MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. -- On the meandering Manitou Avenue which follows the floor of a deep-cut valley in Colorado's Manitou Springs, a five-door crossover utility vehicle for the compact class darts through traffic of so many tourists who flock to this resort nestled in foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs.
Not one of the sightseers seems to notice that the perky CUV moving up the wiggly avenue happens to be a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) from Ford.
Instead, our CUV simply blends into the street scene, its chiseled two-box body shell effectively concealing the radical nature of the mechanical systems which propel it.
What makes this vehicle so unusual?
Well, anyone who pops the hood and peers into the engine compartment will find not one but two motors aboard.
There's a fuel-efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine that sips gasoline plus a battery-powered electric traction motor of permanent-magnet design.
The electric motor is capable of propelling the wagon by itself, or it can work in concert with the gasoline engine to deliver a power boost like the kick of a V6.
Ford adds an electronic control module to manage all energy produced by the two plants and apply it directly to the front wheels -- or to all four wheels for the optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) version -- in infinitely variable measures through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT).
Virtually silent at start-up with only the electric motor switching on, the Escape Hybrid leaps forward on command with help from the electric motor, which can propel the wagon up to 44 mph.
When more power is needed, a generator cranks up the gasoline engine in only a fraction of a second.
At highway speeds the gas engine does most of the motivating, while in reverse gear it's the electric motor that handles all of the work, and the electric motor also serves as the primary plant in stop-and-go traffic on city streets where a gas engine is quite inefficient.
Power from the gasoline engine is utilized in two different ways. One portion of this energy is used to turn the wheels, while another portion powers an electric generator that runs the electric motor -- which in turn sends supplemental power to the wheels.
Stomp the accelerator to romp into a passing lane and the electric motor adds an extra boost, yet for such a heavy demand of power the operating energy for the motor comes directly from a bank of on-board batteries.
Internal recharging occurs either during braking, when the gas engine operates as a generator, or when the electric generator does the recharging job. Thus, the Escape Hybrid never needs to be plugged in for recharging as would a purely electric vehicle.
The four-cylinder gasoline-fired plant, with dual overhead cams and intake variable cam timing (i-VCT) plus modifications for fuel-efficient combustion under the Atkinson-cycle concept, develops 155 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 136 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.
The 330-volt electric motor, tied to a nickel-metal hydride battery, kindles power measured in kilowatts, but it's the approximate equivalent of 94 hp at 5000 rpm.
Adding the hybrid technology to Escape produces a CUV which earns uncommonly high fuel economy numbers but also dramatically pared tailpipe emissions such as unburned hydrocarbons (HC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
Fuel economy figures rise to 34 mpg for running on city streets. Escape Hybrid achieves better fuel efficiency on city streets in start-and-stop traffic rather than when cruising at a swifter pace on a highway because in city traffic with frequent stops the electric motor takes over.
Adding optional AWD traction trims the fuel numbers on Escape Hybrid, but not much: 30 mpg city/27 mpg road.
The AWD mechanism is a smart traction system which distributes the engine's power between front and rear wheels selectively as changing conditions of road or trail may warrant -- the intent is to maintain a firm tire grip no matter what happens on pavement or dirt.
Regarding safety measures for the CUV, equipment promoting active safety includes the quick all-electric power assist steering through a direct rack and pinion system and brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device with Roll Stability Control (RSC) which measures vehicle motion on both the yaw and roll axes.
The exterior package for Ford's gas/electric CUV is a chiseled design for a tough look with a sloping and stepped front hood, a high beltline and big wheels and tires as emphasized by flared wheel arches.
In the five-seat cabin Escape Hybrid 2012 contains upscale appointments like chrome and ebony trimmings, a standard six-speaker audio system plus an optional package of luxe and convenience features including a power moonroof, heated front seats clad in leather upholstery, a Reverse Sensing System and rear view camera.
Ford builds the 2012 Escape Hybrid in two versions -- Escape Hybrid the base edition and a leather-lined Limited.
The MSRP chart for 2012 Escape Hybrid models extends from $30,580 (base FWD) to $34,840 (Limited 4WD).