Ford brought out its new 2008 Escape Hybrid at the L.A. Auto Show and put it right next to a stunning Giugiaro-designed Mustang. Guess where the crowd formed. However, we found Gil Portalatin, manager of Ford's hybrid applications, to discuss the powertrain changes to the Escape Hybrid. The basic mechanicals carry over as Ford's next-generation hybrid system will be introduced on an upcoming Fusion. Portalatin said customers wanted a softer, seamless transition between electric and gas operation and that was achieved with improved software and calibration in the hybrid controls. Another change is the addition of an economy mode for the air conditioning. When switched on, the A/C will shut down at a stop light, allowing the engine to turn off and save fuel. Otherwise, the A/C remains on with the engine running when the vehicle comes to a stop. Portalatin also said customers wanted more information about the hybrid operation. The new display shows instant mileage readings and brighter graphics to demonstrate the power flow between motors, battery and the gas engine.
Fuel economy remains the same but Cisco Codina, group VP for North American marketing at Ford, said the price point will go down for the new Escape. During the vehicle introduction, Codina said the vehicle is important in drawing new customers to Ford showrooms and dropped celebrity names such as Toby Maguire and Melissa Etheridge as Escape Hybrid customers. About 17 percent of current Escape owners drive the hybrid version, or 24,000 units. The new Escape offers fresher styling and a more refined interior. Standard on the Hybrid model is an interior fabric made from 100 percent recycled materials. The fabric will also be optional on gas models.
Follow the break for the Ford news release and more photos
THE 2008 FORD ESCAPE COMBINES A BOLD NEW LOOK WITH A SMOOTH, QUIET RIDE AND TOUGH SUV CAPABILITY
The Ford Escape, America's best-selling compact utility vehicle, has a completely new look inside and out for 2008. Escape now makes a powerful statement with a bolder, rugged exterior design that bears a stronger family resemblance to the Ford Explorer and Ford Expedition. The all-new interior resets the bar for small utility vehicles, with more upscale appointments, new innovative storage options, and improved comfort and quietness. In addition, chassis refinements deliver impressive fuel economy and agile driving dynamics that belie the Escape's rugged exterior.
"The 2008 Escape offers the capability and styling of a traditional SUV with the benefits of crossover construction – building on the successful formula that has made the Escape America's favorite small utility vehicle for six years," says Cisco Codina, group vice president, North America Marketing, Sales and Service. "The new Escape offers a more refined ride, go-anywhere capability, impressive fuel economy, up to 3,500 pounds of towing, and a more comfortable interior that is quieter and more versatile."
The combination of traditional SUV capability and crossover construction made the original Escape an instant success. More than one million Escapes have been sold since its introduction as a 2001 model – more than any other small utility vehicle or crossover of any size. Six years later, Escape remains the sales leader of the small-utility segment, a remarkable feat considering the segment has almost doubled, from 800,000 sales in 2000 to a projected 1.5 million in 2006.
Bolder, Tougher Exterior Design
"The goal from the beginning was to make Escape look even stronger and tougher than the original," says Doyle Letson, chief designer for the 2008 Escape. "We raised the beltline to give the profile a strong, modern proportion of sheetmetal to glass. Then, we sculpted the surfaces for a more Ford Tough Truck appearance, that now matches Escape's capabilities."
The high beltline is further emphasized by the new blacked-out B-pillars, integrated running boards, available 17-inch wheels, and the deletion of the original Escape's molded-in color fascias and lower bodyside molding.
To integrate the higher beltline, the hood has also been raised and now features a unique "reverse crease" design that draws the eye to the detailed surface. The new front fascia has headlamps that sweep up toward the front corners of the vehicle to short side marker lamps. The new headlights bracket the dramatic new grille.
Refined and Recycled Interior
The 2008 Escape is believed to be the first U.S. automotive application of seating surfaces made from 100 percent post-industrial materials, supplied by InterfaceFABRIC, Inc. InterfaceFABRIC estimates that Ford's use of post-industrial materials, rather than virgin fibers, could conserve an estimated 600,000 gallons of water, an estimated 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents, and the equivalent of more than 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
Escape also showcases Ford's first use of a "top of dash" display positioned at eye level on the dashboard, which shows ambient temperature, radio functions and climate-control readouts. This simple, efficient design puts much of the vehicle's information in one place at the top of the dashboard, making it easier to reference when driving.
Also improving ease-of-use is the clean, uncluttered center console. Rather than the traditional "brick" design for the radio and temperature controls, Escape features dials and buttons that "poke-through" the center console. The instrument panel houses audio and climate controls, a standard MP3/iPod audio jack, and controls for the available heated seats and in-dash navigation system.
Escape's interior also features the first use of Ford's new, signature Ice Blue interior lighting. The cool blue lighting replaces the traditional green on the instrument cluster, the center console, the redundant controls on the steering wheel, and the door lock and window switches. Ice Blue presents a cool, crisp, easy-on-the-eyes light for night driving and enhances the overall feel of the interior.
Escape's center console is large enough to hold a laptop computer, and there are three levels of storage space. In addition, the center console features two removable bins with innovative dovetail mounting points, which allows the bins to be hung from the front passenger side and rear of the console for additional storage.
Refined, Quiet Interior
Engineers made a host of changes to the 2008 Escape to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels inside the vehicle.
The 2008 Escape is one of the first Ford Motor Company vehicles to use speed-sensitive Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS), a sophisticated system that helps correct for road irregularities and improves overall steering feel.
Conventional power steering systems use an engine-driven hydraulic gear, which saps power and efficiency from the engine. The 2008 Escape's new EPAS system uses an electric motor, rather than the engine's accessory drive. This new system helps improve fuel economy and eliminates the hydraulic noises typical of conventional hydraulic power-assisted steering systems.
In addition, new recessed channels in the vehicle's roof panel are designed to improve airflow over the top of the vehicle, while horizontal ribs in the roof also strengthen the body structure and help reduce boom noise in the cabin. A new acoustic laminate sandwiched between two glass panels in the windshield and an acoustic headliner also help decrease wind noise. New interior carpeting, which is up to 50 percent thicker, further improves the isolation from road and wind noise.
Compared with the previous model, the 2008 Escape is 12 percent quieter on the highway (30.8 sones to 27 sones at 80 mph in the wind tunnel) and 20 percent quieter in high velocity crosswinds.
Standard Safety Equipment and Fuel-efficient Powertrains
Under its skin, the 2008 Escape has one of the most advanced safety packages in the small SUV segment. Escape comes standard with Safety Canopy™ side air curtains, which provide head and neck protection for the first- and second-row passengers, as well as standard side-impact air bags that deploy out of the upper portion of the front seats to protect the upper and lower torso of the driver and passenger. In addition, I-4 and V-6 Escape models come standard with Ford's exclusive AdvanceTrac® with RSC® (Roll Stability Control).
The 2008 Escape's standard 2.3-liter, 16-valve Duratec 23 I-4 produces 153 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 152 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm, paired with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The available 3.0-liter, 24-valve V-6 Duratec 30 engine makes 200 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 193 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,850 rpm. With a four-speed automatic, the V-6 powered Escape can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Ford Escape Hybrid continues to be a "full" hybrid. This means that, unlike other "mild" hybrid vehicles, Escape Hybrid can run on 100 percent electric power up to about 25 mph, maximizing in-city fuel economy.
At low speeds, power is delivered by a permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor, producing 70 kw @ 5,000 rpm and 330V maximum voltage. When additional power is required, the Escape Hybrid's 2.3-liter DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine seamlessly engages, contributing 133 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 124 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. The net result is 155 horsepower with 0-60 times comparable to a 200 horsepower V-6 engine and a boost in city-driving fuel economy of nearly 75 percent. Escape Hybrids are equipped with a smooth-shifting, electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
For 2008, Escape Hybrid engineers made revisions to software in the control system to improve transparency, or the transition between gasoline and electric operation. The transition from all-electric to gasoline power to a combination of the two is now even more seamless and virtually imperceptible to the driver.