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Green Queen’s Great Escape

Hybrid-electric vehicles have left 10 Best Engines Judge Schweinsberg cold, but not the new Ford Escape HEV, achieving an average 36.8-mpg (6.3 L/100 km) in mostly highway driving.

Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

Judges’ Remarks

I consider myself environmentally minded. I conserve electricity and forego unnecessary trips. Thanks to wonderful curbside service in my city, I recycle everything: cardboard, paper, metal, batteries, glass, and drop-off plastic bags and CDs. I use cleaning products that have zero or next to no synthetic chemicals.

But I never liked hybrid-electric vehicles.

I understand I should, as someone who brags about environmental altruism.

But from behind the wheel, the HEVs I’ve driven left me cold: the uncomfortable shudder when the gas engine shuts off at a stoplight, followed by the burbling back to life when you begin to accelerate, not to mention the whirring of the electric motor.

And the fuel economy never lived up to the once-overreaching U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, or what I should be getting for the HEV price premium – often in the thousands of dollars.

So my expectations were low when I drove the ’09 Escape Hybrid for a weekend of 10 Best Engines testing in October.

After 12 hours behind the wheel of the refreshed ’09 cross/utility vehicle, I did a double take as the mileage readout topped 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km), and that was mostly from highway driving. Whaaat?!

Then, one night, driving on back roads in mid-Michigan, I discovered something wondrous: With a light and steady foot, I could cruise on battery power up to 40 mph (64 km/h).

“Yes, yes, yes!” I wrote on my scoresheet, praising my 36.8-mpg (6.3 L/100 km) average in a CUV with a curb weight of 3,669 lbs. (1,664 kg) and the ability for the engine to shut down (and restart) seamlessly at higher-than-subdivision speeds.

All Ward’s 10 Best Engines judges agree the Escape Hybrid is worthy of placement on this year’s list, although a few have grumbled they’d like to see more refinement from the 2.5L 4-cyl. when it runs.

We agree to forgive a bit of internal combustion thrashiness for astounding mileage as hybrids evolve to become commonplace on American roads.

After my fuel-sipping road trip, I feel like the Queen of Green.

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Ward’s 10 Best Engines is a copyright of Penton Media Inc. Commercial references to the program and/or awards are prohibited without prior permission of Ward’s Automotive Group.

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