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2021 Ford Escape PHEVEmily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Ford is playing a numbers game with the 2021 Ford Escape plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). The fourth generation of this compact SUV looks like its gas-engine counterpart, but it offers limited range for pure-electric driving and the option of plug-in charging.

The hope is that enough Canadians want a compact SUV with a limited electric range and no all-wheel drive.

The marketing manager for the Escape, Mathieu Rompré, cited survey data suggesting that 68 per cent of Canadians are considering an electrified vehicle in the next five years, and that they are willing to pay up to $50,000. The Escape PHEV fits that profile, with three trims starting at $37,649, $40,649, and $43,739.

Rompré also noted in a presentation that the average Canadian commute is about 38 kilometres, round trip, with long-range commuters clocking about 57 km. The Escape PHEV would provide an economical ride for most of these people, he said, with its 60-kilometre electric-only range, and the potential for charging at work. The SUV’s 14.4 kWh battery can be completely recharged in 3.5 hours on a Level 2 240-volt charger, though it requires 10 to 11 hours on a 110-volt device.

When driven on electric power only, the Escape PHEV turns in a respectable 2.2 le/100 km. Using the 2.5-litre gas engine alone promises fuel economy of 5.8 l/100km. Based on 20,000 km of driving and gas priced at $1.25 a litre, the annual fuel cost is approximately $850.

In a 400-kilometre, mountainous, real-world highway test the Escape PHEV SEL turned in 5.9 l/100 km. During the drive we experimented with all four of the PHEV’s EV settings. These include all-electric (EV Now); automatic, where the Escape decides which power source to use; and EV Later, which saves battery power for use later on.

The Escape PHEV is well suited as an urban commuter vehicle. Its limited EV range is sufficient to meet average needs, and it is roomy enough to accommodate families, pets and gear.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

New for this model year is the ability to recharge the battery while driving with the internal combustion engine.

Whether the combination of fuel economy and price for the Escape PHEV will add up to sales for Ford remains to be seen. With the pandemic currently less of a concern, changes in two trends that it spurred may alter the calculation.

First, according to Deloitte’s State of the Consumer study, during the pandemic commuters were hesitant to use public transit and ride sharing, which boosted interest in vehicle purchases. Now, they are migrating back to public transit. Will this mean less interest in a vehicle such as the Escape PHEV, which is designed primarily for short-distance commuters?

Second, working from home was prevalent, which reduced commutes to a few feet down the hall for many people who otherwise might have driven. With offices, restaurants and other entertainment venues opening up, many will resume their daily commutes. This could bode well for the Escape and others in the class that reward short trips with good fuel economy.

The Escape PHEV is well suited as an urban commuter vehicle. Its limited EV range is sufficient to meet average needs, and it is roomy enough to accommodate families, pets and gear. The 110-volt charge time is long, meaning the gas engine might get used for unexpected trips, but fuel economy is reasonable.

Where it falls down is when the family wants to go further afield. It’s neither comfortable for a long trip, nor equipped with all-wheel drive, which limits its use for excursions in the Canadian climate.

The Escape is the second-best selling Ford vehicle in Canada. The Escape PHEV arrived in showrooms this summer, and Rompré said approximately 1,000 have sold so far. Only time will tell if the numbers eventually add up for the plug-in hybrid.

Tech Specs

2021 Ford Escape PHEV

Base price: $37,649

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

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

Alternatives: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid; Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

The only distinguishing feature of the Hybrid for 2021 is a set of unique wheels.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Looks

The Escape was restyled for the 2020 model year, and the only distinguishing feature of the Hybrid for 2021 is a set of unique wheels. It’s a bland-looking SUV that conveys its utilitarian purposes.

Interior

The Escape is austere, with hard seating that renders it uncomfortable for long drives.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Even the top-of-the-line Titanium trim is hardly luxurious. The Escape is austere, with hard seating that renders it uncomfortable for long drives. With Ford’s suggestion that the vehicle is designed for short commutes, this may not matter.

Performance

The only available configuration is front wheel drive.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Aside from the very average fuel economy numbers, the Escape PHEV is no joy to drive. The only available configuration is front wheel drive and it understeers easily. Although the powertrain delivers 220 horsepower, it does so grudgingly. Acceleration is slow – thanks to its low (155 lb.ft.) torque – and comes with an alarming amount of noise.

Technology

The most interesting technology aboard is the EV architecture that helps drivers maximize their fuel economy through onscreen braking coaching, alongside the ability to control how the vehicle uses its power supply.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

The Escape PHEV is equipped with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 safety and semi-autonomy package. However, the most interesting tech aboard has to be the EV architecture that helps drivers maximize their fuel economy through onscreen braking coaching, alongside the ability to control how the vehicle uses its power supply.

Cargo

Split sliding rear seats make the SUV easy to configure and allow both enough leg room for taller rear seat passengers and a little extra in the cargo compartment at the same time.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Ford notes that because the EV battery is below the floor, cargo and passenger space is not compromised in the Escape PHEV. Split sliding rear seats make the SUV easy to configure and allow both enough leg room for taller rear seat passengers and a little extra in the cargo compartment at the same time.

The Verdict

In a world where city dwellers increasingly shun vehicle ownership and more frequently work from home, the Escape PHEV is positioned in a diminishing niche. But for those who have a short commute, and who are looking for an urban-oriented, green vehicle, it offers good fuel economy, and capacity for a family and its inevitable cargo.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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