Let's face facts: Planet Earth has only so much fossil fuel available, and at some point, we'll exhaust our supply. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, vehicles employing hybrid powertrains are an outstanding solution. Toyota and Honda have made hay with hybrids, and Ford now joins the game with the market's first gas/electric-powered compact SUV. The Escape Hybrid is a "full" hybrid, meaning the powertrain can move the vehicle under gas-only, electric-only, or combined power, depending upon conditions. This design yields increased mileage over a "mild" hybrid, which always employs the gas engine when moving.
The Escape Hybrid is powered by a 2.3-liter, DOHC, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, which gives up some low-end torque--about four percent--in the name of improved efficiency. This minimal loss of torque is compensated for by a 70kW (equivalent to 94 horsepower) electric motor that by itself can power the Escape to speeds of 25 mph through the standard electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.
Two-hundred-and-fifty D-size nickel-metal hydride battery cells, connected in series, compose the 330-volt system, which can restart the gasoline engine in less than 400 milliseconds. The battery pack has its own ventilation and thermal management system to deal with temperature extremes (from -40 to 122 degrees) and comes with an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.
The batteries are recharged by the regenerative front discs or (if needed) the gasoline engine when lifting off of the throttle or by using the brakes. It's all self-contained and never requires plugging in. While final EPA numbers are still pending, Ford estimates 31 to 40 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 to 31 on the freeway, much of the variance depending on a front- or all-wheel drive configuration.
A by-wire system is used to manage the throttle, power steering, and four-wheel disc-brakes--all offer surprisingly good feel and response. ABS is standard; multifunctional navigation and audiophile stereo systems are optional. The Escape Hybrid can be equipped for a 1000-pound towing capacity.