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Ford Escape Hybrid
Sticker price: $29,305 - $33,385
MPG: 31 mpg Hwy, 34 mpg City
Trip fuel cost: $30.65

Ford chief executive Alan Mulally is driving a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. Ford has made some significant ugrades to the Escape - both the hybrid and non-hybrid versions - for the 2009 model year.

The non-hybrid version gets a six-speed transmission and a more powerful engine. That improved performance actually makes the latest version of the Escape kind of fun to drive. The 4-cylinder engine (it's also available with a V6) is a bit noisy when you push it hard, but it provides ample power through the smooth-shifting transmission.

The hybrid version feels heavier and more sluggish, and the engine's harsh noise is even more pronounced. The steering also feels artificial and much less connected.

Still, for those looking for a hybrid SUV, the Escape Hybrid has the best combination or reliability, utility and fuel economy. An important addition for the 2009 model year is Electronic Stability Control, a system that helps the driver maintain control during abrupt maneuvers. This feature wasn't available on the hybrid before and, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it can reduce the chances of a fatal crash by as much as a third.

Ford probably shouldn't let Alan drive anywhere without it.

NEXT: Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Last updated December 26 2008: 8:57 AM ET
An earlier version of this gallery presented "Trip fuel costs" based on combined city and highway mileage. This has been changed to reflect highway driving only.
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