REVELSTOKE, B.C. – For many people, myself included, there are still some issues that cause concern regarding electric vehicles. Personally, I’m not convinced the infrastructure to support the use of EVs beyond a short-haul/commuter role exists.
If I’m planning a road trip, range anxiety is a primary concern – will I be able to find somewhere to recharge the battery when it runs low; will the charging station listed on my app be available or will I have to wait until the current user has “filled up?”
PHEVs an effective compromise
If you share my anxiety and concerns, perhaps a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) would be a compromise worth considering. With its gasoline engine on standby to get me where I want to go when the electric power dries up, it’s a way of relieving range anxiety while providing pure electric propulsion for those short runs around town or to work. And combined, the system still delivers impressive fuel efficiency.
Manufacturers are responding with a growing number of PHEVs arriving in the marketplace, adding to other green options, such as pure EVs and hybrids, that consumers have to consider.
Ford, which delivered the first hybrid SUV (Escape Hybrid) to consumers back in 2005, is stepping up with its 2021 Escape PHEV featuring a fourth-generation hybrid powertrain that delivers the advantages of electric drive plus an internal combustion engine that sweeps away range anxiety issues.
The Escape PHEV is driven by a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and electric motor coupled to a continuously variable transmission. The 165-horsepower gasoline engine operates separately from the 96-kw electric motor and its liquid-cooled 14.4-Kwh lithium-ion battery. Combined, the system generates 200 horsepower.
The Escape PHEV is listed as having an electric range of 60 km – sufficient for the average daily commute – but during a two-day drive through the Oakanogan Valley from Kelowna to Revelstoke and back, I consistently achieved in excess of 75 km on battery power alone.
Although I wasn’t exactly employing “eco-driving” techniques, my overall fuel consumption rate was 5.0 L/100km – quite decent for a 3,884-pound compact SUV. Ford’s ratings, based on Transport Canada testing protocols, are 5.8L/100 km on gasoline only and 2.2Le/100 km combined
Regenerative braking adds battery charge
It was interesting to see that once the battery charge was depleted, the system still continued to contribute to propelling the vehicle. Whenever energy was regenerated through braking or descending the hills and mountains on the route, it was immediately fed back into the drive system, relieving the gasoline engine.
A pair of icons on the driver’s digital display screen showed which power source was driving the Escape or combining to meet demand. (There’s also a graphic display available on the centre-stack screen that shows the flow of power between the two sources.)
The transfer between the gasoline and electric power was seamless – without the screen display you’d be hard-pressed to identify which source was moving the vehicle.
The Escape PHEV has four modes so drivers can select the setting most suitable for their individual needs. In Auto EV mode, which I used, the vehicle decides on its own whether to run on gasoline or electric power. With EV Now mode, the vehicle operates only on electric power, which would likely be the best choice for daily commuting or short trips around town. In EV Later mode, drivers can switch to full gas-hybrid driving to conserve electric power for use later, while a new EV Charge mode continues to charge the battery while driving and generate electric power for future use.
To recharge the battery, the Escape PHEV has a Level 1/Level 2 AC charging port located on the left front fender. As the battery regains its charge, an illuminated ring around the plug lights up to indicate the level of the charge. Plugging a Level 1 charger into a 110-volt household circuit will take 10 to 11 hours to to fully charge the battery, which would typically be an overnight recharge.
If you’re wanting a faster boost, and a 240-volt outlet is available, using a Level 2 charger drops the charge time to about 3.5 hours. However, to demonstrate my concerns with finding EV recharging locations, on this trip the event organizer (JGK Solutions) had to arrange for the temporary (and costly) installation of Level 2 chargers at our hotel to recharge the fleet of Escape PHEVs as there were no charging stations on site. If one had been planning on filling up one’s EV while staying at this popular B.C. resort, you’d be out of luck – and electricity.
On the road
As for driving the Escape PHEV through this extremely scenic part of our country, I found the power on tap, whether a single source or combined – was certainly adequate for most drivers. Things got a bit noisy under heavy acceleration when the 2.5L engine was working hard, but in normal cruising the engine noise was normal. However, I did find the overall noise level in my Escape Titanium tester higher than I’d expect from a vehicle that listed out with options at more than $45,000.
The interior of the Escape PHEV also seemed to be lacking the pizzazz I’d hope to find at that price point – nothing offensive, it just lacked any “wow’ factor. There was an absence of soft-touch surfaces – everything was hard plastic – and attempts to perk up the styling with faux wood appliqués looked, well, fake. Overall, it seems the design focus was more on functionality.
I had no issues with the cabin’s passenger and cargo space. The seating for five is comfortable and the heated front seats and steering wheel were much appreciated on the damp, chilly B.C. mornings. Headroom and legroom are fine, even in the second row, and there’s storage space aplenty in the cargo hatch, which is accessed with that new sweeping-foot feature.
The interior space has been enhanced by the well-designed placement of the battery pack – it’s positioned below the back row seats, stretching the full width of the vehicle. This location eliminates intrusion into the rear-seat foot wells or cargo area, ensuring maximum interior room. Rear-seat passengers also are treated to additional legroom, thanks to the 60/40-spit bench that can slide fore and aft 15 centimetres.
Perhaps the most frequently asked question during this media drive was why the Escape PHEV isn’t offered with all-wheel drive, especially when competitive plug-in models in the segment from Mitsubishi, Toyota and Hyundai, for example, do give shoppers that option. Interestingly, the Escape’s cousin, the Lincoln Corsair PHEV, shares the same platform and is available with AWD.
Mathieu Rompre, Ford’s Escape marketing manager, explained the decision behind the marketing strategy is based on two factors – the front-wheel drive configuration keeps the vehicle’s weight down, enhancing fuel efficiency, and more important, it gives the Escape a distinct price advantage. The price for the base SE starts at $37,649 – the lowest in the segment.
Rompre noted that of the 400,000 compact SUVs sold in Canada annually (which accounts for 25 percent of the total automotive marketplace here), 10 percent are front-wheel drive units. For many consumers, he said, a FWD compact SUV and a set of good winter tires are sufficient for their needs. However, if feedback from dealers suggests the Escape PHEV should offer an AWD option to be competitive in the segment, don’t be surprised to see it joining the lineup in the future. After all, the platform architecture already exists.
Three trim levels
In addition to the SE, the Escape PHEV is being offered in two other trim levels. The mid-range SEL starts at $40,649 and the premium Titanium model is $43,749. There’s an additional $1,995 fee for destination and delivery charges on all three trims. (The Escape PHEV may qualify for a federal government rebate and additional rebates in certain provinces, such as British Columbia and Quebec.)
All Escape PHEVs are equipped with Ford Co-Pilot360 as standard equipment, but five option packages are also offered, mainly on the SE and SEL trims, to enhance convenience, connectivity and technology. They range from $850 for the Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ bundle that adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane-centring, evasive steering assist and a voice-activated navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, to the Technology Package for the SEL ($2,500) which includes a 12.3-inch digital display screen and a B&O sound system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer. A Titanium Elite Package ($2,300) includes a pop-up head-up display, leather-trimmed seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, panoramic power vista roof and wireless charging pad.
The Escape PHEV, assembled at Ford’s plant in Louisville, Ky., is available now.