A few months back, I got this crazy email. This very nice lady was claiming to work for a PR firm representing Ford Motors. They were promoting the new-and-improved Escape Hybrid, and loaning out free wheels to bloggers across the US. Nigerian bank scam? Really? You want to give me a car??!
I was excited until my husband reminded me of one key fact: the Escape is an SUV.
Deflated, I emailed the nice lady back, with a copy of my integrity policy (here under ‘give me stuff’) and a brief explanation – something along the lines of “Um, you’re really nice and I’d love to try out the car, but I kind of despise SUV’s and I’m going to write an honest review no matter what. So maybe not such a good idea for you?” She assured me that honesty was what they were after, and they’d still like to send me the vehicle. Um, okay!
We had the beast for a 4-day adventure that couldn’t have come at a better time. It was Damian’s 30th birthday weekend and a crew of old friends were in town. I sure felt spiffy rolling up to the airport to pick them up in my fly new ride. They were impressed, but I was still a skeptic.
There are a lot of reasons to dislike SUV’s, including their obscene size, the reduced visibility for cars around them, the dangerous ‘backover’ rate (also related to poor visibility), the high rollover rate, and the aggressive, superior attitude they bestow upon their operators. But for me, it really comes down to environmentalism.
An SUV is essentially a station wagon, lifted onto a lightweight truck chassis. Because they are classified as light trucks, they are considered ‘work vehicles’ (ahem, yes, even the luxury ones). This means they are regulated less strictly under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which determines fuel economy standards, and the Clean Air Act, which deals with emissions.
This ‘light truck’ designation also affects their Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ratings. CAFE is the federal standard for improving average fuel economy, which takes a manufacturer’s entire fleet of vehicles into consideration and averages their mpg – except it only considers vehicles under 8,500 pounds. That was a loophole that exempted most SUVs, making manufactures less likely to produce fuel-efficient models. However, in 2007 the gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) was expanded to include light trucks/SUVs up to 10,000 pounds. This gvwr is set to increase again in 2011, although the new CAFE standard has recently been rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration. They called it ‘arbitrary and capricious’.
A lot of people think SUV hatred is all about gas mileage (average passenger car = ~28 mpg, while the average SUV = ~14 mpg), but as you can see it’s a lot more complicated than just that. These vehicles are classed differently and are therefor set to different standards of safety, pollution, and fuel economy. A good summary of the SUV criticism can be found here.
Anyways, back to the beast. It sure was fun to drive! It’s been a while since I’ve driven a brand new car, so it’s hard to disentangle my excitement about the gizmos and gadgets and sparklies of new cars in general, from the whos-its and whiz-bangs and shininess of this car in particular. But it sure was purty.
It was pretty high-tech, with a computer in the dash and everything digitized (I’m sure they gave us the top-of-the-line models to review). It handled well and was relatively maneuverable (I used to drive a minivan – long story – and I’ve also driven a giant humungous research truck for my field work in college, so I do have plenty of experience handling larger vehicles). I definitely, *definitely* noticed a certain . . . confidence . . . that came over me when I drove the SUV. I think it’s the result of sitting so up high, combined with this [false] sense of security, even invincibility. I found I was a much more aggressive driver, and that made me quite uncomfortable. I guess you could say that there were both positive and negative components of my overall driving experience.
Now, how about some specs:
The Ford Escape is a ‘full hybrid’, which means it can run entirely electric, entirely gas, or in any combination of the two. This allows it to maximize efficiency in most situations. It also uses regenerative braking, where the momentum of braking is converted into energy and stored in the battery. It gets about 28 mpg, combined fuel economy. Bonus: it’s made in America, in Kansas City Missouri!
So here’s my final thought: You do not need an SUV. No, really, you don’t. No see I knew you would say that. And really, you don’t. Good luck convincing me otherwise.
But, to each their own. Who am I to judge? We all have our vices (hello, do you think this is my natural hair color?). So if your vice is road bling, and you simply insist on driving something tall and wide, well you could do worse than to buy the Ford Escape Hybrid. And I will still love you, anyways.