2021 Ford Escape PHEV: The Greatest Escape

Published on September 28, 2021 in First Drives by Frédéric Mercier

One of the highlights of the latest-generation Ford Escape is the addition of a plug-in hybrid variant offering 60 kilometres of EV range. After an extremely long and frustrating wait, the model is finally starting to arrive in dealerships.

Production started last month following multiple delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing chip shortage, not to mention an investigation by Ford to address a potential defect in the high-voltage battery that could lead to a fire.

And so here we are. Do other plug-in hybrid SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 Prime and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV have to worry? Read our first impressions of the 2021 Ford Escape PHEV to find out.

Photo: Guillaume Fournier Photographe

The Cheapest PHEV in Its Class

Even before stepping inside the Ford Escape PHEV, we were impressed by the price. While the two aforementioned rivals start at just under $45,000, this one carries a base MSRP of $37,649. It’s also eligible to the $2,500 PHEV rebate from the federal government as well as provincial incentives of up to $4,000 depending on where you live.  

What’s the catch? Well, the Escape PHEV comes with front-wheel drive only, whereas all the competitors and even the non-plug-in Escape Hybrid are available with all-wheel drive. For many Canadians, that will be a deal-breaker, for sure. Then again, if you have a good set of winter tires, you should be fine.

Photo: Guillaume Fournier Photographe

Great EV Range

The 2021 Ford Escape PHEV combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an electric motor that draws energy from a 14.4-kWh battery. According to Natural Resources Canada, it can travel 60 kilometres on pure battery power.

Our test drive took place on a hot summer day and we easily achieved that mark, covering 66 kilometres before the combustion engine kicked in. By comparison, we got 37.9 kilometres from of the Outlander PHEV and a remarkable 72.8 kilometres with the RAV4 Prime in identical road and weather conditions.

When the battery runs empty, the Escape PHEV proves to be quite spirited, yet frugal. With an average of 5.6 L/100 km in hybrid mode (on our watch), it needs less fuel than the two Japanese SUVs. In other words, even when you’re out of electrons, this is a vehicle you can enjoy driving without worrying about gas prices.

Photo: Guillaume Fournier Photographe

Convincing First Drive

This first experience behind the wheel of the Ford Escape PHEV proved to us that it’s the most attractive model in the Escape lineup. Reasonably priced and eligible to generous incentives, it ends up being just a bit more expensive than a decently equipped and conventionally powered Escape. Plus you can save a whole lot of money at the pump!

On the road, the Ford Escape PHEV impresses with responsive performance. Lighter than the Outlander PHEV and RAV4 Prime, it handles well and accelerates promptly, but of course it’s no match for Toyota’s 302-horsepower SUV.

Photo: Guillaume Fournier Photographe

Our tester was a fully loaded Titanium model with an MSRP of $43,749. There was no shortage of cutting-edge technology inside with an all-digital instrument panel, Active Park Assist 2.0 and wireless smartphone charging. The touchscreen is decently sized but looks like an iPad that was hastily glued to the centre stack. One thing’s for sure, though, the SYNC infotainment system works great.

The seats are supportive enough and there’s adequate storage up front, in part thanks to designers replacing the traditional shifter with a rotary selector. Rear-seat space is okay, but taller folks will complain about a lack of legroom. Cargo capacity, meanwhile, is pretty good for a compact SUV—you don’t have to sacrifice any volume with the PHEV variant.

Photo: Guillaume Fournier Photographe

Which PHEV Should You Buy?

While we were impressed by the efficiency of the Ford Escape PHEV, it just doesn’t do enough to beat the extremely skilled Toyota RAV4 Prime, which shines with superior EV range and performance.  

The problem is that the waiting line for the RAV4 Prime is ridiculously long. You might have to wait 18-24 months if you order one today. Now that production has started, the Escape PHEV will hopefully have shorter delivery times. 

Test drive report
Test model 2021 Ford Escape
Trim level Titanium PHEV
Price range $28,549 – $43,649
Price as tested CA$43,649
Warranty (basic) 3 years/60,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 5.5 / 6.2 / 5.6 L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SE S-AWC, 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime SE
Strong points
  • Great EV range
  • Good handling
  • Easy-to-use infotainment system
Weak points
  • No AWD
  • Interior crafted with a lot of plastics
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 4.5/5 The Escape PHEV proves to be quite frugal even when the battery runs empty.
Comfort 3.5/5 Comfort is decent, but rear-seat space can be a bit tight.
Performance 3.5/5 Performance is not why you buy this PHEV for, but it’s certainly no slouch.
Infotainment 4.0/5 SYNC is a wonderful system. Too bad the touchscreen is a bit out of the driver’s reach.
Driving 4.0/5 Good handling combined with instant torque from the electric motor make for fun times.
Overall 4.0/5 An interesting new PHEV you should definitely consider.
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