While it’s important this year to work with family and friends to help get out the vote, I’ve also needed the occasional distraction. That’s why test-driving cars has been a welcome reprieve. Luckily, the two green machines below turned out to be fine diversions.
FORD ESCAPE HYBRID
Mpg: 43 city/37 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.7 seconds
What better way to escape all the political pandemonium than, well, in a Ford Escape? This year marks the return of the hybrid version, as well as the debut of a plug-in hybrid. What’s more, this compact crossover has been fully redesigned, with all the poise and pluck of a Porsche Macan. While the Macan may be twice as fast—and twice the price—the Escape Hybrid has a 200-hp engine that is still fairly quick. Precise steering is a plus, as is the sturdy suspension that translates into almost no body roll. Inside, the front seats are comfortable but not exactly snug.
Tasteful gauges and controls are easy to use, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. As for cargo capacity, a small lithium-ion battery pack takes up a bit of rear-seat legroom but still leaves plenty of space. While it does take a few jujitsu-like maneuvers to fold the rear seats completely flat, this is a minor quibble. Two trim levels are available, both with keyless entry, push-button start, heated seats and smartphone integration. For a $5,000 premium, the high-end Titanium level adds lots of extras: ambient lighting, hands-free liftgate, 10-speaker Band & Olufsen stereo, rain-sensing windshield wipers and more. You can even splurge on a panoramic sunroof and head-up display, though the price tag will start to hit $40,000. But at least those hybrid fuel savings will help offset some of the cost.
Range: 150 to 226 miles
0 to 60 mph: 8.4 seconds
With all the hoopla surrounding flashy high-end electric vehicles like the Audi e-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace or any Tesla model, it’s easy to underestimate the Nissan Leaf. Yet this subcompact has been a tough competitor ever since it was introduced 10 years ago. Back then, the paltry 73-mile range caused battery anxiety every time I slid behind the steering wheel. But the range on this EV has been doubled, thanks to improved technology and a more aerodynamic design—including sculpted headlights that deflect wind from the side mirrors. With the new Leaf Plus model, there’s an even more powerful motor and larger battery pack to extend the range to an impressive 226 miles. While the Leaf Plus adds $6,550 to the sticker price, it also comes with a fast-charging port and upgraded stereo, nav system and adaptive cruise control. But even a base-model Leaf comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as safety features like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor and collision warning with emergency braking.
Options include LED headlights, surround-view camera, heated seats and heated steering wheel. Sadly, the back seats don’t fold flat, and there’s no telescoping steering wheel. Some EV contenders also offer more features and a longer range, though often for a price. Overall, the Leaf seems like something George Jetson would drive, from the almost cartoonish styling to the high-pitched whirring motor. There’s also a geeky e-Pedal driving system, which allows the driver to speed up, slow down and even stop the vehicle using only the accelerator pedal. This makes for a rad ride, especially when tackling twisty switchbacks or weaving through commuter traffic. Then there’s the ProPilot semi-autonomous feature, which keeps the car centered in its own lane and automatically brakes/restarts in any kind of gridlock. There are other practical reasons to buy a Leaf, such as Nissan’s renowned reliability and a warranty that covers the battery for up to eight years or 100,000 miles. But as far as EVs go, the Leaf gets my vote because it’s fun and playful.