2021 Ford Escape PHEV trades AWD for MPG and price, will consumers?
New Escape offers good value, performance, and efficiency
The 2021 Ford Escape PHEV is a new plug-in hybrid compact SUV that competes in a growing segment of plug-in hybrid utility vehicles with a lot of range and a relatively affordable price.
When Ford launched the all-new Escape just a few years ago, it came with the promise of a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and the barely a denial of a rugged model that was coming soon.
The hybrid arrived on schedule, and the Bronco Sport arrived even before the more anticipated full-fat Bronco. But the plug-in hybrid didn’t show up. Instead, it was delayed, and in the meantime, competitors emerged like the Toyota RAV4 Prime. A second generation of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is also on the verge of hitting the market, and there are more fully electric crossovers from Kia and Hyundai, though the latter three are larger and thus pricier.
What we’re saying is that the need for the Ford Escape PHEV to excel is even higher than it was two ago. We’re in Revelstoke, British Columbia, to find out if it makes the grade.
It doesn’t start out looking that way, because while the Escape offers a new generation of Ford hybrid drive with a 60km range, it only comes in front-wheel drive. What’s the deal? Ford says it prioritized range and economy and that binned the extra motor.
Ford’s Escape product planners also told us that the compact SUV segment is the biggest segment in the country and that 10 percent of those are bought with front-drive. So it’s not the full spectrum, but it’s not tiny potatoes. The value ideal might appeal in the historically base-model province of Quebec, and for the other big plug-in market, here in BC, it might not matter much either. At least if you don’t live in the mountains. And modern snow tires are amazingly impressive donuts of technology anyway.
A 2.5L four is paired with two motors (one to make electricity for the battery) and a 14.4 kWh pack that doesn’t shrink the trunk and doesn’t mess up Escape’s sliding and split-fold rear seat. Total power to the road is 220 hp, and (like at least a few other hybrid builders) they don’t specify torque.
While power isn’t as prodigious as the RAV4 Prime’s 300, it is more than the average compact crossover. Combined with electric torque filling in wherever the gas engine can’t and you get a crossover that feels athletic enough to put it at the sharper end of the segment. The engine is near silent, too, even in the “Charge” mode, only coming on with noticeable noise when you really floor the pedal. The noise then isn’t a great one, but if you’re the type of driver who would hear a lot of it, this probably isn’t the segment for you anyway. It’s not overly loud, it’s just typical of a large-displacement four-cylinder and a CVT.
Braking performance is excellent, and the Escape does well to hide the transition between regenerative braking and the mechanical brakes. It also pulls away from a stop or a slow yield without any of the harsh engagement that is typical of this segment.
Lowering the center of gravity (and the actual ground clearance by a tiny amount) thanks to the hybrid battery does help out handling. The Escape PHEV is very well damped, especially by compact crossover standards, dispatching with sharp dips and humps in the road with no wallowing. It also feels quite solid, with larger bumps registering with little noise and even less jarring of passengers.
The cabin is standard Escape, spacious and offering incredible rear legroom thanks to the sliding seat. Our Titanium Premium Package tester came with light brown seat inserts and a light-colour wood trim that helped brighten what can be a dark driving space. An 8.0-inch screen is standard, running Ford’s quick and capable (if not the brand’s latest) Sync3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Strangely, especially considering the impressive Pro Power Onboard generator of the F-150 hybrid, the 110V plug is gone from the Escape this year.
Coming in under 15 kWh means that despite a range just 8 km less than RAV4 the Escape only gets the $2,500 federal rebate. In Quebec and BC, it qualifies for up to $4,000.
Despite the smaller battery, it does beat the RAV4 Prime at the pumps, at least according to official estimates. 2.2 Le/100 km beating 2.5 and 5.8 L/100 km combined to 6.0. It’s also $7,300 less, which more than eases any blow coming from the rebates. On our first day’s drive of a little over 300 km, we saw 3.8 L/100 km, impressive given the amount of highway driving and the hills of the BC Interior. Day 2, with more hills, cold temperatures (and heavy wind and rain), and starting out with a lower battery charge returned 5.6 L/100 km, which seemed good given the conditions.
Escape PHEV starts from $37,649 for the SE trim, which does get heated seats. A heated wheel and remote start are options, and Ford has made much of the equipment of the next trim up available as options on both SE and SEL. For example, Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist with adaptive cruise, lane centering, evasive steering assist, and navigation is just $850 more on SE and SEL. Auto lights, lane keeping, pedestrian detection with emergency auto braking, and blind-spot assist are all standard. SEL is $40,649, and the Titanium trim starts from $43,749.
The Ford Escape PHEV doesn’t offer AWD or the largest battery, but it does offer loads of space, impressive range and economy (especially given the battery size), and a more pleasant cabin with better infotainment than the competition. It makes the grade, but the lack of AWD means that buyers looking at this should be cross-shopping not other PHEVs, but rather fully-electric crossovers. There are now quite a few that offer similar size, similar price, and an EV range of well over 400 km.