2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD review
If Ford’s plug-in hybrid Escape was any more middle of the road it would have a white stripe painted down its centerline.
Escape is a fine family of four crossover with sufficient power, easy handling and good passenger and cargo room inside. It’s pleasant looking. In fact, its nose resembles a much pricier and sportier Porsche Macan, so maybe you can fool a few neighbors.
Considering the average price of a new vehicle now is pressing $46,000 it’s nice to know a family could still Escape in this Ford for $26,800, including delivery, at its base front-drive level. That packs just a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that still makes a healthy 180 horsepower.
Naturally there are varying trims and options for that gas-only powered model, plus a standard hybrid where battery power is added via regenerative braking, but the tested plug-in hybrid model starts at a still family friendly $35,185 in SE trim, and $37,920 in the preferred SEL trim.
The test crossover was the top-level Titanium model starting at $40,130 but it crept up to $43,025 with its fancy Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395) and a Titanium preferred package, including a dual-pane sunroof, wireless charging and fancy floor mats, for $2,500.
Even at that, the test Escape is below the going rate for a new vehicle in our current supply-chain challenged world.
Yet there’s one feature that sets this Escape apart in this middlers paradise, its plug-in charging system. While standard hybrid technology has been around for a couple decades now, the plug-in system is more a past five-year phenomenon. With a plug-in, a cord with pistol grip plug connects to an outlet in the Escape’s front left fender (looks like a fuel door) and then connects to any outlet, 120- or 240-volt that is available—usually in your garage.
At 120 volts it takes roughly 8-10 hours for a full charge that nets the Escape about 35 miles of electric charge. If you have a partial charge already, it can take just two to four hours for a full charge. If you have a 240-volt charger (like you would for a dryer) a charge takes about half as long.
This is perfect for folks commuting less than 30 miles daily roundtrip to work or running errands. In my week’s drive I never fully used the battery charge, so ended up needing only 0.8 gallons of gas, or just short of $4. Imagine that for a week’s driving of roughly 200 miles.
My calculations put my fuel economy at 208.1 mpge and 41.75 mpg for the gas only. The key here is running on the electric charge as much as possible. I have no cost figures for my evening charges for the crossover’s battery, but one suspects it would be several dollars as opposed to $20-30 for equivalent gas. Reducing emissions, naturally, is the big-picture advantage.
A side note here. The Escape offers four battery use driving methods via a button on the console. One is for electric driving only, another is Automatic so chooses gas or electric as the power system computer deems appropriate, another allows you to run on gas while you maintain whatever battery charge you have. This makes sense to save the battery power for city stop-and-go driving where the electric is most efficient. The final setting allows the engine and regenerative braking to help boost battery life, although I didn’t find it helped much more than the Automatic setting.
All this is a long way of saying the plug-in system works well and is easy, provided you have a garage or indoor place to plug in regularly. It makes daily driving much more economical, especially with today’s higher gas prices.
For the record, the hybrid system works in conjunction with a 2.5-liter I4 engine and makes up to 221 horsepower while the standard hybrid system packs 200 horsepower. The transmission is a CVT, so smooth, but not peppy.
Acceleration is pretty mild, but due to the electric power it comes instantly so pulling away from a stoplight feels quicker than one might expect in a compact crossover.
Handling is fairly light and easy, so parking and lane maintenance are a breeze and cornering is good, especially at city speeds. Ride is decent too, not smooth, but not too abrupt on sharp city ruts and expansion joints.
Note too that the gas-powered and standard hybrid Escapes are available with AWD, but the plug-in is only a front-drive model.
The bright metallic red test crossover was attractive and featured a two-tone black and tan leatherette interior, the seats being tan with black trim and the dash and doors black. Ford opts for an inexpensive looking fake light wood look metal trim on the dash and doors that does not seem appropriate for a top trim level.
Ford’s instrument panel and infotainment screen are easy to see, read, and use, although the infotainment screen is smaller than most these days. Still, functionality is good and all dash and steering wheel hub controls are simple.
This one also includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus power seats. However, the seat cushions are all relatively flat so provide very little hip and back support. That’s fine in town, but on a long drive could become tiring.
The giant sunroof overhead is nice, as is the wireless charging, both part of the Titanium option package.
Front and rear seats are roomy for four adults and there is plenty of cargo room under the power rear hatch. However, below the floor here there was a big gaping hole that housed a battery and should have had a spare tire, but none was there and the finish of that cargo hold under the floor looked straight out of the 1960s with no padding. This could be a one-off test car situation, but give a look at any Escape you are intending to buy to make sure this is not an issue.
Standard safety equipment is well represented here with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system standard, including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and smart cruise control.
There’s also another safety device, which I call the “Don’t Forget the Kid” warning for the rear seat. It beeps at you once the ignition is off and warns on the info screen, “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.” You can press the OK button on the steering wheel hub to stop the beeping, but still, this is unnecessary for most drivers who have children.
Still, I suppose that’s family friendly, even if the beeping sends mom or dad into a frenzy as they try to get out of the car and into the mall, grocery store, or wherever, with a kid in tow.
In general, fewer beeps and alarms in cars today would be a welcomed change. Light up the warning on the screen if necessary to avoid lawsuits, but stop with the noise pollution.
Overall though the Escape is an inexpensive vehicle that can haul a family of four in relative comfort while also getting great fuel economy. Competitors include Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, the new Hyundai Tucson, and the Subaru Crosstrek. All come with AWD.
FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD
Hits: Plug-in hybrid provides 35 miles of electric charge, comfy family crossover with easy handling, simple dash controls and fabulous mileage if fully charged. Heated seats and wheel, good safety equipment, 4 choices of battery power use, wireless charger, dual sunroofs, power hatch and fair ride.
Misses: Plug-in only available with front-wheel drive, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant,” poor finish and no spare tire under cargo floor, seats are flat with little support.
Made in: Louisville, Ky.
Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 221 hp
Transmission: CVT automatic
Weight: 3,870 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.7 in.
Length: 180.5 in.
Cargo: 34-61 cu.ft.
Tow: 1,500 lbs.
MPG: 105 (gas-electric), 40 (gas)
MPGe: 208.1 (tested), 41.75 mpg (gas only)
Base Price: $40,130 (includes delivery)
Rapid Red Metallic paint, $395
Titanium premium pkg. (floor mats, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging), $2,500
Test vehicle: $43,025