How much are you willing to spend to save on gas?
That’s the question presented by the Big Three hybrids in the compact crossover class, the Honda CR-V hybrid, the Toyota RAV4 Prime (Toyota-speak for a hybrid you can plug in) and the Ford Escape plug-in hybrid, which is the focus of this write-up.
They use less gas than their gas-engine-only counterparts. But they all cost more to buy, too.
The Escape plug-in hybrid, for instance, lists for about $12k more than a base-trim/non-hybrid Escape. Ford is probably well-aware that spending an extra $12k just to “save” on gas isn’t likely going to sell many buyers. And that’s probably why the plug-in hybrid version of the Escape is also loaded with standard options such as heated seats (and steering wheel), a larger 13.2 inch LCD touchscreen, adaptive cruise control and a number of additional luxury/tech features.
What It Is
The Escape is Ford’s entrant in the compact crossover class.
It’s about the same size and generally similar to its main rivals in the class, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. All three have offered available with hybrid drivetrains, though there are some differences there.
One of them being that – at least for now – Honda no longer offers a hybrid version of its popular small crossover.
Another is that both the Ford and the Toyota (Prime) hybrids are plug-in hybrids, which means their batteries can be recharged without driving them. Also, they can be driven on battery power alone for about 40 miles (37 for the Ford, 42 for the Toyota). The Honda CRV hybrid was a more basic hybrid that could not be externally powered. It used its batteries and motor to provide supplementary power for acceleration and to power the electrical accessories when the CRV’s engine wasn’t running. It had to burn gas to charge up its batteries – and to move at more than a crawl.
It was, however, more likely to save you money as it only cost $32,010 to start and only needed to burn a gallon of gas to go 40 miles in city driving (35 on the highway).
The plug-in version of the Escape starts at $40,500 (vs. $28,000 for the base trim non-hybrid version of the Escape).
A Toyota RAV4 Prime (plug-in hybrid) lists for $43,090.
So if you buy the Ford, you’ll be saving some money . . .
What’s New For 2023
Three years after its last major makeover (in 2020) the ’23 Escape gets minor front and rear styling tweaks and an upgraded version of Ford’s Sync infotainment interface and a larger optional touchscreen (standard in the hybrid).
Plug-in hybrid has the potential to save even more gas if you avoid burning it – which you can do by driving it as much (and as far) as you can on battery power alone.
You’re not tethered to a cord.
Same general appeal as the regular Escape.
What’s Not So Good
It’s a spendy way to save money.
Toyota still offers a non-plug-in hybrid version of the RAV4 that cost about $8k less ($31,225) that averages the same 40 MPG as the Escape plug-in hybrid.
Significantly less cargo-carrying space than the CR-V.
The Escape comes standard with a 1.5 liter, turbocharged three cylinder engine; yes, you read that right. It’s an awfully small engine for a vehicle that weighs 3,283 lbs. (with FWD).
But – via the Miracle of Boost – it makes 181 horsepower (and 190 ft.-lbs. of torque) which is output comparable to that of 2.8 liter or so V6 without a turbo from about 20 years ago. The chief difference isn’t the power but the mileage. The three delivers 27 city, 34 highway – which is better by about 5 MPG than something similar with a V6 (without a turbo) delivered circa the 2000 or so model year.
It also produces more low-end torque, so it feels like the bigger engine it’s not. On the downside, it’s almost constantly under boost – and that means its internals are under pressure. It’s why – historically – turbo-boosted engines were rarely found in other than high-performance vehicles, where longevity was less an issue than performance. But that’s the price we are paying for higher mileage out of smaller engines.
The three is paired with an eight speed automatic – not a CVT automatic – and you have your pick of front-wheel-drive or (optionally) all-wheel-drive.
More power is available if you want it – in ST-Line, Select and Platinum trims. These come standard with a larger, 2.0 liter (four cylinder) engine – also turbocharged – that makes 250 horsepower and 280 ft.-lbs. of torque. It is one of the strongest engines available in the class, with the exception of the new Dodge Hornet’s standard 2.0 liter 268 horsepower turbo’d four.
All-wheel-drive is standard with this engine.
It comes standard with a larger 2.5 liter four cylinder engine – this time without a turbo – paired up with a plug-in hybrid (battery/motor) drivetrain that has the power to propel the vehicle at normal road speeds for about 37 miles without the gas engine running (and burning). That’s how it averages 40 MPG. But because running the engine can recharge the battery as you drive, you don’t have to stop – except for gas – and doing that doesn’t take much time.
Thirty seven miles of EV range is less range than a fully electric car can travel. But that misses the point, which is not having to plan your driving around all that waiting. And if you don’t drive more than 37 miles – and have a place (and the time) to charge when you get there – you could end up with a vehicle that averages much better than 40 MPG.
Regardless, you’ll have the versatility of a dual-fuel layout. If the power goes out, you’ll be able to drive – if the tank has gas in it. If the gas station’s power is out – and the pumps are off – you’ll also be able to drive, if you can find a place to plug in.
The hybrid Escape is powerful, too.
Combined output is 210 horsepower – midway between the output of the 1.3 liter turbo’d three and that of the 2.0 liter turbo’s four – and comparable to the output of an early-’90s 5.0 liter V8 as in the Mustang GT or Camaro Z28 of that era. These did not average 40 MPG.
But, the hybrid Escape is heavier – 3,904 lbs. – and that’s probably why it is the only ’23 Escape that’s only available with front-wheel-drive. It’s also probably why its maximum tow rating – just 1,500 lbs. – is less than that of the non-hybrid Escape with the three cylinder engine, which (incredibly) is rated to pull up to 2,000 lbs.
If you go with the 2.0 liter-equipped Escape, you can pull up to 3,500 lbs.
On The Road
If you like the idea of driving an EV but are leery about the idea of being limited by one, then a plug-in hybrid like this one could be the right one.
With its battery full charged – which takes less time (about 3.5 hours on 240V Level II) to do than it takes to fully charge a full-time EV’s battery, because the hybrid’s battery is much smaller – you have a vehicle that can be driven on electric power for a distance long enough to cover most short-range driving, both there and back. You’ll experience the same silent-running and you’ll be using no gas while it’s running.
But so long as there’s gas in the tank, you will never have to worry about how much range you’ve got left – or whether there’s a place to plug in where you’re headed (or along the way). Or whether you have the time to deal with the wait.
If you exceed the range on battery power, engine power automatically replaces it – and you keep on going. For the next 500-plus miles. That’s the Escape plug-in’s range on gas and electric power. That’s how far you can go on a full charge and a full tank. And refilling its 14 gallon tank takes less than five minutes, so you won’t have to spend 30-45 minutes waiting for a partial charge at a “fast” charger.
Driving the Escape plug-in is not an exciting experience – but that’s not what people buy Escapes for. They buy them because they’re useful appliances and that’s what you’re getting here. One that’s much more useful than a battery-powered appliance. Or at least, one that is solely powered by batteries. The whole point of buying a vehicle is to be able to drive it – not to park it.
And that’s what you’re getting here.
At The Curb
Like the models it competes with, the Escape looks a lot like the models it competes with. Almost everyone who sells cars sells a compact crossover like the Escape. It’s why Ford sells the Escape with three different drivetrains, so as to offer something functionally different.
The tested plug-in hybrid is for all intents and purposes a luxury crossover. It has a digital instrument cluster, a huge(13.2 inch) secondary LCD touchscreen, a 10 speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, a full-roof panorama sunroof and quilted leather seat covers. It was easy to imagine it as a Lincoln – which isn’t hard because Ford sells the Escape as one (more about that here). And while the Lincoln looks more like a luxury crossover on the outside, the Escape plug-in looks (and feels) pretty close once you’re inside.
And – even though the tested plug-in Escape with all of those features came with a luxury crossover price (almost $48k) it was still almost cheap compared with the $55,320 price of more-or-less the same thing wrapped in Lincoln livery.
In terms of utility, the Escape – plug-in and otherwise – has a little less cargo-carrying capacity than its main rivals in the class, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. The Ford has 34.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind its second row and 60.8 cubic feet total with them folded down. The RAV4 has 37.6 cubic feet and 69.8 cubic feet and the Honda has 39.3 cubic feet – and a class-leading 76.5 cubic feet in total. But the Honda is not currently available with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain and the Toyota costs several thousand dollars more with its available plug-in drivetrain.
Ford used to offer the Escape with a hybrid drivetrain without the cord. It was a hybrid like the hybrid version of the Honda CR-V that’s not currently available, either. It wasn’t able to drive 37 miles on battery power, like the plug-in version. But it did go 44 miles – on a gallon of gas – in city driving (and 37 on the highway) and it stickered for only $30,185. It was not as loaded (or as powerful) as the plug-in hybrid Escape. But it was much more affordable.
Now, if you want to save on gas, you’ll have to spend more money.
The Bottom Line
The Escape’s looks may not draw much attention. But if you’re looking for something that’s not the same as everything else, the Escape’s worth taking a look at.
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