You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

SUV Review: 2021 Ford Escape PHEV logo 2022-01-24 Sami Haj-Assaad
2021 Ford Escape PHEV © Provided by 2021 Ford Escape PHEV
Replay Video

Nothing walks the line between ‘compromised’ and ‘best-of-both-worlds’ like a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV.) These vehicles have to delicately combine a dedicated electric powertrain with a functional gas powertrain in a way that improves efficiency, keeps costs down, and drives expectedly. With the 2021 Ford Escape PHEV , that is carrying over as a 2022 model, shoppers can expect some ups and downs, but shoppers in this segment will have to do some soul searching to determine if this is the right pick for them.


First of all, the Ford Escape is a well-known commodity — even the latest generation feels familiar. The bold, squarish looks that were popular back in the 2000s have been replaced with a more bubbly, less defined look. Those still after the harsh angles and old-school vibe will be directed to the Bronco Sport and maybe a thrift shop for matching outfits, theme-wise.

Overall, the gas-powered Escape has proven to be a solid option compared to other gas crossovers. Additionally, the hybrid version impressed our critical editors with its equipment and fuel-minded efficiency.

Scoping out the competition

But the world of PHEV crossovers is more cutthroat. The perpetually out-of-stock Toyota RAV4 Prime made its mark on the segment with a potent 300 horsepower powertrain and nearly 70 km of electric range, along with the Japanese automaker’s reputation for reliability and resale value. The other newcomer in this segment is the stylish and well-equipped plug-in Hyundai Tucson , which features just 53 km of range. And Mitsubishi, one of the veterans in the class , is preparing a new Outlander next year with a 45 per cent larger battery than the outgoing one.

The Ford Escape PHEV enters this gauntlet with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that’s paired with an electric motor and a 14.4 kWh battery. That combination offers 61 km of all-electric range and a combined output of 220 horsepower. With more range than the Tucson but less power than the RAV4 Prime, the Escape PHEV sits right between its key contenders.

On the road, the powertrain feels strong and can get up to speed with urgency. However, the PHEV, like the Hybrid model, uses an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) instead of a traditional eight-speed automatic like the gas-powered models. As a result, the gas motor can make its presence known. During hard acceleration, high loads, or even during low temperatures, the engine fires up and isn’t very subtle about it.

The electric components deliver fewer vibrations and clatter, so the ride was far calmer with a juiced-up battery. Despite the low outside temperatures, the kilometres ticked down at an expected pace and didn’t seem too impacted by the cold or by any eager throttle inputs.

The vehicle features a few different drive modes, and you can even arrange to save the battery range for another time or use the gas motor to charge up the battery. The latter setting isn’t recommendable as it just makes the coarse internal combustion engine more noticeable and unbearable.

The 61 km range should be adequate for most one-way commutes. Recouping that energy requires 10 to 11 hours on a Level 1 charger or three and a half hours on a Level 2 charger. When the battery is depleted, the Escape PHEV acts like a traditional hybrid, returning 5.5 litres per 100 km in city driving conditions, 6.2 on the highway and 5.8 combined — identical to the non-plug-in Escape Hybrid model.

The better news is that the Escape rides pretty decently, despite the nearly 400-pound weight difference from the all-wheel-drive gas models we’ve tested before. Even with winter tires, the vehicle had good road manners and would make for a good companion during the daily commute. I even enjoyed the crisp braking feel, which melded the regenerative braking system and standard brakes to feel like a normal experience. The steering is a bit light and limp, but that isn’t a surprise in this class.

 2021 Ford Escape PHEV © Sami Haj-Assaad 2021 Ford Escape PHEV

No AWD option

It will also disappoint shoppers seeking confidence in all road conditions. A flaw in the formula for the new Escape PHEV is that it is front-wheel-drive only, unlike its key competitors and the standard hybrid. Good tires will help mitigate most traction concerns, but drivers who feel they need four powered wheels won’t get by with the plug-in Escape.

Furthermore, the cabin of the Escape is merely sufficient in terms of quality and finish. The tech is intuitive enough and uses the Sync 3 interface rather than the newer Sync 4 found in the Mustang Mach-E. There is support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay through a tethered connection rather than a wireless one. Fortunately, there is an available wireless charger, so passengers don’t have to fight over USB ports.

The tactile controls are easy to use and decently located. Items like heated seats for the front passengers and a heated steering wheel are available, but you won’t find vented seat options or rear seat heaters. Passenger space in the Escape is on the average side and the rear doors don’t open very wide. The Escape features plenty of cargo room, with 869 litres of space behind the rear seats. The rear seats slide and tilt to aid with passenger comfort. They can also fold down to double the cargo room, with a maximum of 1,721 litres of space. Sadly, there isn’t a dedicated cubby or storage area for the portable charge cable. You’ll have to get used to hearing that rattle around in the trunk or have it permanently take up vital cargo space.

High-tech cabin and features

Safety-wise, the Escape delivers the goods. Our tester featured the Co-Pilot360 Suite of safety features and driver aids including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition, parking sensors and automatic emergency braking. The vehicle also has some clever parking assistance features, to help you parallel or even reverse into a spot. So long as the sensors are clear, things work pretty well, though they managed to get overwhelmed by snow and ice and rendered some of the functions inoperable. Those LED headlights also can get covered by ice, impacting visibility.

Those lights, along with the results from an updated side-impact crash test, mean the Escape falls short of an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick Plus rating – it has to make do with just the Top Safety Pick award.

Priced right in the thick of PHEV country

With the decent range and solid packaging, the Escape PHEV has the potential to become popular in this class, but omitting key features like all-wheel-drive may scare off shoppers. The price is attractive, with the 2021 PHEV starting at $35,649. The 2022 PHEV starts at $38,449, which is about on par with the Hyundai Tucson PHEV, which features less range but better equipment; it’s nearly $6,000 cheaper than the RAV4 Prime, which has much more power and range than the Escape. While both competitors come with standard all-wheel-drive, they’re also difficult to find. Front-wheel-drive only alternatives to the Escape PHEV include the Kia Niro PHEV , which is cheaper than the Escape but features less space and range than the Ford. Our fully loaded Escape Titanium slid in just under the $50,000 mark including $3,000 in options and a $1,995 destination fee.

As a result of its green credentials, it deserves to be mentioned alongside the popular Toyota RAV4 Prime, but factors like packaging and performance keep it from being a true competitor. As a result, it sits in this delicate middle ground where it doesn’t blow us away in any one way, but certainly isn’t a vehicle to be avoided. Given the scarcity of its key rivals, it may end up in a few driveways, and save for the lack of AWD, those owners won’t be disappointed.


More from

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon