While we're not quite willing to call this a full review, we did get some seat time with a couple of spankin' new 2009 Ford Escape models yesterday. We managed to get back-to-back seat time with both the 2008 and 2009 V6 4x4 Limited as well as the Hybrid for direct comparison on the same 20-mile circuit. When Hardigree reviewed the Escape's platform pal, the 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, it was fairly obvious our impression was one of disconnectedness. The brakes felt funny, the handling was blah, and the steering felt numb. Ford apparently heard these complaints from its customers as well.
2009 Ford Escape Hybrid
For 2009, although virtually unchanged visually (the only distinguishing difference is a deeper chin spoiler) the new Hybrid Escapes see the 2.3L four cylinder engine upgraded to an Atkinson cycle 2.5L for a total of 177 net horsepower. The CVT gets a more aggressive software package and some improved tuning on the hardware side. Also new for '09 is the inclusion of Roll Stability Control and the fancy pants Limited trim.
Change for the Hybrid program for '09 focused on fixing the annoyances from the '08. The brake pedal feel was the biggest offender, it had been sort of a stepped feel, the first inch of travel was like a weak spring, second inch was like pushing through warm butter and the final was like real brakes, it was very disconcerting. Since the braking is done by wire, simulating the brake feel with a vacuum module was the solution and it is much, much improved. Braking feels direct and linear — just like real brakes!
The next little annoyance was the steering — with electric power steering, the on-center feel was about as natural and smooth as Bush delivering the Gettysburg Address. Tuning the amount of assist through software has greatly improved the feel of things.
And then there's the handing. Across the range a rear anti-roll bar has been added and across the range the ass end feels a lot more controllable, far more confident on high speed sweeping corners and through tight apexes alike. So how is the hybrid on the road? Sports car? Far from it, it still understeers like a pig, but that's the safety police for you. The engine note has moved one notch closer to throaty and the additional power is notable in a straight line. The hybrid system is FAR more willing to go into all-electric mode with the new tune, you find the engine shutting off all the time when lifting off the pedal. Engine on is barely even perceptible, like the best tuned automatic transmission in the world gently kicking down a gear.
Overall, the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid contains a lot of touchy-feely improvements. The advances come from driver feel more than anything else, as a result its all very subjective. Regardless, the simulated inputs make this feel just like a real car, and if you didn't have that little leafy badge on the side, you'd be hard pressed to guess it was a hybrid.
2009 Ford Escape V6 4x4
The '08 Ford Escape was a lesson in engineering timing. The 200bhp V6 was forced to live with an outdated and unloved four speed automatic which liked to hunt and peck at gears, making spirited driving mean-spirited. With the 2009 model, both engine and trans get makeovers. The massaged 3.0 liter and gets a whopping 40bhp boost up to 240, but it's also mated to the new 6F35 six speed automatic. That new six speed goes out of its way to make the engine seem like a superstar. Combined with the anti-roll bar in the back, the new Escape V6 is... dare I say it? Kinda fun to drive. With the added power and defeated traction control, you can actually get a little tail happy with this thing.
Combined with an improved and easier to use Sync system and the optional and subscription-based Sirius Travelink, the "do I have to drive it?" idea actually starts to shift to "this isn't half bad". You won't find anyone spouting off about quarter mile times or comparing the styling against anything from Italy, but Ford seems to be making progress on its mini-UV's. It says something to note that we wouldn't be averse to actually spending a week with one. What kind of apostasy is this?