The 2021 Ford Escape plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is a compact SUV that might be tailor-made for urban fleets seeking an electrified option.

Identical on the outside to the other Escape's in the family, with only a unique set of wheels to distinguish it, under its skin the PHEV hides a 14.4 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery under its floor. The battery placement has reduced the PHEV's ground clearance by a little, (Ford engineers where unable to share the exact difference at a product presentation), but this lets the interior offer the same five-passenger, two-row configuration and cargo capacity as the ICE versions.

What is dramatically different is the powertrain. The 2021 PHEV will get about 60 km of pure electric driving before the 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle gas engine kicks in wits it 220 horsepower and 155 lb. ft. of torque. New for this year, Ford has added a charge-while-driving mode to the three other hybrid drive options. The SUV can operate automatically, where it chooses whether to use gas or electric power, or the driver can select EV first or EV later modes to either use up or preserve the battery charge.

Speaking of battery charge, the PHEV can be recharged on either a 110-volt or 220-volt fast charger. It takes 10 to 11 hours on 110v or about 3.3 hours on 220v. For fleets that have charging at the office, this means the vehicles can be returned to duty after half a regular work day. For employees who need to take them home at night, although the 10 to11 hour charge is slow, it means there is no real need to incur the cost of installing fast chargers. 

In explaining its logic around the 60-km range, Ford cited pre-pandemic census data that showed the average Canadian commute is under 40 km round-trip. That justifies a 60-km range, and if that's all the vehicle is used for it makes the Escape PHEV very economical to drive with a 2.2Le/100 km fuel economy rating on pure electric driving.  

However, once you switch to gas power, the SUV delivers only 5.8 l/100 km, which is only average. In a relatively short real-world test at the Escape PHEV launch event in mountainous British Columbia the mid-range SEL delivered 5.9 l/100 km. We didn't make any attempt to hyper-mile, nor did we plaster the gas pedal to the floor, just engaged in normal driving and cycled through the four EV and gas drive modes. 

The Escape PHEV is front-wheel drive only. The under-floor battery means there is no room for a drive shaft, Ford says, and it has no plans to add additional electric motors at the rear axle. This will limit the SUV's usability in some parts of the country, but this is mitigated by its short range, which suggests it is best suited to urban conditions anyway. Nonetheless, it does have selectable drive modes for gravel and slippery conditions that adapt the traction control. 

The base model SE starts at $37,649 and walks up to $40,649 for the SEL, topping out at a base of $43,749 for the Titanium. Additional packages add options like Ford's Co-Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving suite ($850), a cold weather package ($1,000) that adds heated mirrors, remote start and a heated steering wheel to the standard heated front seats). The convenience package (SE only) adds power seats, power liftgate and halogen headlights for $1,000. The pricey ($2,500) technology package includes upgraded sound system, a 12.3–inch digital screen, wireless charging and memory mirrors and seats. Finally, the Titanium package adds a head-up display, panoramic roof and other mod-cons to the Titanium model only for $2,300.  

Competitors include the Toyota RAV4 Prime (yet to be released) and the Hyundai Tuscon PHEV. For comparison, the 2022 Tucson is AWD, but starts at $43,489, a considerable premium over the Ford.

For fleets looking to get into an electrified compact SUV, the 2021 Escape PHEV is worth investigating. The Escape is not Ford's second best selling name plate for nothing – it's a brand with fleet experience after all – and the plug-in hybrid offers a good package for companies looking for an compact urban SUV. 

 

Key Specifications

Base Price: $37,649

Price as tested: SEL $47,144; Titanium: $49,294 (both include a $1,995 destination charge)

Engine: 2.5L gas engine and 96 kWh Electric traction motor with 14.4 kWh lithium-ion battery

Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable (eCVT) transmission

Fuel economy (litres/100kms; combined): EV alone 2.2; Gas alone 5.8.

Passenger Capacity: Two rows, five passengers.

Cargo Capacity: Behind 1st row: 1,722 L; Behind 2nd row: 974L

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