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2008 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD test drive

More than meets the eye

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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2008 Ford Escape Hybrid left side view

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid left side shot.

photo © Adrian Gable

Buy the Ford Escape and you get more than just one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the planet—you get to opt for an even stronger eco-statement by choosing Ford’s new 100-percent recycled seat material. No slacker in the get-up-and-go department either, the gratifying 155 horsepower from a 2.3-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine and electric motor powertrain has EPA fuel economy estimates 34 city/30 highway. With a base front-wheel drive model at $25,740, our test model with the Hybrid Premium Package plus Navigation was $30,820. Ford’s hybrid component coverage of 8 years/100,000 miles makes for one green place to park your fanny.

Initial Impression: Compare another class act

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid cabin view

The wide, largely unobstructed cabin leaves plenty of elbow room for long hauls.

photo © Adrian Gable

Christine: “Coming from a non-Ford lovin' family, I was looking forward to getting some first-hand experience at the wheel of a Ford hybrid. At first glance, I liked the Escape’s fresh style—the exterior grill and lower body side molding in particular—yet the interior was startlingly similar to the Mercury Mariner we recently drove. This would prove to be an interesting contrast and comparison of these two strong contenders in the hybrid SUV segment. Yet I couldn't help but wonder if the Escape would prove to have a distinctive personality from the Mariner?”

Scott: “Having just test driven the ’08 Mariner, I didn’t feel like there’d be any big surprises—I knew they shared the same drivetrain and I was very impressed with the Mariner. Though I’d still scrutinize the Escape’s hybrid underpinnings, I expected it to perform well. What did surprise me though was how taken aback I was by the styling of the Escape. The Mariner is the upscale version in this Ford small SUV family, but I honestly found this vehicle to be more attractive. Perhaps it was the ice blue finish—perhaps it was that big chrome grill. The Mariner was gorgeous, but in a mysterious, darker way. This guy here just looked more every-day appealing to me.”

The Insider’s View: The seat is where it’s at - pop bottles & polyester

Slip into any ’08 Ford Escape and you just might be sitting on salvaged plastic. Every Escape comes with the option to up your eco-factor by turning trash into treasure. And that’s bound to be more fun than recycle day. This is savin' where you least expect it too. According to Ford, this is the first automotive use of 100-percent recycled seat surface, and it saves water, carbon dioxide and electricity over new material. Unfortunately our Escape came with the stone leather trim and leather comfort package—precluding the opportunity for these enthusiastic alt fuel afficionados to get a first-hand look and feel of that innovative new fiber spun by Interface Fabrics, Inc. But we’ve got our fingers crossed on our next Escape Hybrid tester—it certainly fits an alt fuel persona to equip an efficient hybrid with seats made from 100-percent post-consumer material.

Peek into the Escape and see smooth, classy styling and the latest in modern conveniences. Cargo is no problem with a generous 27.6 cubic feet behind the second row seat, expandable to over 65 cubic feet when the back seats are folded down, possible because smart Ford engineers sealed the 330-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack under the rear floor. With the Ice Blue gauge lighting during night-time driving, the interior is not only easy on the eyes, but the gauges are clean-cut and intuitive. We did indeed feel calm, cool and collected everytime we motored around in this set of wheels with the Energy Menu option on—we were able to watch the real-time output of energy usage and fuel economy. Seriously cool.

Fuel-ability: Tops in its class – no need to curse the fuel man

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid drive system gauge

Under most demanding driving conditions, the electric motor works in concert with the internal combustion engine to provide maximum power to propel the vehicle.

photo © Adrian Gable

So while many an SUV owner may shake his head and want to rip up that fuel bill when it arrives in the mail, there’s no desire to escape here. Really, what could be better than an SUV that can go 500 (or more) miles on one 15-gallon tank?

Under that hood is an efficient four-cylinder engine that utilizes gasoline in an Atkinson cycle for excellent fuel economy in combination with the electric motor. Translation: fast and satisfying acceleration without the fuel-sucking guilt. And just like the Mariner, this full hybrid can run on the gasoline engine, the electric battery, or a combination of both. Regenerative braking keeps the battery pack recharged by catching lost energy during braking and coasting, instead of it being dissipated as waste heat. Yes, the Escape's electric motor works as a generator, grabbing otherwise lost kinetic energy and then storing it in the battery pack.

City and town stop-and-go travel in the 20-25 mph range in electric vehicle (EV) mode will give the highest fuel efficiency. Any faster than 25 to 30 mph though—or head for highways or mountains—and the 4-cylinder engine will purr to life. And if you’ve got loads to carry, the Escape will put your mind at ease since it’s the first hybrid to offer towing capability up to 1,000 pounds (when properly equipped).

Next page: Motion potion, the Enviro-meter, Who Should Buy It, Rebate & Tax Credit Run-down, and Pros and Cons

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