firmly on the accelerator.
We didn't baby the Escape Hybrid to see how high we could get the mileage meter to go. We drove it like we would drive any other vehicle, but still averaged better than 35 miles per gallon around town. The standard Escape equipped with a four-cylinder engine is rated at 22 mpg in town and 25 on the highway.
The Escape Hybrid's optional Energy system provides instant fuel economy on a thermometer-style image at the left side of the display screen with your average economy and a stock market-style chart of fuel use for the last 15 minutes filling most of the screen. By paying some attention to the screen, you find yourself trying to get better and better fuel economy, which is probably the reason you bought this vehicle in the first place.
While saving fuel, you're also reducing emissions. Ford notes that the Escape Hybrid qualifies for super-low (SULEV) or advanced technology partial-zero (ATPZEV) emission vehicle status.
The Ford Escape Hybrid is unique among hybrid vehicles in that its battery pack comprises a tray of what appear to be dozens and dozens of C cells, except they are high-tech nickel-metal hydride batteries and provide 330 volts of power, equivalent to 87 horsepower. The battery pack is in a sealed box located beneath the rear cargo floor and does not intrude on the Escape's cargo-carrying capability. The battery pack is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles.
The batteries do add some weight to the rear of the vehicle, but in the case of the Escape that weight makes the hybrid better balanced than the standard V6 Escape. The Escape V6 has 61 percent of its mass carried by the front wheels. The Escape Hybrid is better balanced. Only 57 percent of its weight is in front. That means this version is more neutral in its handling, staying flatter through corners and under braking. This should provide better maneuverability in emergency situations and enhance front tire and brake wear as well.
The Escape Hybrid's gasoline engine is a 2.3-liter, inline four-cylinder that operates under what is known as the Atkinson cycle, a technology designed to enhance the quality of fuel combustion. The Atkinson cycle sacrifices some horsepower but keeps intake valves open longer and operates under a higher compression ratio.
The 2.3-liter engine in the standard Escape provides 153 horsepower, 20 more than the Atkinson cycle engine, but the electric motor gives the hybrid power very similar to the Escape V6, which is rated at 200 horsepower.
To waste as little of the engine's power as possible while transmitting it to the drive wheels, Ford equips the Escape Hybrid with a continuously variable transmission. This transmission doesn't have standard gears. Instead, it has metal bands that adjust to best match the engine's performance. Thus there is no hesitation as gears shift, just smooth acceleration. The CVT does offer a low-range setting for increased traction.
All-wheel drive gives the Escape Hybrid capability in foul weath.
Ford Escape is solid choice among compact sport utilities for on-road use. It has a roomy interior, comfortable and convenient with useful cargo capacity. The four-cylinder engine delivers plenty of power for most needs, even with the four-speed automatic. The available V6 engine delivers strong power. A four-wheel independent suspension and unit-body construction make it ride and handle almost as well as a car. It isn't designed for rugged terrain, though it's fine for gravel roads.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn. The Ford Escape Hybrid may no longer be unique with its fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly gasoline-electric powertrain, but its virtues remain in clear view. It's currently the cleanest, most economical hybrid SUV, and the powertrain provides performance on par with a V6 engine, but without the nose-heavy tendencies that often come with putting larger engines in front-drive vehicles.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Phoenix.
Ford Escape XLS ($20,070); XLS 4WD ($21,820); XLT ($22,535); XLT 4WD ($24,285); XLT V6 ($24,880); XLT V6 4WD ($25,140); Limited ($24,930); Limited 4WD ($26,630); Hybrid ($26,900); Hybrid 4WD ($28,525). Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD ($26,900); 4WD ($28,525).
Kansas City, Missouri; Avon Lake, Ohio. Kansas City, Missouri.
Options As Tested
XLT No Boundaries package ($1,095) includes P235/70R-16 all-terrain white-letter tires, 16-in aluminum wheels, Class II trailer towing package, black step bars, special roof rack system; Mach stereo with 6-CD changer ($595); Cargo Convenience Group ($150) includes cargo cover and storage bin; Safety Package ($595) includes Safety Canopy with air curtain airbags and side-impact airbags; Trailer Tow Package ($395) includes Class II receiver hitch, wiring harness with four-pin connector, oil cooler. appearance package ($695), energy/audiophile/navigation system ($1,995), safety package ($595), rear floor mats ($25), 110-volt power outlet ($180), leather comfort group ($595), retractable cargo cover ($75).
Ford Escape XLT 4WD ($25,140). Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD ($26,900).
2006 Ford Escape Information
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