Ford caught a lot of flak for the delayed release of the hybrid Escape. Well, it’s finally here. “Almost,” here that is. The first hybrid SUV (and first hybrid 4WD) will go on the market in late summer. So, what kind of mileage will it get? Ford has not yet announced EPA mileage figures; however, during my combed city/highway drive I averaged 31 mpg. I tend to have a lead foot, so with little effort I believe that number could be increased by a few mpg. For comparison, the standard front-wheel-drive Escape with a V6 engine is rated at 20 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway. Ford expects the Escape Hybrid to have a combined city/highway rating of around 34 mpg. In a much-publicized drive at the New York Auto Show this spring, an Escape Hybrid took to the streets of Manhattan for 37 hours; it covered almost 600 miles on one tank of fuel. This equates to an average of 38 miles per gallon through hours of horrible New York traffic. However, potential buyers should also take into account Consumer Reports’ recent claims that hybrids’ mileage isn’t as good as advertised. But then there’s also the air quality angle: Rated as an Advance Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), the Escape Hybrid produces about half the carbon dioxide as a typical compact SUV. Ford expects big sales and it’ll be interesting to see how the emergence of hybrid will affect the SUV wars. Of course, the growing popularity of car-based SUVs has already complicated the debate. These days SUV owners can actually have more eco-credibility than many car owners.