We took to the Detroit Auto Show basement to drive the 120 MPG Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid. Our impressions below.
In order to drive the Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid we had to take a breathalyzer test administered by a security guard and sign a waiver promising not to sue anyone if the car explodes. This is an interesting requirement given the 10 MPH posted speed limit for the 1/8 mile basement test track. Still, driving indoors is always fun.
The Escape Plug-In Hybrid doesn't feel like other concepts we've driven and, honestly, It isn't fair to call the Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid a concept vehicle since Ford has delivered dozens of these vehicles to utility providers in Southern California for testing. Based on the Ford Escape Hybrid platform, the main difference is the addition of the "plug-in" capability, allowing owners to plug the vehicle into the wall in order to accrue enough juice to drive without using the engine.
As per the rules of the underground track, and probably in light of a desire not to poison anyone, the Escape is set to drive in electric-only mode. Whereas disabling the gasoline drive is a bit misleading on some of the hybrid vehicles on the track, it's appropriate in this case as the plug-in battery provides charge enough to propel the Hybrid 30 to 40 miles sans internal combustion.
Turning the keys on the plug-in is a bit disconcerting as it makes zero noise, forcing us to look over to our passenger to ask him if he thinks the SUV is actually running. It is, so we shift into drive and take off towards the fake woodland path. Unfortunately, around the first turn is a water hazard setup not by the organizers but by the immense amount of snowfall causing gallons of the wet stuff to pour onto the track through a crack in the roof.
Driving the Ford Escape Plug-In is exactly like driving any of Ford's family of hybrid compact SUVs in all-electric mode. In addition to the lack of sound, the electric motor provides surprisingly quick acceleration through the first, well, 10 MPH. Other than the all-electric mode the vehicle is an Escape Hybrid through-and-through. The biggest visual difference is the blue-lit plug on the front left quarterpanel. It's one of the few ways the car hints it is more than a production vehicle.
Ford confirmed it will bring some form of plug-in electric hybrid to market by 2012 and, given the finished product feel of this version, we wouldn't be surprised if it the Escape is what they have in mind.