Ford Escape ST-Line X PHEV review: to plug or not to plug?
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Ford Escape ST-Line X PHEV
- Performance/handling feel sprightly
- Better ride than ICE Escape
- Easy to manage PHEV powertrain
- Overly conservative inside and out
- Clumsy rotary gear selector
- No AWD option for plug-on Escapes
Credit where credit’s due to the Mitsubishi Outlander. Nearly a decade ago, it provided proof of concept that you could have a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) that was also a practical family SUV… that was also a reasonable price.
The rest of the automotive world is now running with the idea. And one of the most promising proponents of this new generation is the Ford Escape PHEV.
The Escape PHEV is flying the Ford flag for EVs in New Zealand at the moment. It’s the company’s only mainstream family model with a plug, although there are also electric Transits in the commercial range.
The Escape PHEV has had a slow start thanks to high demand overseas and a battery overheating issue early in the launch phase (before it got to NZ), but now Ford NZ is really concentrating on this plug-in model, which is getting production priority over the conventional petrol versions. It’s here in $60,990 entry and tricked-up $66,990 ST-Line X forms (as tested).
The PHEV powertrain blends a 14.4kWh battery with a 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine. Claimed range is 59km and it’ll do at least 50km if you’re driving sensibly; with everything on tap the powertrain makes 167kW, so it’s also pleasingly brisk.
Sixty kays doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s twice the average Kiwi daily commute according to Waka Kotahi. Ford of Europe “anonymised” data collected this year showed that half of journeys undertaken by the Kuga (as it’s called over there) PHEV are made on electric power alone. It works.
It’s natural to compare the PHEV with the petrol equivalent. But while they look identical, there are some key differences. The petrol ST-Line X is $11k cheaper, is much more grunty with 184kW and gets all-wheel drive, whereas the PHEV can only offer FWD.
And yet. The Government’s $5750 Clean Car Discount cuts that price gap in half, the PHEV brings the ultimate in urban refinement while hardly being slow, and the ride is superior.
So you’re getting a different package with the PHEV ST-Line X, but you’re not necessarily missing out. Opportunity cost works both ways. Yin and yang, ICE and EV.
If you’re an EV first-timer, the Escape PHEV is a brilliant place to start. You can simply let the car make the big decisions and drive normally; but it also allows you to do as much EV driving as possible, save the battery charge for later and even charge the battery with the petrol engine. All by scrolling through a menu with a single button.
The Escape PHEV drives though a continuously variable transmission, which is not as engaging as the slick eight-speed automatic in petrol models. But it’s not bad, either, modulating the power nicely and giving the car a sprightly feel. Shame about the clumsy rotary shift dial, but you’re stuck with that in either model.
The PHEV is only about 110kg heavier than the petrol car, so it still handles with aplomb. It’s soft but well-controlled, and can cover ground very quickly indeed once you learn how to use the power delivery of the hybrid system to best effect: exploit the mid-range, don’t go crazy with the throttle.
It’s a nicely engineered and very well-specified packaged; the ST-Line X gets goodies like adaptive headlights, grunty B&O audio and panoramic roof.
So it’s a shame it doesn’t look and feel a bit more special. The exterior is handsome without being distinctive; the interior has a few tactile surfaces, but also a lot that’s pretty workaday.
Like all new Fords, the Escape does come with FordPass, which allows you to connect with the car “live” through a smartphone app for remote services/updates/control. Lock and unlock your car from another city; try it, it’s fun.
Hybridisation is going to play an even bigger part in the Kiwi Escape range next year. In addition to the two PHEV models, we’ll see a 140kW hybrid (above) that combines the 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle engine with a 1.1kWh battery for “self charging” (Ford’s words, not ours) operation. But no plug; so it’s like a Toyota RAV4. With fuel economy of 5.4l/100km, it should do 1000km-plus on a tank.
The other significant news about the new hybrid is that you can have AWD. While the ST-Line will be FWD, an intelligent AWD system will be an option – and standard on the ST-Line X. It’s capable of fully disconnecting, to save fuel when extra traction is not needed.
Expect to see the Escape hybrids join the NZ range in the second quarter of 2022, just in time for a sweet rebate courtesy of the expanded Clean Car programme kicking off in April.
FORD ESCAPE ST-LINE X PHEV
ENGINE: 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol four with 14.4kWh lithium-ion battery and single electric motor
POWER: 167kW (combined)
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 9.2 seconds
ECONOMY: 1.5l/100km, EV range 59km