Taking a city-focused SUV for a spin on the sand isn't what most people would do in a new car, but that's exactly where we took the 2017 Ford Escape to test out the autonomous emergency braking, on-demand all-wheel drive system and rear-view camera.
We started the day at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach (but not on the sand), then headed to Boat Harbour which is one of the few beaches around Sydney that you actually are allowed to drive on. It's a stunning stretch of coastline and on the weekend it's usually packed with four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles.
You're unlikely to spot too many brand-spanking new ones though, so it was an interesting experience to drive straight off the bitumen and onto the sand.
The new Escape is the most significant launch of the year for Ford in Australia and there are plenty of changes inside and out. All-wheel drive is available across the range and there are three engine options; a 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engines or a 2.0-litre diesel.
Front-wheel drive is only available with the 1.5-litre petrol engine in the entry-level Ambiente and mid-spec Trend variants. The Ambiente can be had with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, while the diesel engine is teamed with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
When it comes to in-car technology and safety features, the goal posts are constantly moving and the Escape puts forward a compelling case among its competitors in the medium SUV segment, particularly in regards to infotainment.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen with Sync 3 is standard across the range. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, satellite navigation and voice command that's been programmed to better understand the Australian accent.
A safety pack with AEB, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, auto high beam and tyre pressure monitoring, is available on the Trend and top-shelf Titanium variants at a reasonable cost of $1300. It is a shame the package isn't available on the base-model Ambiente, though.
The large screen is crisp and clear, and the rear-view camera has great depth and width. That certainly came in handy when we were set loose on a circular course to navigate around it. In reverse! The guidelines were a godsend and made the exercise almost foolproof, once you got your head around the fact you were spinning around backwards in circles.
Needless to say it all ended when the dizziness became too much to handle! A run along the water's edge was the perfect way to clear my head and get a feel for the on-demand all-wheel drive system which Ford calls Intelligent All-Wheel Drive.
It's quick and adjusts the amount of torque being sent to each wheel every 16-milliseconds. A graphic on the screen in the instrument cluster shows where it's being sent so you can monitor what's happening at all times.
I expected a bit of noticeable spinning in the sand from time-to-time but that just didn't happen. The sand was relatively firm and I was careful to keep the speed constant and driving technique smooth so it all came together to create a stress-free experience.
Something that did cause a bit of anxiety was the AEB exercise. Having never engaged the system on sand before, I wasn't sure how the lack of grip on the loose surface would affect the performance of the safety system.
It has low-speed AEB, designed to work at speeds of up to 30km/hr. Even at that low speed it was daunting to approach the barrier and keep my foot away from the brake pedal. I fought the urge and managed to hand over all control and let the car do its thing. Sure enough it pulled up before the obstacle despite needing a little more time to slide to a complete stop. It was close, though!
The Escape sets a high standard for the medium SUV segment with impressive, easy-to-use technology and the availability of a suite of safety features. It also boasts a huge cargo space of up to 1603L, plenty of room for the kids and nifty fold-down tray tables in the second row. Read the full review here.
The best bit though was the effortlessness of the all-wheel drive system and its capability on the sand. Sand driving is a lot of fun, and it just proves that you don't need an expensive 4WD to have a little bit of fun in the right conditions.