Trucks & SUVs

Ford’s Best 2021 Hybrid SUV Isn’t the Explorer

The Ford Explorer has been around for ages, but it finally got a hybrid powertrain for the 2020 model year. The Explorer Hybrid shares many similarities with the regular model, including roughly identical highway fuel economy estimates. An estimated 26 mpg is good for any three-row SUV, but it’s not really impressive on a pricier hybrid.

U.S. News recommends that you buy the 2021 Ford Escape Hybrid instead. It sits at the top of its Hybrid and Electric SUV rankings, while the Ford Explorer Hybrid took the eighth spot. Is the Ford Escape Hybrid really the best hybrid SUV Ford has to offer?

Is the Ford Explorer Hybrid a good SUV?

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This hybrid is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 and one electric motor, producing a total of 318 hp. Electric-only power is really only employed when driving at very low speeds, and shifting from electric to gas isn’t very smooth. Still, it has enough power to keep its momentum at higher speeds, and the ten-speed transmission is a good match.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Hybrid’s biggest complaint stems from its subpar fuel economy. At best, it makes 23/26 mpg city/highway, a few points below the estimates for the 2020 model. Still, it’s better than the regular Ford Explorer with its rating of 21/28 mpg city/highway.

The interior is also a major disappointment, filled with hard plastics despite this SUV’s premium hybrid upcharge. There are some soft-touch materials to be found, but only on the door panels and dashboard. The first two rows provide roomy seating accommodations, but the third row can only seat small children comfortably.

The Ford Explorer Hybrid also comes with some fancy tech, but nothing impressive at its price point. It has a premium stereo system, a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless device charging, and smartphone integration. Extra niceties like a panoramic moonroof and rear-seat entertainment system are also on offer.

How the Ford Escape Hybrid compares

The standard Ford Escape Hybrid comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that generate 200 hp combined. The Ford Escape PHEV’s powertrain makes 221 hp, but it’s not available with AWD. Both engines are paired with a surprisingly quiet CVT.

Regardless of drivetrain, the Ford Escape Hybrid feels quick on both city or highway roads and has a smooth ride. Both are also very efficient: the Escape Hybrid makes 40 mpg combined city/highway, while the PHEV makes 41 mpg. The Escape PHEV has an electric driving range of 37 miles.

Unfortunately, the Ford Escape Hybrid’s interior suffers from the same flaws as the Ford Explorer Hybrid’s. The mixed ratio of limited high-quality materials and overwhelming cheap ones make the interior design appear sloppy. On the plus side, five adult passengers can sit comfortably on the wide and supportive seats.

The Ford Escape Hybrid has many of the same infotainment offerings as the Ford Explorer Hybrid. It also has the same extensive collection of advanced driver’s aids, like lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, and curve control. The SYNC 3 responds quickly to inputs and the menus are easy to navigate.

Why the Ford Explorer Hybrid can’t keep up with the Escape Hybrid

Obviously, the Ford Explorer Hybrid is more ideal for larger families since it has more seats. The Explorer Hybrid has more cargo space compared to the smaller Escape Hybrid, up to 88 cubic feet. It also has a higher towing capacity.

However, that’s essentially where its advantages over the Ford Escape Hybrid end. The Escape Hybrid gets much better mileage and makes better use of all its available seats. The Ford Explorer Hybrid is also costly at over $50,000, while the Ford Escape Hybrid retails for only $27,605.