2009 Ford Escape Hybrid Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
September 8, 2009

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is a viable and sturdy contender in the family crossover arena. Gas mileage is excellent for a compact SUV, and optional mechanical all-wheel drive sets it apart from softer competitors.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com drove the new 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid to bring you this hands-on review of its performance, styling, quality, comfort, and features. Editors also evaluated the Ford Escape Hybrid against its competition to provide you the best information and help with your shopping decision.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid compact SUV is the latest model of Ford’s pioneering hybrid. In 2004, it was both the first hybrid SUV and the first hybrid built in the United States. It’s capable, attractive, and in the last few years, a perennial bestseller for Ford. Buyers nervous about the durability of hybrids should be reassured by the fact that more than 1,500 Ford Escape Hybrids are in regular use as New York City taxicabs.

Ford has consistently upgraded its hybrid-electric powertrain over the years. For 2008, the hybrid Escape got an enlarged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, raising 153 horsepower. There is only a single engine/transmission option. Under the right circumstances, the Escape Hybrid will run in electric-only mode up to almost 40 mph.

The hybrid-electric system acts as an electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), letting the engine run at its most efficient speed regardless of road speed. Acceleration is good, although putting the pedal to the floor quickly runs the engine up to a howl.

Review continues below

But it’s fuel economy that really makes the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid. The EPA rates it at 34 mpg city/31 mpg highway, and during a four-day road test with substantial highway mileage, we consistently averaged 30 mpg or very close.

Unlike the handful of other all-wheel-drive hybrid crossovers and SUVs, the Escape Hybrid AWD drives all four wheels mechanically. Other SUV hybrids use an electric motor to power the rear wheels. Under extreme circumstances, that motor could shut off to prevent overheating or damage—leaving the vehicle with only two driven wheels. We view this as a plus for the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid.

That said, the Escape isn’t a rock-climbing off-roader. It’s fine for dirt and gravel roads, has a decent 8.5 inches of ground clearance, and holds the road nicely, thanks to a suspension that was completely retuned last year.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is a square, upright vehicle that’s actually a bit larger than it looks. Its latest restyling takes it further into the tough-SUV mold, which some competitors have moved away from.

There’s decent room for four adults inside the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, and every passenger sits high up, with good views out the windows. The front seats are better than the rear seat, which has a short bottom cushion and may be better for children than taller adults.

The 2008 restyling vastly improved the cabin décor and materials. Instruments are easy to read, with blue-green backlighting, though the high-gloss black plastic surfaces seem to attract dust like a magnet.

Our least favorite facet of the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is the wind noise, which is louder than expected and worse than in most other compact SUVs. This may reflect the age of the basic design, which launched a decade ago and has a more upright windshield than it might be today. The mirrors also generate a lot of noise at speed, though they are pleasantly large and provide excellent visibility. Our test Escape Hybrid also suffers an annoying, moaning howl right at the 2,000-rpm mark, though it’s the only one we’ve driven with that problem.

The folding rear seat proves annoying. It requires all three headrests to be removed—but there’s no place to stow them. Once the seat bottom is folded forward and the back flipped down, the load floor is flat and the Escape Hybrid offers 66.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Still, those headrests!

Our test vehicle comes with the optional LED interior lighting, which offers a choice of several different colors for floor, console, and cup-holder lighting. It's fun the first few times, but feels like a gimmick after that. Ford’s Easy-Fuel capless gas filler system is a nice feature that eliminates the need for a separate gas cap.

Another sign of the Escape Hybrid’s age is the lack of integration between the instrument cluster and the console screen. The cluster contains a mode gauge that shows when the battery charges and discharges, but all fuel efficiency data remains on the central console screen. The newer 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid has both parts integrated and superb graphical displays in the cluster right in front of the driver.

Finally, the air conditioning compressor in the 2009 Escape Hybrid remains driven by the engine, which means any time the AC is switched on, the engine must start. Newer hybrids (including the 2010 Fusion Hybrid) use electric air conditioning that can run even with the engine off.

As a family vehicle, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid has to score well on safety, and it does. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) deems it a Top Safety Pick, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it five stars in its front and side impact tests. Dual-stage front airbags and side airbags are standard, as are anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and traction control.

Ford has won kudos for its Sync interface to infotainment systems, and justifiably so. Microsoft and Ford partnered to develop Sync, and it’s remarkably versatile. Users can pair (most) Bluetooth mobile phones and connect MP3 players, then operate them entirely by voice command—improving safety significantly. Other Sync features and options include Sirius Travel Link, also voice controlled, which offers navigation, real-time traffic data, weather info, and even local fuel prices.

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2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Styling

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid retains a rugged, conservative look that is equally at home in the city and the country.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid arrives on dealer lots fresh off a 2008 makeover, and as such, it doesn't change much from last year’s model.

The exterior styling of the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid leans much more toward the 1990s SUV glory days than contemporary cutting-edge hybrids. The Ford Escape Hybrid is, in the words of Edmunds reviewers, “a compact SUV…available in two trim levels,” which are the base and upscale Limited models. Jalopnik reports that the Ford Escape Hybrid is “virtually unchanged visually,” and it still carries “a bold front end [that] combines with sleeker lines to result in” what Kelley Blue Book “an Escape that’s both more rugged and more refined than its predecessor.” Cars.com points out that the Escape Hybrid “has maintained a relatively traditional SUV appearance with its upright grille and angular profile,” and the conservative styling is also reflected in the dearth of hybrid badging. Cars.com notes that, “as opposed to GM, which slathers its full-size SUV hybrids with stickers and badges, Ford has shown some restraint,” and the Escape Hybrid’s only green logos are badges on the sides and liftgate.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the Ford Escape Hybrid’s interior is pleasant, but somewhat dated. TheCarConnection.com’s own editors discovered one major discrepancy with the interior, as the instrument cluster and center console are woefully unintegrated, reflecting Ford’s inability to incorporate all of the latest technology throughout the Escape Hybrid. Otherwise, however, the interior wins over reviewers with what Kelley Blue Book calls a “much more contemporary demeanor” than the outgoing Escape Hybrid. Despite the modernized look, Kelley Blue Book still feels that the Escape Hybrid’s interior “seems a bit dated when compared with newer compact SUV offerings.” Ergonomically, Ford’s engineers succeed with the Escape Hybrid’s cabin, and Edmunds appreciates that “the climate and stereo controls have a tidy layout.” Impressively, Edmunds also reports that “the optional large display screen can show the navigation, audio and fuel-economy functions at the same time, without appearing cluttered.” While the outgoing Ford Escape Hybrid featured a green backlight for the instruments, the new 2009 Escape Hybrid is bathed in an Ice Blue glow from the interior lighting, and reviewers love the new color combination. For even more variety, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid now offers a driver-selectable color option that enables the driver to switch between a number of interior colors.

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2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Performance

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is the most versatile and utilitarian hybrid on the road, and while it can’t match a number of hybrids in any one performance category, its overall performance makes it worth considering.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid lives up to its billing as one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, and it’s certainly the most efficient SUV on the market today.

Both trims of the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid are propelled by the same powerplant, which Edmunds says “consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors/generators” whose combined “net output is 177 hp.” Despite the relatively paltry horsepower number, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is surprisingly quick off the line. Jalopnik reviewers find that the “2009 Hybrid…provides stronger acceleration than previous Escape Hybrid models,” and Cars.com claims it “delivers acceptable acceleration that gives it enough power to get up to highway speeds safely.” This is largely due to the electric motors, which “make peak torque almost immediately,” according to Edmunds. That effect decreases markedly at speed, however, and Jalopnik reviewers report that “passing response is not strong, especially above 60 mph.” The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid also gets a slight power boost over last year’s model, and it now makes 20 more horsepower overall than the 2008 version.

The upgraded engine in the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid pairs with a continuously variable transmission, although it’s not a conventional CVT. According to Edmunds reviewers, “there’s no rotating belt as in a conventional CVT,” but rather, “the motors work in concert with the gas engine through a planetary gearset to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency.” The CVT rates well with reviewers, and ConsumerGuide is particularly impressed; reviewers there report that “the CVT does its best to keep the engine in the strongest part of its power band.” The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is also available in either all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, although Edmunds cautions that “on AWD Escape Hybrid models, a third electric motor steps in to drive the rear wheels,” which makes it “not a true AWD system…so buyers needing a serious snow vehicle will be better served by the regular gasoline-powered Escape.”

Speaking of gasoline, you’ll probably be surprised by just how little you need to keep the Escape Hybrid humming along. According to the official EPA estimates, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid should return 29 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway in AWD setup, while the FWD gets an astonishing 34 mpg city and 31 mpg on the highway. According to reviewers at Edmunds, the “Ford Escape Hybrid is currently the most fuel-efficient ute available.”

For the latest edition of the Escape, Ford engineers concentrate on improving the ride quality without sacrificing any of the Escape’s middle-of-the-road handling. The engineering revisions appear to work better on the conventional Escape, as Edmunds remarks that “the Hybrid can feel a little top-heavy when pushed around turns.” Cars.com reviewers disagree, however, claiming that “the Escape Hybrid drives like a conventional small SUV,” with “body roll [that] is present but not excessive.” In addition to some improvement in handling, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid gets a slight boost in ride quality, with Car and Driver finding that “much of the harsh wheel impacts have been eliminated,” although the Ford Escape Hybrid “still isn’t as calm-riding as the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.” ConsumerGuide characterizes the ride quality as “pleasant, given the age of its basic design,” commenting that “bumps are heard more than they’re felt.”

One common criticism of the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid was that its brake pedal feel was abysmal, and for 2009 that criticism is addressed in a big way. Jalopnik says that last year’s brakes were “very disconcerting,” but for 2009 it “is much, much improved,” and now “feels direct and linear – just like real brakes!”

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2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is in desperate need of a materials upgrade, but at least the ride is quieter than before.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid represents a step up in terms of quality from the outgoing version, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show this is still very much a flawed SUV.

One area where the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid earns some serious brownie points is in overall passenger space. The five-seat Ford Escape Hybrid can accommodate four adults comfortably, which is about as much as you can expect from a vehicle with a rear bench seat. Edmunds reviewers love the Escape Hybrid’s “comfortable and roomy interior,” while Cars.com raves that the leather front seats on the Limited trim “offer good long drive comfort.” Space for both occupants up front is generous, with ConsumerGuide predicting that “most adults should find more than adequate headroom.” The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid also offers legroom that ConsumerGuide says is “good for most adults, though taller riders would benefit from longer seat tracks.” Unlike some mid-size SUVs, the Escape Hybrid boasts a decent amount of usable space for rear passengers. Cars.com reviewers claim that “comfort and legroom are decent in the outboard seats” while, “like the first row, headroom is plentiful.” Edmunds reviewers chip in by vouching that the back bench “is roomy enough for adults and children, even if its cushions are a bit flat.”

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid offers an incredible amount of storage space for a hybrid, though compared to mid-size SUVs it’s not exactly class-topping. Unfortunately, unleashing the Escape Hybrid’s full potential can be an arduous task, as Edmunds notes that the Escape Hybrid suffers from a “fussy rear-seat-folding process.” ConsumerGuide reviewers agree, claiming that the rear seats “require multiple, inconvenient steps” in order to fold. Once they’re down, however, you will find “65 cubic feet of capacity, a decent figure for this class,” according to Edmunds. The Ford Escape Hybrid is blessed with a respectable amount of passenger-area storage as well, and ConsumerGuide reports that “cabin small-item storage includes several bins, cubbies, and map pockets in all four doors.”

Like all hybrids, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid comes with a significant price premium over comparable gas-only models. Some consumers might be disappointed to learn, then, that the bump in price doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in overall quality. In fact, Cars.com says “interior quality remains one of the Escape Hybrid’s shortcomings,” and while the Limited trim is nicer than the base model, even that version has “too much hard plastic for a modern car.” ConsumerGuide agrees that the interior is “disappointing overall,” as it “imparts a low-buck atmosphere with lots of hard plastic trim and odd panel textures.” On the positive side, the materials boost the Escape Hybrid’s green credentials, as Edmunds points out that “the standard cloth upholstery is made out of 100 percent recycled material.”

Ford’s engineers make a concerted effort to reduce NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) levels in the new Ford Escape Hybrid, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show they meet with mixed success. Kelley Blue Book thinks that the improvement is noticeable, quoting a Ford source that claims a “12-percent reduction in highway noise,” but ConsumerGuide finds that “wind and road noise are present.” Edmunds adds that the Escape Hybrid’s gasoline engine is “noisy under hard acceleration,” although when leaving a stoplight the Escape Hybrid is nearly silent, since it runs on its electric engines.

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2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Safety

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid suffers from a brake downgrade, but in terms of impact safety, it simply can’t be beat.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid stands out in terms of crashworthiness, but for 2009 Ford, rather surprisingly, removes the four-wheel-disc brakes from the Escape Hybrid. While the front wheels still get anti-lock discs, the rear brakes are now an antiquated drum design.

Few vehicles on the road today can match the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid’s crash-test scores, and none can claim to surpass the Hybrid’s level of impact protection. That’s because in every single test it was subjected to, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid earns a top safety rating. This string of perfect scores includes five-star ratings from NHTSA in two front impact categories and two side impact categories, as well as the IIHS’s top safety rating, “good,” in every single IIHS test. Furthermore, the IIHS is so impressed with the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid that they designate it a Top Safety Pick, citing the Escape Hybrid’s “good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control.”

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid comes with a decent complement of standard features, although one glaring omission is repeatedly mentioned in reviews surveyed by TheCarConnection.com. Beginning with what the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid does offer, Kelley Blue Book reports that the Escape Hybrid’s “standard safety equipment includes six airbags and anti-lock brakes (ABS), as well as AdvanceTrac traction control with Roll Stability Control.” Edmunds reviewers add that “full-length head curtain airbags with a rollover sensor are standard,” although they are disappointed to find “one unwelcome change this year,” which they describe as “the puzzling fitment of drum brakes to the rear” wheels of the Ford Escape Hybrid.

Although SUVs are typically criticized for offering poor driver visibility, the high seating position within the Escape Hybrid helps provide the driver with impressive sightlines. ConsumerGuide notes that “visibility is very good in all directions,” and with its latest Escape, Ford seems to have almost completely eliminated visual obstructions.

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2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Features

With the introduction of the Sync system—co-developed with Microsoft—the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid muscles its way into the class lead in terms of technology.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is the first Escape Hybrid vehicle to receive Ford’s excellent new Sync interface, and Sync is now the flagship feature on Ford’s hybrid SUV.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid comes in two trim levels, base and Limited, with a significantly greater share of standard features available on the Limited model. Edmunds reports that base versions of the Escape Hybrid come with “dual-zone automatic climate control, a four-speaker CD stereo with an MP3 player input jack and satellite radio,” and full power accessories. The base Escape Hybrid’s satellite radio includes many practical and appealing features, and Car and Driver’s favorite is its ability to locate “the cheapest and closest gas stations and linking with the nav system to get you there.” Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the upscale Limited edition includes Ford’s Sync system as standard, along with heated leather seats, a sunroof, and a rear parking-assist feature. Edmunds reviewers rave about “the debut of Ford’s Sync voice-interface system” on the Limited, noting that it “allows voice commands to your Bluetooth-compatible cell phone, the audio system and the navigation system.”

For the Ford Escape Hybrid, the features list doesn’t end with the standard fare. On the latest Escape, Ford makes available a number of optional features that significantly increase the Escape Hybrid’s high-tech credibility. First and foremost is what Kelley Blue Book calls the “DVD navigation with 10GB hard drive storage,” a system that Cars.com thinks “has much-improved graphics and new capabilities, like displaying weather maps, gas prices and sports scores.” Car and Driver adds that the navigation system allows you to “rip MP3s to the 10-gig hard drive and upload family photos to use as wallpaper” on the navigation screen. Other available features for the Ford Escape Hybrid lineup include side step bars and a roof rack with crossbar bracing.

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