The fourth-generation Escape and I have spent a lot of time together this year.
It started in March with the SEL trim, with the smaller three-cylinder EcoBoost and optional all-wheel drive. Next was the 2.0-liter Titanium model, the highest rung on the gas-only ladder. For our third get-together of 2020, this latest Escape sticks to the Titanium trim, but trades in the turbo for a 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and a pair of electric motors. Hybrid power is back for the Escape, and it’s the drivetrain I’d recommend for anybody considering putting this compact crossover in their driveway.
Escape Hybrid 2: Electric Boogaloo
Technically, this is the third iteration of the Escape hybrid. Please allow me some artistic license with that sub-header: the first two generations shared a platform. Then along came the third-generation Escape in 2013, with Ford banishing the electrified option from the lineup. Now it’s back. There, short history lesson done.
The latest Escape Hybrid eschews the turbocharged EcoBoost engines found elsewhere in the lineup. In their place is a 2.5-liter inline-four running on the leaner Atkinson cycle. A pair of electric motors provide added thrust, drawing from a small 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It all runs through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), sending power to all four corners. Unlike its chief rival, the RAV4 Hybrid, the Escape can come in front-drive form as well.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review: The Dependable One
Ford quotes an even 200 ponies for the Hybrid—the plug-in version is slightly stronger at 209 hp. There’s 155 lb-ft of max twist here, but that number doesn’t truly illustrate the amount of instant-access torque the Escape has when pulling away from an intersection. It never feels quick, but it’s enough for any day-to-day needs. From a seat-of-the-pants angle it feels roughly on par with the 1.5-liter gas model.
The Escape is eager to drop into EV-only mode at any opportunity. That’s a boon for fuel efficiency, but that small battery means it isn’t long before the gas engine wakes up. When it does, it trumpets its presence to all in the car.
Nonetheless, on a recent comparison test against the Toyota, the Ford proved the more efficient fuel-sipper. A week of driving on highways and crowded city streets saw the Escape post a very impressive 47 mpg (5.0 L/100 km) average. That’s substantially better than the quoted 40 mpg average (5.9 L/100 km), and roughly 50 percent better than the 1.5-liter model. Those savings add up quickly.
Strong highway manners
The Escape is more than just its remarkable fuel economy figures. While it’s a far-cry from the blue-collar heroics of the dearly-departed Fiesta ST, the compact crossover does at least respond well to more committed driving. The steering is light and accurate, making it easy to place on the road. Crucially, the pedals both feel natural, with no blunted mapping for the throttle nor awkward regen feel for the brakes. The only real cues you’re driving a hybrid come visually (from the instrument panel) or audibly. The Escape is yet another example of how little change there is when making the switch to electrified drivetrains.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid vs 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Around town, the Escape’s suspension can be slightly too stiff for mall-crawling duty. It jiggles over speedbumps, and large potholes send a shudder through the wheel. Blame the 19-inch wheels and their low-profile tires for exacerbating this. Helpfully, it does settle down nicely on the highway. At higher speeds, however, the Escape produces more wind noise than expected, specifically around the side mirrors.
Curvy shape hides lots of space
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Escape’s curvaceous, car-like styling would eat into interior room. While it isn’t best-in-class in any one measurement, the long 106.7-inch wheelbase does ensure it’s close to the top in leg- and headroom. Ford has also made the fourth-gen Escape wider than any of its competitors, providing plenty of space for wide shoulders. The large, optional panoramic sunroof of my tester helps with the impression of space, letting plenty of light in.
Ford’s decision to allow for six inches (150 mm) of fore-aft sliding for the rear seats is a huge boon. Buyers can slide them forward if they need a little extra trunk space, or push them all the way back for when adults, not children, are in the second row. The low beltline and that afore-mentioned sunroof keeps things bright and airy in the back too. Unfortunately, there are no USB ports in the second row, an odd omission for a family vehicle.
Even with those rear seats pushed all the way forward, the Escape has a smaller trunk than the others in the class, at 34.4 cubic feet (974 liters). That swells to 60.8 (1,721) with the second-row laying flat. It’s mostly an issue of depth: the loading zone is wide and has a low lip height of just over 27 inches. I easily fit my new bike into the trunk for an impromptu adventure with room to spare.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Ford Escape Titanium Review
Lots of tech, but low-rent materials
Ford has obviously prioritized technology in the new Escape. Largely, this is a good thing. There’s the usual raft of (standard) safety equipment for starters, and the Titanium trim comes with LED headlights too, helping the car earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating. Ford’s adaptive cruise control is a straight-forward piece of kit, and it does a good job keeping the Escape in its lane without constant adjustments.
SYNC3 is one of the better mainstream infotainment systems on the market: the graphics are clear and it’s quick to respond. The Titanium also features a 12.3-inch fully-digital instrument panel. The graphics are eye-catching, and it’s plenty customizable. I appreciate all the possible ways to deliver fuel economy figures—not to mention the gamification of fuel saving itself, with a little eco-score provided. While there are no second-row USB ports, an available wireless charging pad up front does help.
I wasn’t a fan of the Escape’s pop-up glass HUD in the gas Titanium, and I’m not here. Its placement drops it close to the nose of the Escape, and I find these systems more distracting than the simpler windshield approach. An available WiFi hotspot allows up to 10 connections, and a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system rounds out the tech lineup.
I feel like a broken record at this point, but it bears repeating: the new Escape’s biggest issue is the quality of its interior finishings. The door panels look and feel cheap, and the center console isn’t much better. I do like the rotary gear selector however, and the seats are massively comfortable. I just can’t shake the general feeling of cheapness from nearly every major touch point.
Verdict: 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid Review
Interior quality aside, the new Escape is a strong contender. Just like with its Japanese competitors, I’d recommend skipping the gas-engined models and aiming straight for the hybrid here. It’s an appeal to the head: the price difference between a gas SEL and Titanium Hybrid is $3,590. That’s with a handful of options on the SEL, but it still misses out on the better seats, the upgraded sound system, and a few other features. The EPA estimates you’ll save $1,750 in gas over five years with the hybrid, and that amount grows if you do over 15,000 miles per year.
Perhaps more important, the hybrid is almost $3,000 cheaper than the 2.0-liter Titanium. Unless you really need that extra turbo power—say, for towing—there’s little reason to pick the EcoBoost over the Hybrid. If you’re sold on the more car-like shape of the Escape within the crowded compact crossover segment, the Hybrid is the one to have.
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