On the Road Review: Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid

Ford’s shift away from conventional cars — the sporty two-door Mustang is the sole remaining car in the automaker’s lineup — does not mean that buyers no longer have fuel-efficient options wearing the Blue Oval.

From the subcompact EcoSport crossover to this week’s compact class Escape Plug-in Hybrid model in top Titanium trim, Ford offers no fewer than eight crossovers to choose from. After the innovative Mustang Mach-E electric crossover, this Escape PHEV is the most fuel-efficient five-passenger offering.

Ford was an early leader in hybrid powertrains in crossovers, with the first-generation Escape apparently ahead of its time as drivers continued to embrace hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. Ford let the hybrid powertrain lapse from its lineup for a few years, but now it is back.

This Escape hybrid now competes with a plethora of compact-class crossover hybrids from Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Honda and more brands. And like rivals, Ford offers two conventionally powered Escape models — a 1.5-liter turbocharged 181-hp three-cylinder engine provides base power, while a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is optional. A 2.5-liter regular four-cylinder is the gasoline-powered side of the hybrid powertrain, along with twin electric motors and a small battery pack re-energized by your braking. The plug-in package adds an 11.2-kWh battery to the hybrid engineering to generate up to 37 miles of electric only driving mileage.

In front-drive models, peak fuel efficiency is 27/33 mpg. AWD-equipped Escapes earn peak EPA ratings of 26/31 mpg, while the plug-in hybrid jumps to 40 mpg and 105 MPGe when in electric-only mode. In our hands for a week, the Escape’s mileage hovered around the low 40s consistently. The Plug-in Hybrid is currently a front-drive-only model, yet with a 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that exceeds regular Escape models.

Ford has willingly pushed off-road wannabe drivers toward the compact class Bronco Sport model. This Escape and its siblings make no pretense about being stump-jumping, rock-crawling crossovers. The styling is urban comfort, grace and genteel manners; the big tires, plastic cladding and elevated ride height are reserved for wagons with a different target audience.

With that baseline, the Escape hybrid proved to be quick when you want it to be, reserved and efficient when not. The ride is tranquil despite some plodding reactions from the suspension, while body lean is more notable than in other “sportier” competitors.

Back-seat space, peak cargo room, as well as overall cabin space, closely matches the class standard-bearers. Titanium trim adds power liftgate, active park assist, Bang & Olufsen sound system, the full complement of co-pilot electronic assist items, plus voice-activated navigation. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, wireless charging and floor mats add $2,900 to the sticker to total $43,025 as shown. Base Escape S pricing begins at $28,500, with the entry level Hybrid SE starting at $31,660.

Picks and pans: a console EV button lets you select which hybrid mode to drive in, allowing you to save electric-only operation for urban settings. A rotary dial handles the electronic CVT automatic shifting (other models get an eight-speed automatic), while a pop-up style heads-up display screen rests atop the dash. This is not as finished looking as one that displays on your windshield, however, it is a better version that used by some other automakers, like Mazda. The gas pedal seemed short for my foot, yet the side of the console was perfect for a resting right knee.

While Ford has pushed its electric Mach-E and F-150 Lightning EVs in its marketing campaign, vehicles like this Escape Plug-in Hybrid (and new Maverick hybrid) will have great appeal to drivers who continue to rightly worry about EV charging as well as range anxiety. Several latitudes above the Snowbelt line have proven that EVs are not as efficient in the winter, so a crossover like this Escape provides increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions while removing the range anxiety component from any travel.

Hybrids and plug-in hybrids may not be full EVs, but they work very well and are a practical, affordable alternative to the past. These are the vehicles that will be a large part of the bridge to the future.

Next week: Honda HR-V, EX-L

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