The Halfway House To Electric

by John J. Williams

Participating in the electrification of motoring in Australia does not require a complete commitment to a battery car.

Hybrid power is gaining many thousands of people, with a combination of green credentials and improved economy in the city and ‘burbs’.

Now comes the next step.

The Halfway House To Electric

It’s a plug-in hybrid with a larger battery and the ability to draw power from the grid – rather than regenerate it while driving – to provide a much wider electric range.

Toyota is sticking to its base hybrids, and Kia has decided against the PHEV (Plug-In Electric Vehicle) version of its new Niro. Still, plenty of other brands are taking the plug-in power potential seriously.

One of them is Ford.

It has a PHEV version of its Escape SUV, and while it’s not cheap, it’s a solid family car that can roll for 35 miles like a battery car.

In Europe, where city centers will be closed to combustion engine cars in the near future, that kind of PHEV motivation makes a lot of sense.

Even in Australia, where most people travel less than 25 miles a day for their normal commute, a PHEV can give a significant boost without breaking the bank – especially with today’s petrol prices.

It’s easy to charge from a regular garage plug, rather than needing a special charging box, and plugging it in overnight can usually get the job done at least the next day.

This brings us to the Escape itself.

To get the bad news first, switching from an internal combustion escape to the PHEV will cost an additional $15,000. It also adds just over 220 kilograms to its weight, which doesn’t help the ride or handling.

But those looking for a mid-sized SUV will find a roomy, quiet, well-equipped, and nicely finished – though it’s no rival to a top-of-the-range Kia Sportage or Hyundai Tucson.

The PHEV package ups the appeal with B&O sound, an electric driver’s seat, and an upgrade in the seat upholstery to fabric with leatherette.

The rest comes in the regular Escape, which is doing better in Australia after an update that moved it into the upper mid-range of family-friendly SUVs.

The hybrid package offers many benefits, with a claimed fuel consumption of just 1.5 liters/100 km, compared to 8.6 for a petrol model.

It rolls with a frugal 2.5-liter internal combustion engine in the noise, the front wheels turning via a CVT automatic transmission, and the performance is fine. Not great, but ok.

It’s the same with the handling package, which isn’t nearly as sharp as the smaller Ford Puma and hurts on bumpy roads from the extra weight of the battery.

Best of all, unlike its plug-in competitors, the PHEV can drive fully electric at 110 km/h, and the total range – electric and petrol – is over 600 kilometers. Once you run out of battery, it switches to normal combustion power.

Australian consumers are still undecided on PHEVs, but there will be many more in the years to come, and the Ford is a solid case for a practical and usable green machine.

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