2020 Ford Escape SE Sport Hybrid Drivers’ Notes | Photos, specs, impressions

The 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid aims to offer peak efficiency, but it doesn’t shout its green cred from the heavens above. Ford is confident enough in the hybrid’s ability to be fun that it’s applied this powertrain to a trim called SE Sport. It’s no sports crossover, but we were pleasantly surprised by this vehicle’s performance. Hybrid badging is kept to a minimum, and the styling hardly strays from the regular gas engine Escape. Ford uses an updated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a single electric motor to transmit power to all four-wheels in our all-wheel drive tester. This amounts to a combined system output of 200 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque. There are no surprises in the transmission, as Ford channels power through an electronic CVT. Fuel economy is impressive, as the Escape manages a 40 mpg combined rating. That puts it right in the same ballpark as the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the leader in the efficiency clubhouse before this Escape hit the road.

Utility is hardly affected by all the additional electronics. Ford had to raise the rear seats up by 1.6 inches, but the reduction in back seat room and cargo capacity is hardly noticeable. The battery itself is a 1.1 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion pack. You can watch the powertrain do its work in the digital instrument cluster as it transitions from electric-only power to gas power. That instrument cluster is a 12.3-inch screen, and it’s joined by an eight-inch infotainment system running Sync 3.

Our tester has a few extras, bringing the $29,450 base price all the way up to $33,845. All-wheel drive added $1,500, and the $3,395 Premium Package added the rest. The latter brought 19-inch wheels, “Active-X” seats, a panoramic roof, power liftgate, remote start, adaptive cruise, navigation and Sirius XM. The SE Sport Hybrid is the cheapest way to get into an electrified Escape, so you can technically get one for under $30,000, but just those couple options bumped the price up quickly.

Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: Ford did a bang-up job of making sure the Hybrid model isn’t gutless. I was pleasantly surprised at how perky this little crossover is after a quick jab of the throttle. It’s (of course) slower than the 2.0-liter turbo model, but the acceleration penalty for going hybrid is one I can accept. Throttle tuning was excellent in Normal mode, and the switchover from electric power to the gas engine helping is seamless. Off-the-line acceleration isn’t particularly lively, but the revs wake up quick and send me off with vigor after a quick second. The engine itself makes its presence known when I dip into the throttle a little further, but it fades away into the background in casual driving. I was less impressed by the brakes. It took me a good hour behind the wheel to make my stops smoother and less head-toss inducing. The initial tip-in to the physical brakes is my best guess for the culprit, where it transitions from regenerative braking to clamping onto the rotors. I was caught off guard a few times, as an undue amount of braking force would be applied partway through the pedal, force my foot wasn’t asking for. I’ll bet an owner could get the hang of it, but the experience may not be perfect on that initial test drive.

My highway-heavy commute kept the fuel economy numbers in the low-to-mid 30s, according to the trip odometer. I expect the Escape would read closer to the EPA-rated 37 mpg highway figure on highways with lower speeds than the 70 mph Michigan limit. Efficiency shot up as soon as I exited onto main roads with heavy traffic, an environment where hybrid vehicles typically thrive.

Associate Editor Byron Hurd: I have one of the shorter commutes from our metro Detroit-based office, and it’s exclusively stop-and-go. Hybrid heaven! The Escape ate it up, and after fiddling around with the drive modes, I found the Sport setting suited my needs best. Was it the most efficient way to do it? No, but it kept me from being punted off Woodward Avenue during the morning rush. 

Ford calls this a “Sport Hybrid,” which I suppose is their way of saying it’s not just frugal, but fun. “Fun” might be pushing it, but I will say I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to keep up with the often brisk acceleration of my fellow commuters.

My biggest gripe so far with either of the new Escapes we’ve tested has been the price point. These things are not cheap, and I’m not convinced their interiors live up to their price tags. There are some cool features (such as the animated digital cluster) and they offer reasonable levels of content, but nothing about their cabins says premium to me. 

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: I think the return of the Escape hybrid is a smart move for Ford. It rounds out the Escape’s portfolio with a powertrain that’s basically conventional now. Using hybrid tech to achieve better fuel economy with existing platforms and footprints should be the norm, I think. I give Ford props for this strategy and execution.

The Escape hybrid is one of the better values in the small crossover segment. We tested a non-hybrid Escape in Titanium trim around the same time, and it was hard to rationalize that one for about $40K. The hybrid, stickering for about $34K, is a solid value. Buying a hybrid at a reasonable price for functional purposes and fuel economy gains makes sense. Spending more for a richer Escape is a tougher sell — even with some of the nicer features — when the Lincoln Corsair is right in the same price point. That’s frankly an issue for many Fords right now. They’re solid, but the Lincolns in the same segment are even better and offer nicer interiors for only slightly more coin. 

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