In the final year or so of its model cycle, the 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid returns for more fuel-saving action, with the highest EPA city ratings of any crossover vehicle.
The Escape Hybrid was introduced for the 2009 model year. It's currently rated at 34/31 mpg, a nearly 30-percent improvement over the lesser Escapes thanks to its innovative hybrid technology. The dual overhead-cam gas engine under the hood puts out 153 horsepower; it's teamed with batteries and motors that boost torque as needed. Power is shuffled through the Escape Hybrid's combination of electric motor and generators to act as an electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
It's a fuel miser, but the Escape Hybrid also accelerates well, even if it's not spectacular in a straight line. It also will run on electric only up to 25 mph at the touch of a button, and theoretically could run up to 40 mph on wall juice alone if pressed.
The Escape Hybrid comes in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and its AWD edition is distinctive, because a mechanical differential splits power to all four wheels. Other hybrid SUVs place an electric motor in line to deliver power to the rear wheels, to e-create traction. The mechanical system is useful in the Escape, since its substantial ground clearance of 8.5 inches means it's quite useful in all-weather driving, even if it's not a rock climber like the smaller Jeeps. It's no street performer, either, since the body structure dates back to 2001, and the boundy suspension tuning of the base Escape grows a little flinty in the Hybrid.
Like the gas-powered Escape, the Hybrid's more sport-ute in styling themes than other crossovers. Thanks to big glass areas, visibility is good, and the whole look knits itself together rather nicely. The cabin, doesn't fare as well: the shapes are familiar and fine, but the dash and door panels are swathed in open-grain plastics that look and feel inexpensive.
The Escape Hybrid seats four adults fairly well, with ample support in the front buckets, and a short-cushioned back bench. Wind and engine noise are notable.
Last year the Hybrid gained a rack of new entertainment features, breathing some new life into it late in life--exactly what Ford did with its Focus and its SYNC system. The Bluetooth-driven entertainment controller is offered in the Escape, and it's helpful in keeping drivers focused on the road. Other features and options include Sirius Travel Link, which provides real-time traffic data, weather info, navigation, and even local fuel prices.
Last year, Ford added a rearview camera and blind-spot mirrors to the Escape, and made Active Park Assist an option--which means the Escape can take over the chore of parallel parking, via its electric power steering and cameras and sensors. This year, HD Radio is a new feature.
For an in-depth look at this hybrid SUV, read our most recent full review of the Ford Escape Hybrid.