Downside: There is a discernible but transient "thump" when the gasoline engine and electric motor join forces to propel the Escape Hybrid from "stop" to "go." The air conditioner needs to be switched to "maximum" to keep it and the engine going in city traffic.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Very good ride. Excellent acceleration. Good handling.

Head-turning quotient: Both the Escape Hybrid and the conventional gasoline-powered Escape have fresh styling for 2005. A pleasant, less-threatening SUV appearance.

Body style/layout: It's a compact, dual-drivetrain SUV with four side doors and a rear hatch. It is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive, used in the tested vehicle, gets better mileage.

Propulsion system/transmission: A 133-horsepower, four-cylinder gasoline engine works with a 94-horsepower-equivalent electric motor to drive the Escape Hybrid. The propulsion system is linked to an electronically controlled continuously variable (eCVT) transmission (which saves fuel by eliminating fixed gear ratios).

Mileage: I averaged 23 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 mpg in the city.

Capacities: There is seating for five people. Maximum cargo capacity is 65.5 cubic feet with rear seat down and 27.6 cubic feet with rear seat up. The fuel tank holds 15 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline. It can tow up to 1,000 pounds.

Safety: Available side curtain air bags for increased rollover protection.

Pricing: The Escape Hybrid goes on sale this summer. Pricing will range from the mid-$20,000s to the low $30,000s.

Purse-strings note: It's a buy.