2006 Escape Hybrid New Car Test Drive
The Ford Escape is America's best-selling compact sport-utility. And it's a good choice. The Escape offers comfortable seating for four and plenty of space for stuff. Folding down the rear seats reveals a moderately sized cargo area with a flat floor. Its smooth ride and agile handling make for enjoyable driving, and its compact dimensions make it easy to maneuver and park when you get there.
Propulsion comes in several forms including a 200-horsepower V6. It's quick and enjoyable and communicates very well with the automatic. The Escape is also available with a gas/electric hybrid system. The Escape Hybrid is one of the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class (see separate review) and driving one is easy and enjoyable, very little different from a regular Escape.
But the standard four-cylinder engine may be all you need. It was updated, beginning with 2005 models, and it offers decent power and works well with the automatic.
Four-wheel drive is also available, offering good wintry weather capability.
The Escape lineup has been broadened for 2006, but is otherwise unchanged. It was significantly revised for 2005, which brought a new face, a brightened interior, a new 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and a revised suspension. The Ford Escape became even more popular last year with a hybrid version that won the 2005 North American Truck of the Year award.
The first thing you should know about the Escape Hybrid is that, for the most part, it drives just like a regular Escape. It demands little, if any, additional effort or knowledge from the driver. That's impressive, considering its complexity. In short, the Ford Escape Hybrid is a superb vehicle, smooth, responsive, comfortable and convenient.
Hybrid vehicles are powered by the combination of a gasoline engine with an electric motor. By combining a four-cylinder gasoline engine with the boost from the electric power pack, the Ford Escape Hybrid provides acceleration much like a V6-powered Escape, but the Hybrid is estimated by the EPA to deliver twice the fuel economy in city driving and nearly double on the highway. Plus, its emissions are much lower.
Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that hybrid vehicles such as the Escape never have to be plugged into any sort of electrical outlet. The vehicle's specially designed battery pack is automatically recharged by the gasoline engine and by regenerative braking, technology that takes the otherwise wasted energy generated by braking and sends it to the battery pack.
There is a price premium that must be paid for equipping a car with hybrid technology, but there also are federal tax benefits, and sometimes state and local tax benefits, available to help offset that price. This is in addition to the fuel savings. In reality, it takes awhile to recoup the price difference, about $3,500 more than the retail price of an Escape XLT with the V6 engine. During that time owners can be comforted in knowing they're doing more than their part to reduce air pollution and consumption of fossil fuels.
The Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid-powered SUV available in the United States, and also was the first hybrid with available all-wheel drive and 1000 pounds of towing capacity, which allows buyers to enjoy the benefits of a small SUV while greatly enhancing fuel economy and lowering emissions.
The Escape Hybrid no longer has the hybrid SUV market to itself, however. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h were introduced as 2006 models using Toyota's impressive Hybrid Synergy Drive, but the midsize Highlander costs $6,000-$11,000 more than the compact Escape and the Lexus costs even more than that. The Escape's market is shared with the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and the Mazda Tribute Hybrid, which are nearly identical vehicles with different styling.
The Escape Hybrid is available with four-wheel drive (all-wheel drive) or two-wheel drive (front-wheel drive). All come with automatic transmissions; no manuals are available. The 2006 Escape Hybrid 2WD model appears to be the cleanest, most economical SUV available today. (Mariner and Tribute are only available with all-wheel drive.)
The Escape Hybrid was launched as a 2005 model, sporting upgrades made to the entire Escape lineup in addition to the hybrid technology, so there are no changes for 2006 except for the availability of a new Premium package and a new black clearcoat metallic exterior color.
The 2006 Ford Escape comes in three trim levels, XLS, XLT, and Limited. Each is available with front-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard on the XLS and XLT. The 3.0-liter V6 comes standard on the Limited and is optional on the XLT. The Escape Hybrid is fitted with a 2.3-liter gas engine with an electric motor.
The XLS ($20,070) and XLS 4WD ($21,820) come standard with air conditioning, low-back cloth front bucket seats, illuminated remote entry, power door locks, windows and mirrors, tilt steering column, speed controls on the steering wheel, privacy glass, 15-inch steel wheels and AM/FM/6CD. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder comes with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($690).
The XLT ($22,535) and XLT 4WD ($24,285) are upgraded with premium cloth upholstery, a power driver's seat, privacy glass, a power moonroof, cruise control, floor mats, a cargo cover and convenience net, fog lights, an in-dash six-CD changer, P235/70R16 tires on 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels. Safety is enhanced with the addition of anti-lock brakes (ABS).
The XLT V6 ($24,880) and XLT V6 4WD ($25,140) come standard with the automatic transmission.
Limited ($24,930) and Limited 4WD ($26,630) get premium leather seats, seat heaters, dual front sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated exterior mirrors, a reverse sensing system, and a MACH Audio in-dash six-CD changer with automatic volume control. The Limited is distinguished by its monochrome exterior with body-colored trim and bright machined 16-inch aluminum wheels. Limited models are upgraded with front side-impact air bags designed to offer torso protection.
A Safety Package ($595) for all models adds Ford's Safety Canopy rollover protection system and front side air bags. We strongly recommend getting it as it can provide head protection in side impact or rollover accident.
Option packages are available for each trim level. A Luxury Comfort Package ($1,095) for Limited models includes a 320-watt Audiophile stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer, six speakers plus subwoofer; heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and Reverse Sensing System.
The XLT No Boundaries Package ($1,055) adds all-terrain OWL tires, 16-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, black painted step bars, Class II trailer towing, and wheel lips. The XLT Sport ($24,185) and XLT Sport 4WD ($25,935) boast all the XLT standard equipment plus 16-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, P235/70R16 tires, painted Dark Shadow gray fascias, bodyside cladding, wheel lip moldings and black step bars.
A Leather Comfort Group ($595) is available for XLT and XLT Sport models, and Class II towing preparation ($395) can be ordered for XLT, XLT Sport and Limited models. A Cargo Convenience Group ($150) for all models adds a retractable cargo area cover and rear cargo storage bin. Stand-alone options include power moonroof ($585) on XLT, XLT Sport and Limited models; side step bars ($350) on XLS and XLT models, and a roof rack with horizontal bars ($40) on the XLS.
The Escape Hybrid ($26,900) and Hybrid 4WD ($28,525) are equipped similarly to the Limited models. The 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid comes in one well-equipped trim level, but with a choice of front-wheel drive ($26,900) or all-wheel drive ($28,525).
Options include leather seating, upgraded audio equipment, side-curtain airbags and a navigation system. The Energy, Audiophile and Navigation package ($1,995) includes an upgraded audio system, CD-based satellite navigation and a display on the navigation screen that illustrates instant and recent fuel economy and the way energy flows between the gasoline engine, electric motor, battery pack and wheels.
A safety package ($595) includes side-curtain airbags that cover all seating areas as well as side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Curtain airbags are designed to provide head protection in a rollover or side impact. Head injuries are the leading cause of death in such accidents.
Other options include a leather comfort group ($595), an appearance package ($695) with front and side fascias, Ford's MACH audio with six-disc CD changer ($595), a 110-volt AC power outlet ($180), a retractable rear cargo cover ($75), and rear carpeted floor mats ($25). A new Premium package ($3,995) for 2006 models includes leather sport bucket seats, the hybrid energy audio and navigation system, the retractable rear cargo cover, the AC power outlet, and floor mats. A sunroof with a shade a a mini overhead console with a storage bin and map lights ($585) is available when the Premium package is ordered. Many accessories from Ford dealers or aftermarket companies are available for the standard Escape, and they also fit the Escape Hybrid.