Second-hand: 2005-2010 Ford Escape Hybrid
Wheels contributor Mark Toljagic runs down the second-hand Ford Escape Hybrid it's worth a good look.
It wasn’t mechanical issues or dead batteries that compelled the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission to pull the 18 original Ford Escape Hybrid cabs off the streets of Gotham after three and a half years of service.
It’s just that after 750,000 total throttle applications and 225,000 rear door openings and closings during the life of a taxi, New York City decrees mandatory vehicle retirement out of a concern for passenger safety.
In reality, Ford’s yellow SUVs had each racked up half a million kilometres of stop-and-go driving with remarkable ease. The most common failure item in routine mechanical inspections of its hybrid cabs was burned-out light bulbs.
Looking for a reliable used vehicle? Your best bet, apparently, has an electric motor sandwiched between the gas engine and the transmission.
Ford’s five-passenger, four-door compact SUV wagon was a strong seller right out of the gate in 2001. For 2005, the Escape received a larger Mazda-sourced 153-hp 2.3 L four-cylinder as the base engine, along with revised styling and new safety features.
To create the Escape Hybrid, the four banger was modified to run on the Atkinson cycle, utilizing late valve closing to reduce pumping losses. Because it inhaled less air and fuel, output dropped to 133 hp.
The Atkinson engine was supplemented by a 70 kW electric motor and an Aisin continuously variable transmission (CVT) that allowed the Escape to be driven solely on electric power at low speeds, just like the Toyota Prius. (That was no coincidence; the two auto giants inked a patent-sharing deal in 2004.)
The Hybrid’s electric motor drew its power from a 330-volt Sanyo battery pack that lived under the cargo floor, charged through regenerative braking or via the gas engine.
Ford made headlines by mating its hybrid powertrain to an all-wheel-drive system, creating the world’s first hybrid SUV (it was also available in a front-drive model).
Beyond the NASA-grade propulsion technology, the Hybrid was very much like any other Escape, which included a dull, plasticky interior and a broad rear bench seat that could fit three in a pinch.
The second-generation Escape was unveiled for the 2008 model year, featuring an exterior facelift and a much-improved cabin stuffed with six standard airbags.
For 2009, the gas engine was upgraded to a 2.5 L Atkinson-cycle four cylinder making 155 hp, along with an electric motor that produced 94 hp (the combined maximum output was 177 hp). The Hybrid also received a revised suspension, stability control, Ford’s Sync voice-activated controls and capless fuel-filler system.
Unfortunately, the larger engine and other hybrid components added 136 kg to the 2009 models, which degraded handling. Ford’s bean counters also swapped out the rear disc brakes for drum brakes, which was roundly criticized as a regressive step.
ON THE ROAD
Despite Ford’s boast that the 2005 Hybrid could deliver V6-like power when called upon, it came up about two seconds short, checking in with a 10.8-second time required to accelerate to 96 km/h from a standstill. The more powerful 2009 models trimmed about a second off that time.
The electric-assisted power steering worked even when the gas engine shut off while coasting to a red light or creeping in heavy traffic, but the system provided little feedback in regular driving situations. The Escape was a handful in the curves, understandably. Don’t expect too much from a heavy, tall wagon.
Like other hybrids with CVTs, the Escape’s city fuel economy was better than on the highway, thanks to the contributions of the electric motor in urban traffic. Still, some owners were unhappy about their consumption numbers.
“Never got over 29 mpg in city, and I drove this by the textbook,” a frustrated driver of an ’08 model posted.
WHAT OWNERS REPORTED
Despite the endorsement of some overly enthusiastic taxi drivers — really, when are New York cabbies ever happy? — the Escape Hybrid has presented owners with a few reliability issues in small numbers. Surprisingly, perhaps, battery issues are not among them.
It has a water pump that does extra duty cooling the Hybrid’s many electronic controls. The pump can fail or spin slowly, which causes a Check Engine Light to illuminate and shut down the engine.
The air conditioner’s blend actuator can break, necessitating an expensive repair. All-wheel-drive models have a transfer case that can reportedly eat a bearing, requiring complete replacement of the unit.
Other issues include prematurely worn shocks, failed or intermittent electric steering, faulty door locks, errant rattles and door gaskets that detach themselves.
The bottom line? Ford’s nifty hybrid powertrain comes wrapped inside the workaday Escape, which may be a boon to the taxi industry, but discerning motorists will recognize that better savings can be found in a hybrid sedan rather than an SUV.
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2005-2010 FORD ESCAPE HYBRID
WHAT’S BEST: Good cabin space, tall seating position, makes friends with tree-huggers
WHAT’S WORST: Noisy at speed, less than stellar fuel use, questionable value
TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2005 – $10,5000; 2009 – $18,000