2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

Hybrid vehicles come as close to win/win as driving in the real world gets. By combining a small gasoline engine with an electric motor, engineers can duplicate the performance of conventional gasoline cars with twice the fuel economy and a fraction of the emissions.

Because electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds, acceleration off the line may be better than for comparable gas-powered cars. Unlike electric cars, hybrid vehicles don?t have to be plugged in. The battery pack recharges off of regenerative energy created during braking and deceleration.

The 2005 Escape Hybrid is based on Ford?s popular small sport-utility platform. It is powered by a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 70 kilowatt electric motor. Together, they produce power comparable to a V-6 engine.

The Escape runs on electric power during idle, deceleration, and at speeds up to 25 miles-per-hour. The gasoline engine kicks in during hard acceleration, hill climbing, higher speeds, or when the air conditioning is set on ?maximum.?

A continuously-variable transmission connects the drive wheels to both the gas engine and the electric motor, allowing the vehicle to move on any combination of the two. Both braking and steering are ?by wire,? replacing traditional mechanical components with electronic ones for better fuel economy.

Driving the Escape is similar to a gas-powered vehicle. The ignition, transmission, brakes, and steering controls are similar to a gas-powered car. An optional instrument panel display has an energy flow diagram that displays the real-time status of the hybrid system, navigational functions and audio system controls.

What differentiates the Escape from other compact sport-utility vehicles is its solid feel, especially on the highway. While many small trucks toss around during high speed driving in windy weather, the Escape feels rock solid. Part of the reason is its independent rear suspension: a somewhat rare feature among sport-utility vehicles. The suspension on the Escape Hybrid has been specially tuned to account for the additional weight of the battery pack in the rear.

Power rack-and pinion steering makes the Escape easy to maneuver through traffic, as well as in and out of tight parking spots. An electric power-assist system replaces the traditional hydraulic one, saving fuel and reducing steering noise. The electric system allows for reduced low-speed steering effort, while maintaining a solid on-center feel at high speeds. Standard sixteen-inch wheels and all-season tires enhance the Escape's high-speed stability, and provide enough traction to handle most adverse climate conditions.

Like most hybrids, the new Escape excels in stop-and-go traffic. It can accelerate hard from a stop, and has power in reserve for merging onto highway traffic. While the stop-start mechanism takes some getting used to, a beefy starter motor should provide trouble-free operation throughout the vehicle's life-cycle. The starter motor restarts the gasoline engine within 400 milliseconds when necessary.

For 2005, all Escape models feature a full-automatic four-wheel drive system that engages the rear wheels as needed. Because there is no two-speed transfer case, some types of off-roading may not be advisable. In other words, it's fine to drive the Escape along graded, unpaved roads and trails, but don't try to descend a sheer rock face, or climb over boulders with two wheels off the ground.

While the Escape has more cargo space than a passenger car, its relatively small exterior dimensions limit the amount of room inside. With the second-row seats in place, there is just over 27 cubic feet of space in the rear: enough room to hold a couple of small duffle bags, or the weekly groceries. With the rear seat folded flat and the cushion removed, the cargo area expands to 65.5 cubic feet. It will hold a couple of bikes with the front wheels off.

However, those who intend to take a lot of road trips will probably want to purchase an exterior rack, and save the interior space for luggage and other necessities. The Escape can also tow a small trailer: towing capacity is 1,000 lbs.

Power for the Escape Hybrid comes from a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack: the same type of batteries used in cell phones and personal computers. Ford provides a separate warranty to cover the battery pack and other hybrid components: eight years or 100,000 miles. The battery pack is located under the cargo floor where it is protected from collision damage. A special thermal management system ensures that the battery will not be damaged by extreme temperatures.

If the nickel-metal-hydride battery becomes discharged, there is an emergency jump start mechanism that the driver engages by pushing a button on the driver?s side kick panel. A twelve-volt battery under the hood charges the battery pack, allowing a vehicle start in eight minutes.

The Escape Hybrid is also available with an optional safety package that includes the safety canopy side curtain airbag and thorax-protecting side airbags. Front airbags and antilock brakes are standard equipment.

Gas mileage is 35- 40 m.p.g. city, and 30 m.p.g. highway. Fuel economy in city driving is slightly better because the electric motor operates alone at low speeds. Driving range is about 500 miles on a tank of gas.

Pricing for the Escape hybrid has not yet been announced.

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