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Reader Review: 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV

Diminutive driver who likes big power impressed with all aspects of plug-in hybrid

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Consider the model years 2021 and 2022 as virtually interchangeable when it comes to the Ford Escape. No significant changes were made between the two years, with the exception of some tweaks to colours and available driver assist technologies.

So, in late December last year, when Ford offered Driving the opportunity to put Calgarian Fay Neff behind the wheel of a ’21 Escape Titanium Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), she took up the project. Neff, who learned to drive in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, put the Escape PHEV through its paces just before the Christmas holidays.

“I’d never driven an Escape before,” the retired interior decorator says, adding, “I’d never given them any real thought before, either, so wasn’t sure what I could expect. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised by everything this vehicle offered. Really, I was overly impressed.”

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Ford’s Escape was introduced at the start of this century as a 2001 model year vehicle. Currently in its fourth generation, the compact crossover SUV was fully updated for 2020. It grew larger in every direction, but thanks to lighter, higher-strength steels used in its production, managed to shed some weight. Now available in 10 variants, from base S to the top-of-the-line Titanium PHEV, a number of different engines power the Escape. There’s a 1.5-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder, a 2.0L EcoBoost four, and a 2.5L four with either the hybrid or plug-in hybrid powertrain. Eight-speed automatics are used in the full gasoline models, while a CVT is in the hybrids. The PHEV includes a 14.4 kWh battery and is available only with front-wheel drive.

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Neff’s Titanium PHEV would have cost her almost $49,000 before taxes. That money would have included the Class II trailer tow package and the Premium package which includes a panoramic vista roof, head-up display, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel and leather-trimmed seating surfaces, plus a wireless charging pad.

“Most of my vehicles over the years have been powered by V8 engines,” Neff says. “I’ve had a couple of Jaguars, Cadillacs and Lincolns, and do appreciate having some power on tap. I also appreciate a lot of the amenities, like heated power seats and heated steering wheels, and do place importance on the appearance and style of a vehicle.”

Fay behind the wheel of the Escape PHEV.
Fay behind the wheel of the Escape PHEV. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

She’s never owned a hybrid but has driven two of them as rental vehicles while vacationing in Europe. Currently, she and her husband maintain a 2014 Nissan Murano and a 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton. Her next car, she says, will be hybrid powered, “because that’s the way society is heading.”

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Neff’s first impression of the Escape Titanium was favourable and she says Ford’s designers have done a good job of creating an interesting looking vehicle. Her tester was finished in Antimatter Blue paint – almost black, she says of the colour, and it’s one of those no longer available for ‘22 — with an ebony and sandstone leather-trimmed interior. At four-feet eleven-inches tall, Neff says the Escape was easy to enter and all controls immediately fell to hand.

“Everything adjusted beautifully and perfectly,” she says, “and it took me no time or hassle to get comfortable behind the tilting and telescoping wheel. The controls were easy to figure out and were well-designed for the end user.”

An aspect of the Escape PHEV that Neff appreciated the most was the hybrid powertrain which produces 221 horsepower at 6,250 rpm. She says it offered more power than she ever expected it might.

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“It didn’t let me down when I wanted to pull out and pass someone and it responded very well off of the line,” she says. “I never once thought it was sluggish or underpowered, and I was pleasantly surprised by that.”

Neff also appreciates the many driver assist technologies now included in vehicles. Her Escape PHEV had many, and included adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning system, evasive steering assist and a lane keeping system. As previously mentioned, also included was a head-up display, which Neff learned to enjoy using. The Escape was a “real pleasure to drive around the city to the various malls just before Christmas,” she says. “It was easy to park and backing out of spots was a snap because there are no real blind spots. I drove it down to Okotoks while the roads were icy and covered in ridges between the lanes and the Escape handled it all wonderfully. Overall, the ride was quite comfortable, and I averaged about 6.5L/100km in fuel economy.”

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She employed the foot-activated power rear liftgate with aplomb and enjoyed that feature. The cargo area was a good size for what Neff needed to carry, and she didn’t experiment with folding the rear seats to expand its capacity. Cupholders were conveniently placed, and the glovebox offered plenty of storage.

“It very much surprised me,” Neff sums up. “It’s a great vehicle in the city, but I’d feel confident driving it to Vancouver as well. It really was difficult to drive it and find anything wrong with it, I was overly impressed, and I was not expecting that.”

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Day 1

First thoughts were that it was a good looking, well designed smaller CUV. When I opened the door, I saw a nice looking interior. Easy access and a quick and easy adjustment to the driver’s seat got me ready to go. Noticed the ‘heads-up’ feature on the dash – my first thought was that it would impair my vision and I would have to figure out how to lower it. After a few minutes looking at the many amenities and doing quick mirror adjustments – I was off.  Drove to Cross Iron Mills – I now LOVE the ‘heads-up’ feature. Once I started driving, I found the monitor was bright, large and easy to view while underway. Attractive dash with bit of faux wood trim. Highway driving was good. Good suspension. Good acceleration when changing lanes or passing another vehicle. Best heated seat I’ve ever had – warms all the way up your back. Attractive, overall, interior.

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Day 2

Errands to run today but took a little time to look a bit more at the Escape, while it warmed up – using remote start. Great shine on the finish. Nice lines in the overall design and like the sunroof, roof rails and lamps. Easy to park in today’s smaller parking stalls at the mall or in a parkade. Every feature has operated beautifully in the frigid -20C weather. No problems driving through ice, snow and slush – no slipping – I’m confident in performance. Hands free power opening hatchback nice when hands are full.

Day 3

Today, paid attention to other amenities/features. Bang & Olufsen audio system has good sound; universal garage door opener; cruise control easy to set and use; lane keeping feature – still love the ‘heads-up’ feature – it should be on every vehicle. It is still -20C along with plenty of snow and ice on the streets of Calgary. The Escape handled beautifully, even when I pushed it, it proved that it has great stability and traction.

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Overall, this Escape gets a ‘thumbs-up’ for handling.

Day 4

Noticed that even in this cold weather that the gas gauge has hardly moved; averaging 6-6.5L/100km (one of the informative read-outs told me). Lots of slush to get through on Deerfoot Trail today – no problem changing lanes at high speeds – powered right through the slush piles. Okotoks and back. Ample room for Costco purchases in the cargo area.

Day 5

No driving today – too cold to go out. Escape not in the garage – I used remote starter from inside to test it, -30C last night, and it started immediately.

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Day 6

Short trips today; lots of starting, stopping and shopping. So easy to park – great vision from the windows for backing up and lane changing, etc. No hesitation from a dead-stop and good acceleration. Heater in this vehicle works well. Overall, this Escape gets a ‘thumbs-up’ for handling.

Day 7

Even in the frigid week we had – I loved driving that Escape as it handled so beautifully – I will, actually, be a little sorry to have to return it. Up Stoney Trail, re-fuel and back to the drop off point today. Fuel cost just under $20 – wow – I have gone almost 300 kms – that is excellent economy.