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First Drive: 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

Ford’s First Hybrid SUV in Eight Years

Sep 19, 2019
In our first drive of the 2020 Ford Escape, we found a lot to appreciate about the small SUV. A stiff and playful platform, an extensive list of active safety features, and pleasant styling headline our plaudits, but so do the Escape's standard 1.5L and optional 2.0L EcoBoost turbocharged powerplants. Stripped of those, would we like the SUV as much in Escape Hybrid form?
Luckily, yes we would.

Paired-Up Powerplants

The Ford Escape Hybrid first appeared on the scene for the 2005 model year, continuing with some alterations until 2012 before the Blue Oval started phasing in EcoBoost turbocharging technologies as a method of reducing fuel consumption. And while EcoBoost engines do offer reasonable efficiency along with their zesty driving dynamics, dipping too hard into the turbos absolutely tanks your average fuel economy. And so, after an eight-year absence, it seems Ford is getting back into the electrified-SUV realm again in the pursuit of improved fuel economy.
Photo 2/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Hybrid Engine

Like its most immediate predecessor, the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid makes use of an Atkinson-cycle 2.5L I-4 paired to a 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and two electric motors that function as a continuously variable transmission. Total power output between the engine and motors is 200 hp, and the engine alone produces 152 lb-ft of torque. Between the reasonable power output and an electric motor's instantaneous response times, the Escape Hybrid moved quite nicely under its own power, with more than enough juice to get around the city and country roads on which we found ourselves.
Photo 3/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Hybrid Battery

What's more, the Escape Hybrid does an excellent job of keeping the battery charged and the gasoline engine disengaged when the drive selector is set to Eco mode. In this mode, powertrain controllers attempt to power down the gas engine as frequently as possible, such as when coasting or applying light throttle at a steady speed. Ford claims the Escape can travel at up to 80 mph with the hydrocarbon-burner completely shut off, although we suspect that would be under very specific conditions. The top speed we could achieve before the gas engine fired up was about 40 mph—not bad at all. In fact, in one leg of the drive, we spent more than half of our 30 miles in EV-only mode, with an indicated average of 48.1 mpg. Official EPA ratings are still to be determined, but we'd anticipate about 40 mpg combined, and Ford says to expect a 50 percent improvement over the 2019 Escape's 26-mpg EPA rating.
Photo 4/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Hybrid Powertrain

Photo 5/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Exterior Rear Quarter 01

We will admit to using some hypermiling tactics to achieve that eco-score, but we didn't travel below the speed limit, hold up traffic behind us, or scream around corners at unsafe speeds to preserve momentum. Instead, we fell prey to Ford's "gamification" of the hybrid system. By being able to monitor how our driving habits affected the powertrain and regenerative braking, we were able to make good-sense alterations to maximize our fuel economy, as though in pursuit of some video arcade high score. Who says hybrids are boring?

Some Zip to Go With the Zap

Case in point is the Escape Hybrid's pleasant driving dynamics. Like other members of the Escape family, the Hybrid benefits from Ford's extensive lightweighting process that saw several key structures replaced with high-strength steel and other materials to preserve stiffness while saving weight.
Photo 6/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Exterior Wheel And Tire
This rigid structure, combined with a larger wheel and tire package and improved suspension damping relative to the 2019 Escape, makes the new SUV surprisingly enjoyable to drive on twisty roads. The regenerative brakes also operate mostly transparently, with good feel through the regen and friction braking segments. As on the regular Escape, numb steering is an Achilles heel, but it's not a Focus RS or a Mustang, so we'll forgive it.

Interior Issues

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid does very little to rectify the wrongs found inside its EcoBoost-powered garagemates. Cheap plastics abound, particularly in the rear cabin. Ford likely thinks (and is probably correct to think) that the most frequent inhabitants back there will be kids who don't care about graining and soft surfaces like nerdy auto scribes do. But still, the stiff materials back there don't seem like they'll be able to stand up to much abuse either. And the tacky materials filter their way forward a bit as well, appearing very obviously in the dashboard's lower panels and the bottom two-thirds of the front door panels.
Photo 7/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Interior Dashboard
Photo 8/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Interior Instrument Cluster
That said, the clever packaging and small physical size of the lithium-ion battery mean there's practically no cargo or passenger space intrusion. The Escape Hybrid boasts the same sliding and reclining rear bench seat as the conventional model, with plenty of stretch-out room for two full-grown adults or three teens and tweens. It's an impressive bit of packaging and a huge improvement over the outgoing Escape.

Harmonious Parsimony

In our first drive of the conventionally powered Escape, we called the 1.5L EcoBoost I-3 the sweet spot of the lineup. But debatably, that honor could instead fall to the Hybrid, which offers more power, instant torque, less vibration from the engine compartment, similar driving dynamics, and improved fuel economy.
Unfortunately, Ford isn't just competing with other Escape variants for consumers' hard-earned dollars. There's also the excellent Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and the recently announced Honda CR-V Hybrid that will probably keep some Ford dealers up at night.
Photo 9/9   |   2020 Ford Escape Exterior Front Quarter 03

But impressively, our Escape Hybrid SE Sport FWD tester rang in at $32,345 and included niceties like hard-wearing and attractive ActiveX simulated leather, a panoramic sunroof, and adaptive cruise control. While we did miss some of the EcoBoost Escape's boisterous turbo rush, the quieter and more efficient whoosh of electric power was pleasant in its own right. There's a lot to like about this electrified SUV.

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid SE Sport FWD

Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger small crossover
Base price: $28,255
Price as tested: $32,345
Engine: Port-injected, Atkinson-cycle 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission: Two-electric-motor continuously variable transmission
Horsepower: 200 hp (combined)
Torque: 152 lb-ft (gas engine only)
Curb weight: 3,554 pounds
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
EPA mileage rating: N/A

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