Defining a crossover or SUV these days is tough because there are so many variants and flavors that each have a distinct character. The 2022 Ford Escape PHEV, for example, doubles down on driving more like a hatchback. With the discontinuation of the Focus, Fusion, Fiesta, and Taurus, this SUV aims to win potential defectors by giving them the road manners they want and additional practicality. Will that be enough though? Let’s find out.
2022 Ford Escape PHEV: A Lifted Focus?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the 2022 Ford Escape PHEV looks like a lifted global market Focus hatchback. From its rounded headlights and Aston Martin-like grille to its rounded profile, it’s very car-like. That feeling carries over inside, too. The seating position is barely higher than your average sedan, meaning you don’t get a commanding perspective of the road. Depending on your height, you also drop into the seat instead of simply sliding in or climbing up slightly.
Although the Escape leans closer to the smaller end of the compact SUV spectrum, it’s surprisingly roomy inside. Four people fit comfortably and there’s a lot of space for your gear in the back. Fold the second row down and you have plenty of usable volume for bulky items or impulse Ikea purchases. You also have a deep storage bin for smartphones under the center stack while rear seats that slide and recline add flexibility. However, you lose out on the underfloor storage in the cargo area due to some of the powertrain components taking up that space.
In terms of fit and finish, the Escape PHEV lands in the mainstream realm. While soft-touch surfaces and padded areas abound, they don’t give off a premium aura due to their graining and texture. You’ll also find plenty of hard plastic near touch points, especially on the center console. There’s also plenty of road and wind noise entering the cabin, especially at highway speeds.
Even though it’s older, Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is one of the easiest to use. Every Escape PHEV gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen that doesn’t have many submenus and big icons. You also get physical controls to make things even simpler. However, response times veer on the slower end. The main display is small by today’s standard and the available digital gauge cluster only amplifies its age. At least the available 10-speaker B&O audio system sounds good, has great cabin coverage, and is easy to customize.
Ford’s CoPilot360 suite of driver assistance features works quite well in the Escape. Despite this version being an older one, it does a great job keeping you centered in your lane and making gentle but firm corrections to your trajectory. You can upgrade to the CoPilot360 Assist+ suite on certain trims, adding lane centering and adaptive cruise control with stop and go function. The latter does a great job maintaining your set distance and giving space in case someone cuts you off. Additionally, the former helps you complete gentle curves on the highway.
2022 Ford Escape PHEV: Efficiency First
If you’re looking for maximum efficiency in a plug-in hybrid compact SUV, put the 2022 Ford Escape PHEV on your shopping list. EPA-rated at 43/38/40 mpg city/highway/combined, this car can go the distance. How far? When driven as a conventional hybrid, 520 miles on an 11.2-gallon tank. In all-electric mode, the Escape PHEV can travel 37 miles. During my week with it, I easily achieved 45 miles before the gas engine kicked in and managed to travel 400 miles only using 1/2 of the tank, highlighting this crossover’s efficiency. However, I wish the powertrain let me operate in all-electric mode right away. When starting for the first time, it would randomly turn on the gas engine, putting you into hybrid mode until it’s fully warmed up.
The Escape PHEV may be miserly but that doesn’t mean it’s a slug. It uses a power-split type powertrain that couples a 2.5-liter four-cylinder to an electric motor, a 14.4-kWh battery, and a planetary gear set similar to Toyota’s system. Don’t let the combined output of 200 hp fool you because the Escape PHEV moves without much effort. Punch the accelerator and you get smooth, seamless power delivery thanks to the electric motor’s instant torque. This means climbing steep grades, overtaking, and getting up on onramps doesn’t require much planning. Put your foot down and the powertrain immediately gives you what you need.
As with other electrified Ford vehicles, the Escape PHEV’s braking is linear and seamless. You can’t tell where the handoffs from regenerative to mechanical braking occur, allowing for a progressive build-up in stopping power. That means you’re not getting jolted when you need to stop suddenly and the pedal doesn’t feel grabby. There’s also an L mode for additional energy recuperation but it won’t bring you to a complete stop.
Car-Like Driving Experience
Perhaps one of the highlights of the Ford Escape PHEV is its road manners. Handling remains this SUV’s forte, meaning it adeptly takes turns and drives more like a compact car than a raised utility vehicle. Good body control, sharp steering, and willing turn-ins only amplify that, making the Escape the most car-like entry in its segment. This also means a firm suspension tune. As a result, you’ll feel the road more than other compact SUVs. Thankfully, it’s not harsh and gives you plenty of compliance over broken pavement.
While the standard Escape Hybrid gets AWD as an option, the plug-in variant only comes with FWD. This only amplifies its car-like demeanor because you feel most of the SUV’s weight over the front wheels. The rear gets light just like it would on a small sedan or hatchback without AWD and you also experience the front wheels clawing for grip when you accelerate from a stop. Thankfully, there isn’t enough power to cause torque steer, which is the sensation of the steering wheel pulling from side to side.
The Compact Car of a New Age?
Ford’s mission with the Escape lineup is clear: retain sedan and hatchback owners who will likely defect because they no longer offer these body styles. The plug-in variant makes this most evident because it’s the most car-like of them all. Its driving experience is reminiscent of the Focus and Fusion, athletic yet compliant. Together with its other traits, this vehicle blurs the line between car and SUV, skillfully blending the virtues of both. Surprisingly, the Escape PHEV also represents good value with a starting price of $35,830. A fully loaded Titanium model checks in at $44,990 before local and state incentives and the federal tax credit of $6,843. If you can live without AWD, this crossover makes for a great daily driver. It’s frugal, surefooted, and roomy, traits that make for a great all-around vehicle.