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2006 Ford Hybrid Escape

by Martha Hindes

Ford Hybrid Escape
Ford Hybrid Escape Interior

We learned a secret while behind the wheel of an early hybrid Ford Escape. Despite its spunky sport-utility attitude, its bold, outdoorsy lines, its hunky tires and reputation for getting out of daunting snowbanks or other car-capturing jams, "hybrid" seems to make a "go easy" impact on drivers. It's not something that's blatantly obvious.

But the knowledge this is a very special vehicle, meant to pamper rather than scourge the earth, seeps through in subtle, subliminal ways. You start the engine and prepare to tromp the pedal, but don't. Besides wasting fuel, there's a "let's not spoil our home planet" attitude that takes over. So you go easy, nursing the accelerator. Once that's settled in, there's little surprise. Hybrid and standard V-6 differences seem almost imperceptible, with spunky acceleration, easy handling and roomy storage.

Appearance wise, one might never know this junior-size sport utility had secrets under its skin. You'd have to note the modest "road and leaf" green emblem on the exterior, or search for the rear load floor's 330-volt battery bank that stores regenerated electricity. Hybrids are just what the name suggests, a combo of two different technologies for one common effect. For vehicles, they meld a gasoline engine with electric motors. Ford's full hybrid uses a 2.3-liter, inline four cylinder Duratec engine for 133 horses of gasoline power. The system equals 155 HP when combined with a 70 KWatt electric motor. It can run on electricity alone (at 25 miles an hour or less), or on gasoline alone, or a combination of both that gives best performance and efficiency.

Recaptured energy is a secret of hybrid technology, and electricity is regenerated when the vehicle is coasting or braking. That's why hybrids generally do better in urban stop-and-go traffic than on highways, just the opposite of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. The year-old hybrid Escape was designed to get around 36 MPG (front-drive), or from 400 to 500 city miles on a single tank of gas, nearly double the mileage of the V-6 version. Adding to fuel economy: The Escape's engine shuts down while coasting or at stops.

An award winner as Top SUV under $30 K, Escape adds some trim refinement upgrades to its solid green car credentials for 2006. More luxury and utility options in a new premium package include leather trim, 110-volt outlet and a new exterior color, Black Clearcoat Metallic. Four-wheel drive and enhanced, 1,000-pound towing capacity are added, proving gusto can be green in the process. (Check with Ford's Hybrid Tax Hotline for $1,950 to $6,350 in earth friendly tax credits.)