2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid Review: Maddening Efficiency | Expert advice

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The verdict: There’s no denying its efficiency, but the 2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid’s eagerness to fire up its gasoline engine at random will infuriate anyone hoping for a more consistent electric driving experience.

Against the competition: The philosophy behind the Escape Plug-In Hybrid – efficiency alone – is very different from that of the Toyota RAV4 Prime, which emphasizes performance and efficiency.

Despite the recent proliferation of fully electric battery-powered vehicles (BEVs in automotive parlance) from all manner of car manufacturers, plug-in hybrids (or PHEVs) also continue to emerge for people who aren’t quite ready to go. not. electrification. These vehicles typically offer the best of both worlds: full electric operation for a limited distance – giving drivers with a short trip and a home charger the ability to run most of the time without gasoline – and the ability to drive into town. nearby and beyond with a minimum of stopping and quick refueling. That’s why vehicles like the 2021 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid exist: They offer fantastic hybrid-like fuel economy, and if your commute is short, you can handle it without ever using a drop of fuel. gasoline; the official electric range of the Escape PHEV variant is 37 miles.

Ford’s newest PHEV isn’t without its quirks, however, some of which are sure to confuse and exasperate plug-in hybrid fans like myself. So what is it that annoys me about this escape?

Related: 2020 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid: Best-in-Class Equivalent Fuel Economy, Decent Driving Range for Electric Vehicles

An efficient hybrid powertrain

The Escape Plug-In Hybrid is a compact SUV powered by a gas-electric hybrid system. It combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electrified continuously variable automatic transmission that drives only the front wheels; all-wheel drive is not an option although it is available on the regular Escape Hybrid. Producing just 200 horsepower combined, it’s still pretty quick thanks to the nature of electric motors – all torque is available right off the bat, making acceleration quick when the entire hybrid system is engaged.

If you keep it in EV mode, however, the acceleration is lukewarm. The electric traction motor isn’t big, and to keep it for EVs only, you have to go pretty light on the throttle. However, it is more than sufficiently powered to keep up with daily traffic, and it runs quietly when in EV mode and when, at highway speeds, the hybrid system decides that it doesn’t need the engine and runs it. cut for cruising. The system combines electric and gas operations quite well, providing an excellent combination of usable power and efficient propulsion for everyday commuting. It’s not a rocket like the Toyota RAV4 Prime, but that’s simply because Ford approached the Escape Plug-In Hybrid with a different mindset.

How effective is it? the EPA says it can run 37 miles on electricity before the gasoline engine kicks in, pushing it to a total range of 520 miles with a full tank of regular 87 octane gasoline. Its official efficiency rating is 105 mpg equivalent, 40 mpg combined in gasoline mode – not bad considering that the combined rating of the regular front-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid is only 1 mpg better. For comparison, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime is rated at 42 miles of range but only 38 mpg combined when running in gasoline mode, while the new 2022 Hyundai Tucson PHEV is rated at 33 miles of electric range and only 35 mpg in gasoline mode. For PHEVs, our normal tests consist of performing a specific electric range test with the vehicle in EV mode only, comparing our results with the official EPA rating, but we were unable to do this with the plug. -in Escape. Hybrid for a simple reason: its EV-only mode is not Actually an EV mode only.

All-electric operation – When This To want

Although there was an EV mode for our Escape, while it was selected, the gasoline engine turned on by itself for one of twelve reasons, overriding the EV mode even when there was no no apparent reason for it. It’s an infuriating and frustrating experience for someone who expects all-electric operation.

Ford Escape plug-in hybrid 2021 | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

So why does the Escape PHEV’s engine start even when it’s fully loaded and it’s relatively hot outside? A Ford spokesperson confirmed to Cars.com some of the various reasons. Those that are meaningful to us include:

  • Motive power: The engine started because you pressed too hard, too far or too fast on the accelerator pedal. This is not uncommon for PHEVs with electric motors that don’t make a lot of power. If the car feels that you are asking for more power from it than the electric motor can provide (for example, when entering fast traffic), the gasoline engine kicks in to provide an additional scooter.
  • Great speed: You drive faster than the electric motor can handle.
  • Heating adjustment: It’s cold outside and you’ve set the air conditioning to warm the cabin, and the most efficient way to do that is to run the gasoline engine.
  • Battery temperature: The battery is too hot or too cold and running the engine will help it maintain its best operating temperature.
  • Low speed: The transmission is in Low (for traction or towing?).
  • Battery charging: Normal hybrid operation uses the motor to charge the battery a little. Alternatively, you can set the car to keep the battery at a specific state of charge while driving, and then switch to EV mode later when it makes more sense (effective).

Ford also gave a bunch of reasons why the engine might turn on in EV mode which just didn’t make sense to me given that the driver selected EV mode because they not want the engine to run:

  • Engine brake : If you leave with a fully charged battery and find yourself on a slight descent, the Escape will turn on the gasoline engine to use the engine brake to maintain speed. Common among electric vehicles, the SUV cannot provide regenerative braking when the battery is full, and just letting you ride is not an option, so the engine will start. This is part of the Escape leveling aid feature. When cruise control is active, it can do it on its own if your foot is not on the accelerator. Very frustrating.
  • “Normal running”: For no obvious reason, the Escape PHEV may turn on the engine while driving in EV mode with the message “engine activated due to normal operation”. This means the car just decided to start the engine despite you saying you didn’t want to. In fact, it will harass you first to allow it to turn the engine on in EV mode, repeatedly flashing messages on the instrument cluster, before finally deciding to do so.
  • Low use: If you haven’t used your Escape for a while, it may turn on the engine just to circulate the engine oil. Normally this would be understandable, but not in EV mode.
  • Cold engine: Again, it doesn’t make sense if the Escape is in EV mode; the engine temperature doesn’t matter if you don’t want to use the engine.
  • Neutral speed: If the Escape is in neutral, the engine will run. I’m sure there is a technical explanation for this one.

Put simply, the Escape Plug-In Hybrid does not perform reliably like an EV when put into EV mode. It turns the engine on so often that I wonder why it even has an EV mode, given that the engine has to run so frequently in order to maintain peak performance and efficiency. Offering an EV mode only creates a frustrating operating experience; you spent the money on something more than just an Escape hybrid, but it still works primarily as an Escape hybrid.

A solid cabin

The interior of the Escape Plug-In Hybrid is a solid effort, combining quality materials with updated controls – and thankfully nothing tactile aside from the multimedia touchscreen. It’s no different from other Escape interiors, with nothing to set it apart and all the pros and cons that that entails. Visibility is good to the front and to the sides and to the rear thanks to a low waistline and a relatively ventilated greenhouse. But as is often the case in Ford’s SUVs, the seats feel short and there isn’t as much rear legroom as in some Escape competitors, like the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Hyundai Tucson.

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