6 min read
29 Sep

Although many people attribute Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid as the first hybrid SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid, in fact, was introduced in 2004, predating the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid by more than a decade, and making it the earliest hybrid SUV on the market. 

Both the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Toyota's hybrid powertrain played significant roles in popularizing hybrid technology in the SUV segment. 

While they were distinct brands, their development and market presence were interconnected, contributing to the growth of hybrid SUVs in the automotive industry. Here, we take a closer look back at the first-ever hybrid SUV – the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid. 

Related Reading: The Mazda CX-5 Is The Best Compact SUV For 2023/24, According To US News & World Report 

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid’s Development: A Brief History

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid development.

Hybrid vehicle technology traces its roots back to the early 20th century when inventors like Ferdinand Porsche experimented with gasoline-electric hybrid systems. In the late 20th century, Toyota introduced the Toyota Prius in 1997, which marked the modern era of hybrid cars. 

The Prius’ success and increasing popularity spurred other automakers to explore hybrid technology. Ford recognized the growing demand for fuel-efficient and eco-friendly vehicles and began researching hybrid technology in the late 1990s. 

In 2000, Ford announced its commitment to developing hybrid vehicles and established a dedicated hybrid engineering team. 

Ford partnered with Toyota to gain access to hybrid technology expertise, sharing some of their own technology as well. This collaboration allowed Ford to accelerate its hybrid development efforts and learn from Toyota's experience in the field.

So, the Ford Escape compact SUV was chosen as the platform for the company's first hybrid vehicle. The Escape Hybrid project, aiming to combine the benefits of an SUV with the fuel efficiency of a hybrid, began in the early 2000s. 

The original Escape Hybrid featured a 2.3-liter gasoline engine paired with an electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The Blue Oval’s hybrid system allowed the vehicle to operate on electric power at low speeds and seamlessly switch between the gasoline engine and electric power as needed. 

The SUV succeeded in its goal to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency, making it a more environmentally friendly option compared to traditional SUVs. In 2004, Ford officially unveiled the Ford Escape Hybrid. 

Debuting in 2004 and hitting the market in 2005 effectively made it the first hybrid SUV on the market. The vehicle received positive reviews for its performance, efficiency, and contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid Review

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid review.

Exterior Design (4/5)

The Escape Hybrid featured a contemporary design for its time, but there wasn't much Ford could do in terms of aerodynamics to reduce wind resistance and improve fuel efficiency. 

In any case, the SUV’s overall high-sitting aesthetics offered drivers a commanding view of the road. The front grille and headlights were well-integrated, giving it a cohesive look. 

Interior Comfort (4/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid interior.

The Escape Hybrid’s interior was practically an escape from the confines of the Prius Hybrid, and even the rival Honda Civic. It was spacious, well-designed, and offered comfortable seating for up to five adults. 

Besides the comfortable seats, the cabin offered ample headroom and legroom for both front and rear passengers. In short, the hybrid model offered similar interior space as the standard Escape, which was a plus. 

Cargo Space (4/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid cargo space.

The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid’s cargo space was a highlight. It had a flat load floor and a rear seat that could fold down to expand the storage capacity. 

This made it a practical choice for those needing to transport larger items, be it bicycles or 2-by-4 wood pieces. It certainly helped that you could fold down the rear seats in a 60/40 split. You could even tow half a ton with it. 

Fuel Efficiency (5/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid fuel efficiency.

Of course, the ‘05 Escape Hybrid shined the brightest with its impressive fuel efficiency. It delivered excellent mileage for an SUV, with an EPA-rated 36 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Compare that to electrified SUVs of today that average a combined 22 mpg for city/highway driving. 

Performance (3/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid performance.

The hybrid powertrain consisted of a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor, producing a combined 155 horsepower. 

While this power was adequate for most driving scenarios, the Escape Hybrid wasn't a high-performance vehicle. At least, the transition between electric and gasoline power was generally smooth. 

Handling And Ride Quality (3/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid handling.

The Escape Hybrid had a comfortable ride, but it leaned towards a softer suspension setup. While this was great for comfort, it didn't offer the sporty handling of some competitors. The electric power steering was responsive but not particularly engaging. 

Technology And Features (4/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid technology.

The 2005 Escape Hybrid came equipped with features like power windows, locks, and mirrors, as well as keyless entry, cruise control, and a decent audio system. 

Ford's Hybrid Energy Management System allowed drivers to monitor their hybrid system's operation in real time, which was a novel feature at the time. 

Safety (4/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid safety.

The Escape Hybrid was well-equipped with safety features, including standard antilock brakes, traction control, and front-seat side airbags. It also earned good crash test ratings of 4- and 5-stars by the NHTSA. 

Reliability (4/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid reliability.

The 2005 Escape Hybrid has generally good reliability, but it's essential to check the maintenance history of a used model, especially the condition of the hybrid battery. 

Overall Rating (4/5)

2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid overall score.

The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid was a pioneer in the hybrid SUV segment. While it may not have been the most exciting vehicle to drive, its impressive fuel economy and spacious interior made it a sensible choice for families and environmentally-conscious drivers. 

If you're in the market for a used hybrid SUV with practicality and good fuel efficiency, the 2005 Escape Hybrid is worth considering. 

Related Reading: Honda Has Just Added A New Hybrid Sport-L Trim To The 2024 CR-V Midsize SUV 

How Much Is The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid?

How much is the 2005 Ford-Escape_Hybrid ?

At the time of writing this, we found a 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid with 136k miles for sale on Cars.com for $4,990. The good news is that you could still find the ‘05 Escape Hybrid for sale. 

That’s not bad for a hybrid SUV that toted a base price of around $25,000 eighteen years ago. Even if you could do better, it doesn’t hurt to own a piece of automotive history – the first-ever hybrid SUV to hit the market. 

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid vs. Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid vs. 2016 Toyota RAV4.

Yes, there are connections between the original Ford Escape Hybrid and the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, particularly in the broader context of hybrid SUV development and the influence of one automaker on the other. 

Ford and Toyota collaborated on hybrid technology development during the early 2000s, and this collaboration influenced the development of both vehicles. Ford gained valuable insights and expertise from Toyota, which already successfully launched the Toyota Prius hybrid. 

While the Ford Escape Hybrid and 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid used different hybrid systems, they both relied on a similar concept of combining a gasoline engine with an electric motor and battery pack. This shared approach reflected the industry's consensus on how to design hybrid powertrains. 

Notably, launching these two hybrid SUVs, though not around the same time, created competition in the market, which ultimately benefited consumers by offering more choices in the hybrid SUV segment. 

This competition also encouraged other automakers to explore hybrid and electric SUV options. The success and innovations of the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid and the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid paved the way for subsequent generations of hybrid and electric SUVs from both automakers, as well as helped shape the direction of SUV electrification in the years that followed.

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