With two electric motors complementing the optimized Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, as well as an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission to sort out the drive mode and ratio through a set of planetary gears, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid needs serious computing. Seven separate microprocessor modules make up Ford's vehicle system controller, which oversees it all.
The result is a seamless, sometimes silent driving experience, but it's not all that different from a conventional drivetrain if one isn't paying attention. The efficiency gains over the gas-only Ford Escape are noticeable, as well as the performance losses, and the extra weight of the hybrid systems is felt in terms of speed, agility, and some unexpected creaks from the rear of the car.
Ford's navigation system, which also includes an energy-flow display, is the only notable tech option in the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid. It continues to be a disappointment, as in other Fords we've seen, and in fact makes the audio experience substantially worse by monopolizing the in-dash CD slot, as well as precluding the option of satellite radio.
Commanding a serious premium over a comparable gas-powered Ford Escape, our front-wheel-drive 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid came in at $31,080. At this list price, the Escape Hybrid runs into a lot of competition, and the novelty and reduced consumption for its size may not be enough to make it a winner.The 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid doesn't hide all of its tech in the hybrid drive system but comes closer than we'd like. Ford offers a navigation system as the only real interior electronics option, audio upgrades notwithstanding, and even this modest offering isn't executed very well.
The navigation system's 4-inch screen is really too small for this application, a complaint we've noted previously on Ford vehicles, including the Jaguar XKR. Combine that with the always-troublesome joystick-button combination for making selections, and you have a recipe for squinting frustration.
The basic features of the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid's navigation system work well enough, with GPS acquisition happening quickly and most route calculations taking just seconds. View options are limited to zooming in and out, and we wished for zoom levels between those offered, as getting an idea of one's surroundings using the map was made harder by the small screen. Dedicated buttons for home and current location were welcome touches, but finding mapped landmarks and services required a fair of amount of menu diving.
At our 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid's $30,000-plus as-tested price, we expected better materials inside. The standard cloth interior (leather seating surfaces are optional) was satisfactory, but the rest of the cabin seemed relatively cheap. The rear seat does split 60/40 for some cargo versatility, and total storage capacity is unchanged compared with that of the regular Escape, thanks to the placement of the 330-volt, nickel-metal-hydride sealed-battery pack under the load floor.
Our test car's navigation-system option package ($1,995) also included the Audiophile audio system, which left us cold for a number of reasons. Most important, few audiophiles would be impressed with the sound, which is average at best and uses only four speakers. The two front speakers are in the doors, which is not exactly the optimal placement.