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Meet the latest addition to our fleet of long-term testers, the 2018 Ford Escape ST-Line. It'll be with us for the next few months, strutting its stuff as the sportiest member of the oft-overlooked Escape line-up.
We'll delve into life with the car over the next few instalments, but here are some of the basics.
This isn't the first time I've had a Ford Escape in my life. My parents actually bought a first-generation Escape Limited V6 when the car first touched down in Australia, wooed by its looks and the promise of all-wheel drive for the annual trip to Falls Creek.
Highlights included beige (p)leather seats, a six-disc stacker, white speedo/rev dials and a cool-looking button to lock the differential. I was seven when we got the car – mum and dad tell me I hugged the chain-smoking salesman at Jefferson Ford on pick-up. Ugh.
Perspective and the intervening 16 years have taught me the first Escape wasn't a very good car. It was noisy, thirsty, rolled like a boat in the corners and, on a brief jaunt along a washboard gravel road, almost shook its passenger seat from the floor. The fact the model carried on until 2013 with only minor improvements is truly terrifying.
Ours survived three years, before growing children and all their junk forced mum into something bigger. I'd say it was a shame, but I'd be lying.
Suffice to say, the new long-termer for CarAdvice in Melbourne is much, much nicer than mum's Escape ever was. It's a product of Ford Europe, for one, with power from a 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine making 178kW and 345Nm.
It sits 10mm lower than a regular Escape, and gets thicker anti-roll bars than the standard car to complement its pointier steering setup, while there are black alloy wheels, black body add-ons and a new rear diffuser to deliver on the sporty promise of an 'ST-Line' car.
Inside, it gets lovely suede trim and red contrast stitching, along with safety niceties like keyless entry, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Our car has the $800 ST-Line Technology Pack which brings adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, tyre-pressure monitoring and lane-keeping assist, too.
You'll pay $39,990 before on-roads for the car, but the Technology Pack and (lovely) Blue Metallic paint bump that to $41,390 in our tester.
Ford's 8.0-inch SYNC infotainment system is standard, as is dual-zone climate control, but I'm a bit disappointed the seats aren't heated. Then again, we're coming into summer so it's unlikely to be all that much of an issue.
Compared to my last long-termer, the Skoda Kodiaq, the Escape feels meaningfully more compact (probably because it is) but also noticeably less premium. The two aren't competitors, but it's hard not to compare my new flame with the old relationship, fair or otherwise.
There are plans in place to head down the surf coast with the car and it's served me well as a city runabout thus far, with the punchy EcoBoost engine a highlight – but more on that later.
Anything you want to know about the car? Let us know in the comments.