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It's the last call for the Ford Escape Hybrid, which returns for its final model year with no changes.
A new Escape is due for the 2013 model year, but Ford says it's not going to add batteries and motors to the new version, since it's fielding a range of new green utility vehicles in the form of the C-Max Hybrid, Energi plug-in and electric vehicles.
Still, the Escape Hybrid is a good green value for shoppers in the mood for a crossover with 34-mpg city fuel economy ratings. Introduced in the 2009 model year, the Escape Hybrid is rated at 34/31 mpg by the EPA, which makes it nearly 30 percent more efficient than its gas-only counterparts. The gas-mileage benefits come from a gasoline-powered four-cylinder with 153 horsepower, teamed with batteries and motors that add torque when needed. A set of motors and generators act as a continuously variable transmission. The setup also allows the Escape Hybrid to run on batteries alone up to 25 mph, with a theoretical maximum EV range of 40 miles.
The Escape Hybrid's a rarity in the way it delivers optional all-wheel drive. The AWD edition uses a mechanical differential to split power between the wheels, whereas other hybrids use electric motors to do the same. This makes the Escape a little more off-road capable than most hybrid crossovers, and with its substantial 8.5 inches of ground clearance, it's more adept in all kinds of weather and traction situations than you might expect.
The downside to the Escape Hybrid is its age. The body structure dates back to 2001, and it's detectable in the boomy, noisy cabin and in the suspension tuning, which feels more flinty than the bounding, softer ride of the gas-only version.
The Escape's virtues are what keeps it selling strongly even in its last year on the market. The glass areas are big, which gives it good visibility, and the Escape Hybrid bears more than a passing resemblance to the first, most popular Ford Explorer. The interior's more trucklike than any other small crossover, especially in its low-grade plastic finishes, but the head room soars, even if the back-seat leg room isn't quite as spacious as the boxy shape might lead you to believe. The seats themselves are fine, with better support in the front buckets than in the back bench, what with its short bottom cushions.
In 2010, Ford updated the Escape Hybrid's entertainment features to include its popular SYNC controller, which uses voice commands to control phone and audio. It's a worthwhile feature, and so is Sirius Travel Link, which uses satellite-radio data to update drivers on traffic, weather, even sports scores and directions to cheap gas, which they'll need less often, obviously. Also available is HD Radio, and a few good safety features enabled by technology--including a rearview camera and active parking assist, which steers the vehicle into parallel-parking spots, with the help of sensors and cameras.
The new Ford Escape is due for a world debut at the 2011 Los Angeles auto show. For a look at the current model and more on its features, styling, performance, safety, and utility, see our most recent full review of the Ford Escape Hybrid.