New Escape a Hybrid Hero2

Jan. 31, 2007: The Los Angeles Times—To the Rescue

If I write something here, select it, and choose caption style, it works. First had to de-select the Bold font.

Summary: The redesigned 2008 Ford Escape now arriving in showrooms is not all it could have been. In the fastest-growing, most competitive segment in the market — that is, small SUVs/crossovers, including this-minute designs like the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-7, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V and the coming-soon Saturn Vue — the Escape gets by with an exterior and interior remodeling, a fluffing of the equipment list, a slightly lower base price and bigger wheels. The powertrains and chassis bits remain fundamentally the same as when the Escape debuted six years ago.

Since then, the Escape has sold more than 1 million copies (that’s the good news) but in those same years Ford Motor Co. has taken it in the neck, brutalized by rising gas prices and steep declines in sales of its cash livestock — full-size SUVs and trucks. In the shadow of a $12-billion loss in 2006 and a traumatic restructuring of its North American operations, Ford is in pretty sorry shape.

Inevitably, these travails have put a crimp in product development, and nowhere is that clearer than in the Ford Escape Hybrid. Three years ago when the gas-sipping variant debuted, I was assured by the powertrain engineers that — though the first generation shared patents and similar architecture with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive (Prius) — the next generation would be more aggressively efficient and more distinctively Ford’s own. That didn’t happen, and I can only attribute that to an R&D dollar deficit.

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Neil goes on to say, the hybrid SUV performs pretty well for its scant resources. It’s quieter, thanks to plushy carpet and acoustic laminate windshield glass. It can still glide silently in electric mode under 25 mph, its EPA combined rating is 32 for the front-wheel driver and 28 for the all-wheel drive version, and its interior is comfortable and beautiful. Rear disc brakes and good clearance round it out.

If you’re looking for a hybrid SUV, it seems you could do a lot worse.

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