which command has to be voiced. And when background noise makes it difficult to give audio commands, menus are touch-sensitive too. But the point of the integration is to keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road as much as possible. At the very least it will keep front passenger entertained.
|The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid raises the bar for all crossover sport utility vehicles (and most passenger cars) in terms of comfort, performance, safety and a lower environmental impact. It may be a compact SUV, but its interior comfort and handling are more car-like than other crossovers in the segment. With the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, you get 177 net horsepower from the new 2.5-liter I-4 engine (153 horsepower from the gas engine, and 94 horsepower from the electric motor), which is more than the 157 horsepower produced by the 2.3-liter engine in the 2008 model. Thanks to the addition of a rear stabilizer bar and retuning of the suspension and steering systems, drivers and passengers will enjoy increased performance and handling. All this at 34 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
On the inside
The base 2009 Escape Hybrid is equipped with all the features of the XLT trim, including tinted windows, eco-friendly fabric on front seats, and Sirius satellite radio. But you also get a few bonuses for being environmentally conscious, including the industry-leading, voice-activated Sync communications system, 16-inch aluminum wheels, a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and a 110V AC power outlet in the front center console to power electronics without the need for an inverter or adapter.
The biggest interior improvement in the 2009 Escape Hybrid is definitely the navigation system. It’s not just a better navigation system, it’s one of the best available on the market. New for 2009 is its ability to upload music and pictures to the system’s 10-gig hard drive. To make it easier to use, the navigation system introduces visual integration with Sync (standard on the Escape Hybrid) on the 6.5-inch screen. For the driver this means that Sync voice menu commands are now listed on the screen, and he or she is spared the frustration of trying to figure out
Ford has upped the ante with the optional Sirius radio subscription with Travel Link. This next generation navigation system is what vaults Ford over the competition. If you’re one of those who've been holding out for a reason to subscribe to Sirius’s service, now you’ve got it. In addition to more than 140 satellite radio channels, a Sirius subscription with the optional Travel Link gives you access to real-time traffic information, five-day weather forecasts with weather maps, movie listings, sports scores and, best of all, gas station listings with prices.
It’s not often you can impress a bunch of automotive journalists, but at the product launch it was almost universally agreed that it’s one of the best navigation systems on the market. Ford representatives are fond of saying that the new system enables drivers to do 80 percent of whatever it is they do on a personal computer. And yes, you can watch DVDs on it.
If throwing down $20 for a monthly subscription package ($12.95 for Sirius plus $6.99 for Travel Link) seems a bit steep, you can justify it by thinking about all the money you’ll save being able to locate the cheapest nearby gas station with the push of a button.
All these features are great, but hybrid owners spend an inordinate amount of time watching the energy consumption and gas mileage on the screen. Switch to the Hybrid energy monitoring system and you can track mpg and battery levels to help you optimize driving for fuel efficiency. It becomes a sort of game to keep the gas engine off as much as possible, and seeing your scores on the navigation screen makes it that much more fun.
Ease into the driver’s seat covered with eco-fabric (made from 100 percent recycled material), turn the key and enjoy the silence. This is the beauty of the hybrid. And for 2009, this silence from the electric motor is possible up to a speed of 40 mph – up from 30 mph for 2008 models – before the gas engine kicks in. And when it does, you’ll barely notice it. Recalibration of the powertrain's software provides a near imperceptible transition between gas engine and electric motor. However, driving without triggering the gas engine takes some practice and a bit of geographic luck (few hills, no jack rabbit starts, and a battery with at least a 75 percent charge).
During our test drive, we were easily able to get up to 30 mph in electric mode before triggering the gas engine. It’s important to mention that the 2009 Escape Hybrid’s ability to operate in electric mode in speeds up to 40 mph doesn’t mean that it always will. It just means that if you have enough battery charge and are under the right conditions, the gas engine might turn off and operate with the energy stored in the battery.
But this change has another benefit: it makes the Escape a prime candidate for the pulse and glide driving technique. When this compact SUV hits the streets in August, hyper milers will be blogging up a storm bragging about their insanely high mpg records.
Gas savings aside, this Escape might be a hybrid, but it doesn’t drive like one. You get the performance of a Ford Escape equipped with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine together with the gas-sipping advantages of a hybrid. Acceleration is easy and unlabored, although stepping on it reduces the fuel economy, thus defeating the purpose of a hybrid. The vehicle’s EPA estimates are 30 mpg on the freeway and 34 mpg in the city, easily monitored on the instrument panel or navigation screen.
Like the Ford Escape, the Hybrid model is available with intelligent all-wheel drive. When you opt for the 4WD version, the SUV operates in 2WD mode until it senses the front wheels slipping, when it switches to 4WD mode, thereby giving you the best of both worlds: the fuel economy of a 2WD with the off-roading capability of a 4WD. But this is not the ideal vehicle for towing. It has a maximum tow capacity of 1,000 pounds due to the powertrain operation, which doesn’t leave a lot of extra power for towing.
The Escape Hybrid also takes advantage of the custom low-rolling resistance tires and electric power assist steering that operates only when needed to reduce fuel consumption.
Priced at $29,940 to start with, the 2009 Escape Hybrid is good value for a crossover SUV that gives great gas mileage and offers a fun and comfortable drive. Interior options are well worth the money in terms of the cool factor alone, but take the time to maximize features and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. Though the Hybrid version is priced almost $4,000 more than the comparable 3.0-liter V-6 model, buyers of the Ford Escape Hybrid are still eligible for up to $3,000 in federal tax credits (as of May 2008). You’ll also recoup the costs as gas prices inevitably rise, while the karma benefit is priceless.