Ford won't offer its Escape SUV in Australia for much longer, but even with it on the way out there's still a lot to like about it – particularly when it comes to the thrifty plug-in hybrid.

While the first fully electric Ford model, the Mustang Mach-E, isn’t due Down Under until later this year, the company had already introduced its first plug-in vehicle for the Australian market last year – the Escape ST-Line PHEV, a plug-in hybrid version of its mid-size SUV.

However, there’s quite a big catch. Just after we had the chance to drive this plug-in hybrid version for the first time, Ford announced last month that it will cease importing the Escape to Australia by the end of this year, bringing an end to its 22-year run in our market and leaving Ford with only the diminutive Puma and larger Everest SUVs until the Mach-E arrives. Supply issues have been a big reason why, and it’s hamstrung the Escape’s selling power in what is one of the most popular segments in our market. A mere 2179 were sold in Australia last year – for comparison, Toyota sold 34,845 RAV4s and Mazda shifted 27,062 CX-5s.

The Escape’s coming retirement begs the question of whether it’s worth still buying one while you can, and we were keen to try out Ford’s plug-in hybrid tech for the first time as well, especially since at $54,940 before on-road costs, it’s one of the cheaper PHEVs on the market, costing a bit more than the MG HS and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and a little bit less than the Mitsubishi Outlander. Despite only being offered in mid-spec ST-Line guise, the PHEV is the most expensive variant in the range, though.

Last time we looked at the Ford Escape, it was the 2021 ST-Line 2.0T AWD, and while all remains fairly familiar for 2023, there are a few minor improvements to be found in the PHEV, all of which help justify a $11,950 price jump over the ST-Line AWD.

For instance, instead of cloth seats the ST-Line PHEV scores artificial leather and suede upholstery, along with a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and – finally – a rear centre armrest. There’s a wicked 10-speaker B&O audio system thrown in for good measure, too.

Although some of the harsh black plastic trim remains to cheapen the cabin’s feel, key touch points such as the flat-bottomed steering wheel do feel high-quality, while the vast amount of red contrast stitching and blue ambient interior lighting at night helps lift cabin ambiance as well.

Our tester was fitted with both options packages available, with the $1950 ST-Line Pack adding heated front seats, a head-up display (albeit projected onto a pop-up display), powered tailgate, and adaptive LED headlights, while the PHEV-exclusive $1500 Park Pack adds a front camera (although not a 360-degree camera), pop-out door ding protectors, and enhanced parking assist.

Other standard features include a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, an 8.0-inch infotainment display that’s on the smaller side but does offer sat nav and wired smartphone mirroring, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, automatic headlights and wipers, and power-folding side mirrors. The tech all works well, but the older SYNC 4 infotainment system isn’t quite as slick as the newer system now being rolled out in the new Ranger.

Interior space is good with plenty of room in both rows, although while the seats are comfortable enough they aren’t the most supportive you’ll come across, but for daily driving duties they’ll be fine. Boot space is an impressive 556 litres with the second-row seats in place, expanding to 1478 litres with them folded down. Unlike in many electrified vehicles, the Escape PHEV fortunately comes with a spare wheel hiding under the boot floor, albeit a space-saver rather than a full-size match for its standard 18-inch alloys.

All the safety technology you’d expect to see comes as standard in the Escape PHEV, including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control with lane centring, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, and traffic sign recognition. The entire Escape range sports a five-star ANCAP safety rating based off 2019 testing protocol.

READ MORE: The new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a surprisingly premium prospect, but it doesn’t come cheap

Unlike every other Escape variant which uses the same 183kW turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, the Escape ST-Line PHEV uses a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder paired to an electric motor to deliver a combined 167kW. The electric motor draws its power from a 14.4kWh battery pack offering a claimed 56km of electric-only driving range. The Escape PHEV uses a CVT automatic rather than the torque converter-type auto used in all other models, and it’s only available with front-wheel drive.

Although it’s down on power a touch compared with the undeniably punchy turbocharged variants, the PHEV still delivers a surprising turn of acceleration when you pin the throttle. As the atmo petrol engine and electric motor work together smoothly and seamlessly, there’s a nice balance struck between low-end torque and top-end power that means it still delivers the same sporty feel we’ve come to expect from the Escape.

Being front-wheel drive only, the Escape PHEV uses torsion beam rear suspension rather than the multi-link independent setup AWD models receive, but truthfully, I didn’t notice any negative impact on the road. With ST-Line variants all using a slightly firmer suspension tuning, it remains tidy on a twisty road with little understeer or other drama to be detected.

Admittedly, I did wonder whether the only Escape PHEV available being the sportiest variant might be a bit too much of a dichotomy for some buyers, it still rides comfortably on city streets, so as far as I’m concerned there’s no reason to be put off by its sporting pretensions – even if they’re a little at odds with the PHEV’s eco focus.

What I did find I liked more than last time I drove the Escape in ST-Line 2.0T AWD guise, however, was how it felt through the steering wheel. While I’d lamented the wayward, lifeless feeling through the tiller when I drove it, in the PHEV it felt far sharper through the wheel. Whether the steering has been recalibrated or whether it’s the added low-down weight of its battery pack I’m unsure, but while there was still a little bit of a dead spot on centre, it felt far more engaging this time around.

It’s also worth noting the array of driving modes the PHEV offers, as in addition to the standard Sport, Eco, and off-road modes, there’s a good degree of configurability for its drivetrain with Normal, which switches between the petrol engine and electric motor depending on the situation; EV Later, which relies on the petrol engine to save the battery for later, such as when driving on highways and saving the battery for when you reach the city; All Electric which is self-explanatory; and EV Charge which can use the petrol engine as a generator to top the battery back up.

Of course, fuel economy is the main drawcard of the Escape PHEV, with Ford touting an impressive 1.5L/100km claim on paper. Although I wasn’t able to match that in my testing, I did come close to it with fuel consumption of just 3.1L/100km over 520km of mixed driving conditions which is still an impressive return.

It’s also worth noting that when I picked the car up, the battery was uncharged meaning I spend the first 100km driving it petrol alone, and even then it only used a little over 5L/100km. With the battery charged, I found Ford’s 56km electric-only range claim to be fairly accurate as well.

As with all Ford models, the 2023 Escape ST-Line PHEV is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, while the high-voltage system is covered by an eight-year/160,000km warranty, putting it right on par with other electrified cars out there. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km with capped price servicing available, with an average cost of $410 per service for the first five years/75,000km.

It’s a shame the Escape is nearing the end of the line for our market and hasn’t been quite the success I’m sure Ford hoped it would be, as while its sales have been slow in what is otherwise a wildly popular segment, it’s still a very impressive offering – particularly if you’re after an SUV that comes with a good dose of power.

Where the Escape PHEV impresses most is with its thrifty real-world fuel economy, impressive power delivery and sporty feel, and a solid list of standard features even though it comes in mid-spec trim only. Where it suffers, however, is with that five-digit price increase over the standard ST-Line variants which might be thirstier but are about as quick as an SUV gets in this segment.

It might not offer the same premium feel as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but for what is easily a lower purchase price there’s a lot to like about the Escape ST-Line PHEV. It’s also miles ahead of the slightly cheaper Eclipse Cross PHEV and MG HS Plus EV. Too bad you won’t be able to get one for much longer – if you’re interested, act fast.

2023 Ford Escape ST-Line PHEV List Price: $54,940 | As Tested: $58,390
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: PHEV still manages to feel sporty, extra interior goodies over other ST-Line variants, impressive real-world fuel consumption, uncompromised boot space and still has a spare wheel
Cons: Big price increase over non-hybrid variants, some low-rent interior materials, cabin tech feels a little bit dated, it’s already about to be discontinued

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Ford Australia for one week with a full tank of fuel. All charging expenses were covered by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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