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Today, I went to the local automall and had a chance to try out two hybrids - the Accord Hybrid and the Escape Hybrid. Here are my observations and comments as follows:

Accord Hybrid:

It handles well and is rather quiet. A smooth shifting automatic helps. Engine noise under full throttle is rather low. The engine goes into ECO mode (cylinder deactivation) basically whenever my foot's off the accelerator for more than 2 secs or so. Without the light, I can't tell if it's in 3 or 6 cylinder mode. Emergency braking was straight and unevenful (sorta). The ABS kicked in at the last moment which is good so it's not overly sensitive. The problem was that the salesman wasn't wearing a seatbelt and he was sitting in the back seat so when I punched the brake pedal, he flew towards the front seat :p. It is powerful as advertised but looking down at the average fuel consumption gauge in the instrument panel, it was sitting at 13.4L/100km (17.5mpg). I was able to lower it to 13.3 lol. There is no instant fuel economy gauge so that was disappointing. There are 6 bars in the battery meter and it didn't budge even though I accelerated hard to test the acceleration. The ECO light is dead centre and easy to see but the AUTO STOP wasn't and the wheel blocked it. The engine did stop once at a light but turned on moments later.

Now to the not-so-good points. The transition from regenerative to friction brakes isn't smooth. At 20km/h (13mph), you can feel the brake pads grab the rotors. Another way to tell that the friction brakes are taking over is when you see the green charging bar start decreasing to zero. With regards to the interior, my mother thought the leather felt cheap and the interior too dull (we had the black/metallic interior). I thought the metallic trim was a nice contrast but apparently there's not enough of it to satisfy my mother.

Overall, it's a nice vehicle like any other Accord but the hybrid system only comes to play when full acceleration is needed. Cylinder deactivation and auto stop is nice and like John said, they're not hybrid-specific features and should be included on all vehicles. I'm impressed with IMA but again, I still prefer the Prius.

Note: The salesman did try to play down the Prius when I mentioned it, comparing it to the HCH. He said it got similar mileage and is the same size. I told him it was bigger, then he said the Accord was more powerful and luxurious. :roll: Well, I mean he *does* work for Honda so it's only natural he's biased towards their products (and me to my Prius :D)

Escape Hybrid:

This is where you see the difference between a Japanese company dealership and an American company. For some reason or another, the salespeople there have a different mindset. Unlike the Honda dealership, this Ford dealership had 6 Escape Hybrids on the lot. There's one problem. Every single one of them is loaded to the max with 4WD, Nav, 115V socket, tonneau cover, leather, side airbags and so on. I'm not sure if they're trying to get on the hybrid hype or not but Cdn$41,000 is a lot to pay for a Ford Escape. The gap's bigger than the HCH vs. Civic Si or LX-G. Also, he kept mentioning that "it's a Ford" and "it's a truck!" or "It's a Ford truck!" and seems pretty proud of that. I was definitely looking forward to this test drive since it'll be nice to see what Ford did in terms of full-hybrid capabilities. He gave me the low-down on full hybrid things, before I started questioning him about type of CVT, battery voltage and whether it had the battery powering the rear wheels exclusively [à la HiHy or RX400h] (for which he replied, "no it's has 4WD and it's a Ford truck"). Anyway, he decided to show me the EV mode but obviously it doesn't start right away so he took it out to the street before letting me take over.

First off, the ride is on the firm side but I suppose in line with other SUVs. EV mode is great. It will allow greater prodding of the accelerator before the engine cuts in. The engine will come on after 40km/h no matter what and will not shut off until it's below 40km/h no matter what (Given it's a warm engine). The Consumption Screen is a bit hard to decipher at first glance and the Energy Monitor is rather basic. However, the arrows will vary in size depending on how much power is being sent or charged (which I thought was useful). The interior is typical Ford and not very appealing. There is a lot of greyness in the cabin. The engine is noisy under hard acceleration, more so than the Prius but does seem to get up to speed faster (either that or I'm too light on the Prius lol). The battery is HUGE (as some of you might have seen from photos) and covers the entire cargo area with "Ford Motor Company" and the Ford logo imprinted on the shiny case.

Unlike the Prius or the Accord, the brake pedal on the Escape is very firm and actually, the firmest pedal I've ever encountered (perhaps someone with a regular Escape can tell me if it's normal). This made braking very hard to modulate and my stops were rather jerky. However, I could not tell when the friction brakes came into play and there wasn't the extra (small) lurch near the end of a stop that we get in the Prius. Emergency braking proved to be a little odd. For one thing, there was tyre squeal. Twice, might I add so that was rather odd especially when the Escape is equipped with ABS. The turning circle is wider than the Accord as expected and it was hard to judge. I apparently stopped too early before the curb but the salesman leaned out the window and told me to keep going. Looks like I need to drive a wider variety of cars!

Just to add a few more things, there's still the typical A/C and MAX A/C modes that Ford has and, at least I was told, MAX A/C leaves the engine running like in the Classic Prius. The Escape Hybrid has some separate cooling thingamajig to keep the heater running when the engine's off; I thought that was rather ingenious.

All in all, it was okay. I like the fact that I can press harder and still stay in EV mode. I snuck up on a salesman back at the lot. The customer he was attending to had to tell him that I was behind.

Sorry about the long post but I thought I'd be as detailed as possible. After testing these two back-to-back, I would have to say I was more impressed with the Accord. For one thing, it's cheaper and it's better made. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the cargo capacity of the Escape (Heck, the Echo has more trunk space the HAH). However, the Prius is the best compromise (if you could call it that) and the only thing that might pry me away, is another Prius.
 

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The Escape Hybrid is a lot like the Classic Prius in many ways.

After 7200 miles I can tell you a few things.

1. Just like the Classic Prius, it _is_ possible to go into EV mode at any speed up to about 40 MPH.

2. Just like the Classic Prius, the AC runs off the ICE and so when the ICE is off, there is no AC. As you mention, an auxiliary electric pump in the engine coolant loop ensures good cabin heater performance even if the ICE is shut down.

3. Unlike the Prius, in Defrost, Defrost/Floor split, and Max AC, the ICE will stay on all the time to keep the compressor running in these modes. The only AC mode which will cycle the compressor is AC or AC/recirc.

4. Unlike the Prius, there is an AC loop just for the battery pack. There's also a small air filter hiding in the "D" pillar that keeps junk from getting into the battery pack. Ford decided to use outside air to cool the battery. This is a good deal under most conditions as outside air is usually cooler than the battery, but in hot conditions the AC will force the ICE on to cool the battery. The compressor can supply refrigerant to the battery evaporator, the cabin evaporator, or both simultaneously.

5. The brake pedal is more consistently firm and graduated than the Classic Prius, IMO. When I go back to the Prius I have to use a very light foot on the brake pedal compared to the Escape. I think it's just something you have to get used to.

6. Fit and finish on the Escape is not quite as good as the Prius, but it is close...especially for a US produced car. It appears the Escape Hybrids got some extra attention at the plant since only 20,000 were built in the 2005 model year.

7. Yes most of the Escapes you will find will be loaded with all options because dealers like the extra mark-up. The relative lack of options means there were basically two configurations which have appeared, a "stripper" model with the standard stereo, no safety-canopy, regular cloth, etc. and a "deluxe" model with all the goodies. For me, I'd not purchase one without the safety package (it makes a huge improvement in the crash test results), and the NAV system is nice to have.

The 2006 models will have a little more in the way of option choices, so hopefully the dealers will mix it up a bit more. You can always custom-order a vehicle with just the packages you want, but be prepared to wait for it.

For what it does, the Escape is one of a kind. The Lexus is too pricey (48,185 US last I heard), the Highlander is more rig than I need. The Escape was "just right" in terms of capacity and capability. Thus far I've had no problems with it, so I'd have to say I'm a satisfied customer.

Cheers,
Steve
2002 Prius Brilliant Blue Pearl, 59020 miles
2005 Escape Hybrid Redfire/Silver, 7250 miles
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Yep, that pretty much summarises my passage lol. Thanks!

Yeah, about that brake pedal, is it usually that firm?
 

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stevewa said:
For what it does, the Escape is one of a kind. The Lexus is too pricey (48,185 US last I heard), the Highlander is more rig than I need. The Escape was "just right" in terms of capacity and capability. Thus far I've had no problems with it, so I'd have to say I'm a satisfied customer.
The Lexus starts at $50,000 (49,060 officially, but it's another $1000 in fees/delivery/etc.) The only option is the $2000 rear-seat DVD player. Basically, the RX 400h is a fully loaded RX 330, with hybrid added. I guess Lexus decided to throw in all the options because they knew that a Lexus hybrid would sell no matter what, so why bother even having the choice of a lower-cost model? (Looking, the website shows two other options, but the Lexus dealer told me those were standard, so it might be like the rear-wiper on the '04 Prius, 'optional', but you won't find one without it...)
 
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