Home / Lifestyle / 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid – The Original American Hybrid Is Back With Room For A Spare

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid – The Original American Hybrid Is Back With Room For A Spare

Sam Abuelsamid

Back in 2004, Toyota had recently launched the second generation Prius, the first-gen Honda Insight was in its waning years and Ford introduced its first hybrid electric vehicle, the Escape. Unlike the two Japanese cars, the Escape hybrid was one the first battery assisted vehicles that was totally “normal” looking. After dropping the hybrid option from the third-generation Escape from 2012-2019, partial electric driving is back for the new 2020 model.

In the spring of 2018, as Ford announced that it would discontinue all sedans from the US market in favor of more utilities and trucks, it also announced that every new model would offer an electrified powertrain option. That process started with the recently launched Explorer and continues with Escape and other yet to be revealed products including the new Bronco and “baby Bronco.”

Ford learned a lot from the development and use of the first and second-generation Escape hybrids including that their batteries proved to be far more durable than originally anticipated. Thousands of examples have served in New York city’s taxi fleet over the past dozen or so years with most accumulating well over 200,000 miles and some topping 400,000. Despite that heavy use, the batteries showed very little degradation in capacity over that time.

Sam Abuelsamid

The fourth-generation Ford hybrid system in the Escape retains the same basic architecture used since the first but has been improved in almost every way. Like Toyota hybrids, this is a two-motor power-split system that uses one of the motors mainly as a variable ground for a planetary gear set. That makes it an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. All of the components in the drive unit have been upgraded to improve efficiency and make it more cost effective.

One of the biggest changes to this generation is a power electronics module that is now integrated into the transmission case. This layout was previously used on the drive unit for the second-generation Chevrolet Volt in 2015. The hardware integration eliminates much of the high-voltage wiring between the motors and the inverter, improving reliability and simplifying packaging.

Sam Abuelsamid

The other big change for 2020 is the battery. At the media launch drive of the 2020 Escape, Ford had examples of all four generations of hybrid batteries to show the reduction in size and weight while retaining roughly the same storage capacity of 1.4 kWh. The first two generations were both nickel-metal hydride batteries while the third generation used in the C-Max and Fusion switched to lithium ion. However, the new battery is the first to adopt liquid cooling rather than air cooling and it also gets updated chemistry that increases the energy density.

The battery in the first generation Escape weighed nearly 200 pounds and measured 42x32x5.5 inches taking up most of the space under the cargo floor. The 2020 battery has shrunk by more than two-thirds to just over 59 pounds and 24.5x14x5 inches. At just over half the thickness of a carry-on suitcase, Ford engineers now slot the battery under the front passenger seat. Like the integrated power electronics, this reduces the amount of high voltage cabling required. It also means that the area under the cargo floor can actually accomodate a real spare tire rather than just an inflator kit. With such a small battery, Ford is also able to offer an all-wheel-drive version since space remains for a drive shaft down the center.

Sam Abuelsamid

The other big change to the powertrain this year is a larger 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine replacing the previous 2.0-liter unit used in the Fusion and C-Max. Ford engineers found that this combination could operate in a more fuel efficient range more of the time and also provides an extra 12 combined horsepower, bringing the total of the motors and engine to 200-hp. Next spring, Ford is adding a plug-in hybrid variant that has a larger battery spanning the area under the front seats.

We had the opportunity to spend a few hours driving an Escape hybrid in Louisville and the surrounding area. Aside from the powertrain and a hybrid badge on the tailgate, everything else about this crossover is exactly the same as the gas-engined versions we drove a day earlier.

Sam Abuelsamid

Unlike the heyday of the Prius when it seemed that customers wanted to flaunt the fact that they were driving something fuel efficient and automakers obliged by creating unique looking cars, hybrids are now normal and visual distinctions are disappearing.

Sam Abuelsamid

The hybrid powertrain is available in the mid-level SE Sport Hybrid and it is standard on the top-end Titanium package. The SE gets black 17-inch alloy wheels and blacked out exterior trim while the Titanium gets features like CoPilot 360+ with adaptive cruise control and lane centering standard. All hybrids get the customizable 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that is standard on gas models. Interestingly, the hybrids also get dual exhaust outlets which is a change from previous electrified Fords that typically had an exhaust tip bent down behind the rear bumper to look like an EV.

Sam Abuelsamid

On the road, the electrified Escape offers few surprises relative to the gas models. Both the ride quality and driving dynamics are very good as they are in other variants. Even over rougher rural roads, the Escape remained very composed. On some twisting country roads, the low rolling resistance tires seemed to reach their grip limit a bit sooner than the 2.0-liter turbo as was expected, but those limits were still more than high enough to have a good time. Like the gas version, the steering had good effort, especially in sport mode, but didn’t really provide any discernible feedback about the forces between the rubber and the road.

The hybrid was also generally very quiet when cruising with little wind or road noise except when hitting bumps in a corner. That scenario exhibited some of the low frequency front end rumble typical of a lower cost strut suspension, but it wasn’t objectionable.

Probably the biggest surprise in driving the Escape hybrid was the engine sound under acceleration. Most hybrids are noteworthy for being quiet, especially in electric mode. The new 2.5-liter engine exhibits a bit of intake growl under moderate acceleration. It’s not objectionable, just surprising and Ford engineers confirmed that it was intentional to give the hybrid a sportier feel.

On the Escape’s big brother, the Explorer hybrid, Ford clearly tuned the hybrid system with more of a bias to performance and capability than ultimate fuel economy. That yielded a combined EPA rating of 28 mpg. With the smaller Escape, the bias goes back the other way. While the 2.0-liter turbo can tow 3,500-pounds, the hybrid is limited to 1,750-pounds, putting it well behind the Mazda CX-5 diesel but equal to the Rav4 hybrid.

Sam Abuelsamid

The EPA hasn’t yet published the ratings for the Escape, the hybrid is expected to do about 50% better than the outgoing 1.5-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost. Since the front-drive version of that model was rated at 26 mpg, the new hybrid should probably get in the 38-40 mpg range.

During our time with the all-wheel-drive Escape hybrid, I kept up a fairly brisk pace mostly in sport mode and averaged an indicated 37.5 mpg. My co-driver Ron Sessions alternated between normal and eco modes and squeezed out 44 mpg on his stint. Those are very impressive numbers that bode well for the real world performance of this model.

Sam Abuelsamid

For those interested in a compact crossover that gets excellent fuel efficiency and doesn’t sacrifice anything in usability except for that tow rating, the Escape will be one of several excellent choices available in the next several months. The SE Sport hybrid starts at $29,450 delivered while the Titanium will run $34,595. A loaded AWD Titanium like the one we drove goes for $38,090.

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About Christopher Ahn

Christopher L. Ahn writes for Lifestyle and Travel Sections in AmericaRichest.

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