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THE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIENCE SUV

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Jul 7, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz

THE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIENCE SUV By HARVEY SCHWARTZ

You can say that Ford has a way with trucks. Ford is the number one-selling brand in full-size pickup trucks with the F-Series, compact pickup trucks with the Ranger, midsize SUVs with the Explorer, and compact SUVs with the Escape. This year, Ford introduces its first hybrid vehicle, the Escape Hybrid. This is sure to boost sales for Ford even further, because my combined mpg stats were higher during my seven day test drive (31mpg), and the new Escape Hybrid doesn't disappoint in performance. You get the same room and versatility as the gasoline engine Escape, plus you'll quickly notice the difference when at slow speeds because there is no noise coming from the engine. The heart of the Escape hybrid is its advanced hybrid powertrain, an integrated system that uses half-dozen key components to deliver seamless, efficient power. Hybrids are all about increasing average thermal efficiency, or, the amount of energy the vehicle can extract from its gasoline fuel. The 2005 Ford Escape hybrid's increased efficiency comes from a 'right-sized' four-cylinder engine with electric drive boost.

The four-cylinder gasoline engine easily meets the cruising needs of the vehicle with reduced fuel consumption. When needed, the electric drive system teams with the gasoline engine for the performance feel of a larger V6, 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 129 pound feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. An electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission (eCVT) is standard and features a planetary gear set that connects the drive wheels, either FWD or AWD, to the gasoline engine and electric traction motor, so that the vehicle can move on any combination of electric and gasoline power, depending on what is most efficient at that instant. Engine stop-start is part of the equation because when it is not needed to supply power, such as when coasting or while stopped in traffic, the gasoline engine automatically shuts off instead of idling inefficiently. When that happens, you'll notice the rpm needle dropping below zero and resting at the electric engine icon. When circumstances warrant, a powerful starter motor can restart the engine within 400 milliseconds for seamless performance. You'll also know when the gas engine is off is because of the electric hum. Regenerative braking is also part of the system, and while you are braking it can recover a substantial portion of what would otherwise be 'lost energy,' and store it for later use. The Escape hybrid can be driven up to 25 mph using the electric motor alone, thus using no gasoline and causing no emissions. This is great when driving in stop-and-go freeway or city street traffic.

Escape's hybrid's four-cylinder gasoline engine is an Atkinson-cycle variant of the conventional Escape's Duratec 2.3-liter engine. The Atkinson cycle is similar to the familiar four-stroke cycle-intake, compression, power, exhaust - except the intake valve closes well-after the piston begins moving upward to compress the air-fuel mixture. There are two key benefits of the Atkinson cycle. First, it reduces the 'pumping losses' associated with all gasoline engines. Additionally, because a fraction of the air-fuel mixture is released from the cylinder back into the induction system without being burned, the effective displacement of the engine is reduced. The power stroke, or the distance that burning fuel pushes on the piston, is longer than the effective intake stroke. This helps extract more energy from each drop of fuel. Viewed by itself, the Atkinson cycle engine is about four percent more efficient than the nearly identical conventional 2.3-liter engine in the base Escape. Why then is the Atkinson cycle not more widely used in conventional vehicles? Its main disadvantages is reduced torque - particularly at low engine speeds. The Escape hybrid supplements the gasoline engine with an electric traction motor to provide low speed torque and a very satisfying launch feel. In addition to its gasoline engine, the Escape hybrid has a 70-kilowatt, permanent magnet traction motor - the equivalent of 94 horsepower. This motor is most efficient at low speeds and at low loads-exactly the conditions where the gasoline engine is least efficient.

In place of the conventional transmission is an electronically controlled planetary gear set that includes the traction motor and power-management electronics in one compact assembly. The planetary gear set can vary the distribution of power among the gasoline engine, electric motor and the vehicle's wheels. Because of this capability, the vehicle can run on the gas engine, the electric drive system or both-depending on the driving situation. A 330-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack located beneath the rear load floor stores energy recovered during braking and powers the electric drive system. The Escape hybrid still has a 12-volt battery under the hood to power the vehicle's lights and electrical accessories. The hybrid storage battery consists of 250 D-sized cells in a sealed enclosure. Nickel-metal-hydride batteries have been used with excellent success in notebook computers and cell phones for years. Hybrid-specific components, including the battery pack, are covered by a warranty of at least eight years or 100,000 miles. The entire vehicle comes with a bumper-to-bumper warranty for three years or 36,000 miles and complementary roadside assistance. To keep the battery pack at its optimum temperature, it has a thermal management system to deal with temperatures from minus 40 degrees C (-40 F) to 50 degrees C (122 F). An electric heater and forced-air cooling systems help keep the battery comfortable. You can see the air-intake at the ends of each side tinted rear window. Because the Escape hybrid's gasoline engine automatically stops to save fuel when possible, an electric power-assisted rack & pinion steering system replaces the traditional belt-driven hydraulic system. An electronic control module detects the driver's input torque at the steering wheel, instantaneously computes the proper amount of assist and commands a brushless electric motor to help control the steering mechanism. It is also quieter and there is no power steering fluid to refill. The amount of steering assist is also fully independent of engine and vehicle speed, allowing engineers to give the Escape hybrid a very easy steering effort at parking speeds, while retaining Escape's hallmark steering feel while driving.

The Escape shares the gasoline model's fully independent suspension for outstanding handling and ride comfort, and the same four-wheel disc brakes with ABS to quickly and safely slow the vehicle down. The Escape's wide stance, with aggressive wheel arches, wide body cladding and integrated bumpers, gives a functional, off-road-ready, yet modern look. The headlamps are clearly defined quad circles behind jewel-like lenses. The egg-crate grille matches those in the rest of the Ford SUV lineup. Circular fog lamps and roof rack are standard equipment. The Escape hybrid rides on big 16X7 aluminum wheels, wrapped around with 235/70R16 Goodyear all-season radial tires for extra grip and a smooth ride. The Escape is the hybrid with room for all of your stuff. All Escape hybrids have a modern-faced instrument cluster with an integrated, multifunctional Message Center. This two-line, 24-character liquid-crystal display offers trip statistics like average fuel economy, distance-to-empty, an oil change reminder with estimated oil life and various warnings such as an open door, a bulb is burned out or the fuel cap need tightening.

An advanced navigation and hybrid status display is also available. With it, a 4-inch, color, liquid-crystal display serves as the audio system interface, a navigation system and a real-time 'power path' offering visual indication of fuel consumption and the operating state of the hybrid system. It shows if the battery is being charged or discharged, if energy is being recovered during braking or if the electric drive is providing additional power. The white-faced instrument panel gauges have markings designed for legibility and are ringed in warm steel-colored bezels. Standard on all models is a battery indicator dial that indicates if the hybrid battery is powering the electric motor or if it is being charged while braking or cruising. The center console flows through with dual cup holders, a soft-top storage bin for your needed items and a floor shifter. Modern woven cloth comes standard and the optional leather seating comes with a nice leather wrapped and tilting steering wheel and leather door inserts. The 60/40 split rear seats can be folded flat for increased cargo space, up to 65.5cu.ft., and the flip-up rear glass offers easy access to the rear storage area. The glove box locks, and each front door includes large, deep map pockets. The space tire is now under the floor, rather than inside. The new Escape hybrid comes with the same great safety and security features as that in the conventional Escape, including standard personal safety system with dual-stage driver and single-stage front passenger airbags, available Safety Canopy side airbag curtain rollover protection system, and thorax-protecting side impact airbags, structural energy management zones for frontal and offset frontal impacts, three-point safety belts with pretensioners/load limiters up front, and head restraints at all seating positions, plus standard ABS brakes.

The all-new 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid sport utility is an excellent choice for smart consumers looking for a compact sized, yet well designed sport utility to take care of all your personal and family needs while saving money at the gas pump and helping to reduce harmful emission that can damage the environment. Prices start at just $26,380.00 for the base model and just $29,610.00 for the loaded model that I tested. I enjoyed every minute navigating the Escape hybrid around Los Angeles streets and freeways. © Text and photos by Harvey Schwartz SIDEBAR COMMENT The Escape Hybrid's pure hybrid electric and gas motor design translates into a vehicle that's significantly more entertaining that the other small SUVs that flock the freeways. Like the Prius, the Escape Hybrid can operate in pure electric mode at low speeds. That translates to an unusually quiet operation, which is accentuated by the fact that the vehicle shuts off at stops. As only those who've driven a hybrid know, this really lends a sense of calm to the commute. The consumption and energy displays are an entertaining option for this vehicle. Acceleration is about comparable to a V6 (the Escape Hybrid uses an in-line four motor). Visibility is good all around. Best of all, the Escape Hybrid looks to be considerable less expensive than the other SUV hybrid choices coming from Toyota and Lexus. - Roy Nakano

For more information on Ford products, go to www.fordvehicles.com. More photos from Harvey Schwartz can be found at www.autofotos.com

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid Price of vehicle: $26,380.00 base, $29,610.00 as tested Engine type: 2.3 liter DOHC, aluminum, Atkinson Cycle engine/330 volt hybrid battery with regenerative braking. Horsepower: 155 at 6,000 rpm combined Torque: 129 at 4,500 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine/front-wheel-drive, optional all-wheel-drive Transmission type: Electronically controlled eCVT continuously variable transmission Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts supported by L-shaped lower control arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar Rear suspension: Independent multi-link, with 2-lateral links, trailing arms Wheels/tires: 16X6.5 aluminum wheels/235/70R16 Goodyear All-Season radial tires Brakes: Front - 10.9-inch vented steel discs with dual piston calipers Rear - 9.6-inch solid steel discs with single piston calipers ABS standard Overall length: 174.9 in. Overall width: 71.8 in. Overall height: 70 in. Curb weight: FWD - 3,620 lbs./AWD - 3,782 lbs. EPA mileage estimates: 36 mpg/city, 31 mpg/highway

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