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Ford Escape PHEV solid performer with value problem.

2023 Ford Escape PHEV: Ready and Steady, But Not the Value It Once Was

The ’23 Ford Escape plug-in hybrid is a bridge to fully electrifying its crossover and SUV models.

The Ford Escape has been a workhorse model for the Dearborn automaker for more than two decades. As the company, and the industry, move to electrification, the current Escape will be redesigned in 2024, and a battery-electric version will join the stable in 2027.

In the meantime, Ford has updated the compact CUV, adding a standalone plug-in hybrid version (vs. a plug-in offered as an option since 2020) that allows the 5-seater to go up to 37 miles (60 km) on a charge before the gas engine kicks in. The Escape PHEV gets 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) combined, but when the battery-only power is factored in, the EPA rating is 101 MPGe.Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid plug

The powertrain connects a 2.5L 4-cyl. to two electric motors through a planetary gearset to produce a combined 210 hp and 155 lb.-ft. (210 Nm) of torque. When the Escape is operating as an EV, the traction motor provides a punch when you hit the accelerator, but after that it’s just adequate around town and getting onto highways.

Starting with a full charge on days with temperatures in the 70s, our ’23 Escape PHEV struggled to achieve the estimated electric-only range, reaching 31 miles (50 km) on one outing and a high of 35 miles (56 km) on another before the internal-combustion smoothly blended in. Our routes included a combination of city streets and highways (up to 75 mph [121 km/h]), mostly without air conditioning, so it is likely city-only driving conditions would be necessary to get the full electric range.

The rest of the CUV gets a standard list of typical midcycle improvements: a new 13.2-in. (33.5-cm) touchscreen that absorbs more of the car’s functions, removing physical buttons included when this generation was launched in 2020.Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid interior

This model qualifies for a federal tax credit, but not as large as in the recent past. A ’22 Escape PHEV placed into service after Dec. 31, 2022, but before April 18, 2023, qualifies for a tax credit of up to $6,843. Buying one today gets you a tax credit only up to $3,750 due to a change on the tax code for PHEVs.

Our tester, which has most of the goodies available such as a head-up display, a 12.3-in. (31.2-cm) digital gauge cluster and quilted leather seats, starts at $41,995, but our tester totaled $48,320. The Toyota RAV4 PHEV starts at $44,425 and $48,295 for the XSE trim comparable to this Escape; the Hyundai Tucson PHEV, representing the best overall value in the category, starts at $38,475.

With the loaded Escape PHEV, you get a 10-way power adjustable driver seat, a six-way power passenger seat, 360-degree camera, a Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker audio system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, wireless phone charging and a panoramic sunroof.

It’s annoying that Ford does not make an AWD configuration available on the Escape PHEV that it offers on the hybrid and is standard on the stablemate Lincoln Corsair PHEV.  Another annoying change that began with the 2020 redesign is the elimination of a hook of some kind in the rear hatch allowing it to be conveniently bungeed closed when hauling lengthy goods from the DIY store.

The Escape has long been a decently reliable, friendly, handy grocery-getter with just enough utility. When equipped with AWD, it is also sure-footed in snowy road conditions. At 210 hp, Escape has a hard time keeping up with some of its rivals — RAV4, Outlander, Tucson, CR-V, Dodge Hornet — and some of those have gotten a bit bigger than the Ford in addition to having more pop at the pedal.

Ford uses an excessive amount of cheap-looking plastic in the cabin of the Escape PHEV. It feels at times like the CUV is the child that the company is not sure is a “real” Ford, and so it gets off-the-rack and consignment-store clothes when the rest of the lineup gets tailor-made outfits.

Ford does not have a great history with PHEVs, having largely bollixed the U.S. launch and life of the C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi it sold between 2012-2017.  Besides designs optimized for European sales that did not find favor in the U.S., Ford ran into misfires on its fuel-efficiency claims with the federal government. And Ford may have entered the market before the public had any real interest in PHEVs.

If Ford changes the name of the BEV replacement for the current Escape, it may be deserving of charges of marketing malpractice. The name is good and well-known, even with the neglect that holds it back now.

But if Ford pays attention to the interior quality of the next CUV, along with establishing a solid 300-350-mile (483-563-km) EV range, there is no reason why an “Escape-E” can’t become a common sight in America’s suburbs.

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