THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2008 Ford Escape hybrid SUV.
DOWN THE ROAD: 26.8 mpg. That was our average during a mix of city/highway test-driving in the restyled 2008 Escape hybrid. Not bad at all, we say, for the roomy SUV that comfortably and securely can carry five passengers. The ride is smooth but steadfast in the unified welded steel body of the Escape.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: The 2.3-liter V-4 cylinder engine offers 133 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 124 pounds-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. Mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission, the Escape is equipped with a 330-volt nickel-metal hydride battery. The SUV can run on a blend of gasoline and electric motor, just plain old petroleum or only on electric. The Escape hybrid's especially efficient with fuel savings in stop-and-go-traffic or under a speed of 25 mph. That's when the electric motor works its magic. Recharging the battery during brakes or stops is a generator motor. Suspension is handled by independent MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar in the front; the rear gets lateral links and a trailing arm design. An electric power-assist steering system guides the SUV quite assuringly into a tight parking spot.
LOOK & FEEL: The revised exterior of the Escape sports a bolder and more rugged egg-crate grille sprinkled with chrome and surrounded by automatic halogen headlights with fog lamps underneath. That this is a hybrid is evident from the road and leaf badging found not just on the rear tailgate but also on the front fenders. The interior also acquires some freshening with the instrument panel gauges lit up in ice blue instead of the typical green. This is pleasantly contrasted by an ambient dash display of outside temperature, compass and radio. The tachometer hosts the battery charge gauge in a green zone. If you opt for the $2,695 navigation system, you will get a separate gauge that displays levels of charge and assist for the battery, which is hidden in the rear load floor.
SAFETY FIRST: Standard features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, tire pressure monitor and a latch system.
OUT THE DOOR: $25,075, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. At $1,195, the hybrid premium package of leather upholstery and leather-wrapped steering wheel, retractable cargo cover, power heated front seats and mirrors, chrome roof rack with crossbars, rear-obstacle detection system, among other amenities, looks appealing.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P235/70R16; wheelbase, 103.1 inches; length, 174.7 inches; weight, 3,638 pounds; fuel capacity, 15 gallons; highway, 30 mpg; city, 34 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: Rising gasoline prices! That may just suffice to consider buying the 2008 Escape hybrid if you are in the market for a compact SUV. An even bolder exterior and interior appearance, adequate power and a 'green' vehicle outlook enhance its appeal even further.