For the most part, driving an Escape Hybrid is like driving a non-hybrid Escape, or any other small SUV for that matter. Ford went to great lengths to ensure that you wouldn't even realize you were driving a hybrid if someone didn't tell you.
On the other hand, there are a few quirks that show up on the road, like the aforementioned shudder when the gasoline engine kicks in. The regenerative braking system also feels different, since the speed is being reduced in a different way from standard disc brakes -- you can feel it when the regular brakes kick in on a hard stop.
On the up side, another difference comes from the transmission. Along with the reported increase in fuel efficiency that comes from using an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT), there is also a smoother ride. There's no sudden jolt when the car upshifts or downshifts.
The only change to the dashboard is on the tachometer, which features a reading below zero that indicates when the engine has shut off and the car is on electric-only power. If the navigation system is purchased, then the display screen has a hybrid power flow graphic.
You might think that the batteries needed to power a small SUV would take up most of the cargo space. In fact, the Escape Hybrid's 250 D-size, nickel-metal hydride cells (connected in series) lie flat beneath the rear cargo area.
That cargo area is smaller than the cargo space in the non-hybrid Escape, but only by a few inches. The space for driver and passengers is unchanged.
As a first attempt to create a practical hybrid SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid is an excellent piece of engineering. It's definitely better for the environment and offers lower fuel costs than any other SUV on the market. Although it isn't as environmentally friendly as a Toyota Prius, rated at 60 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway, it may be better for the planet in the long-term. By making a hybrid for the average family, which generally needs a bit of room to travel comfortably, Ford could be helping to put millions of hybrids in American garages within a decade.
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