The drive from Melbourne is also a perfect blend of urban, freeway and rural roads. Ideal for putting the Ford Escape through its paces, then.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine making 178kW and 345Nm, put to the road through all four wheels. It's fitted with the $800 Technology Package, which brings adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, tyre-pressure monitoring and lane-keeping assist.
Lane-keeping is aggressive. It shoves you back into the lane instead of nudging, which quickly grows tiring. It's easy to turn off, thankfully.
Adaptive cruise, on the other hand, is excellent. It does a great job of maintaining speed on hills – there are plenty of those on the Geelong Freeway – and reacts promptly to cars cutting you off. It can be slightly too cautious at times, braking sharply to maintain its preset gap, but caution is preferable to callousness.
With lower suspension and stiffer anti-roll bars than the standard car, the ST-Line is designed to put 'sport' into the SUV. There's always a risk of sporty vehicles riding poorly, but the Escape isn't a jiggly mess on the open road.
It isn't quite as relaxed as the regular Escape, but it certainly won't shake your fillings loose over rough roads. In part, the squidgy seats are to thank for that. They're perfect for long stints behind the wheel, with (manually) adjustable lumbar support and plenty of padding under your thighs.
Road noise from the 235/45 tyres is noticeable without becoming annoying on the neatly manicured Geelong Freeway, while the less-than-perfect roads running from the freeway to the Great Ocean Road elicited a bit more roar. It's never too intrusive, but the Volkswagen Tiguan puts it in the shade for outright refinement.
With that said, the engine settles down nicely on the open road. It's hushed essentially all the time, even when pushed hard – some owners might yearn for a more purposeful noise, given the ST-Line badge, but I can't imagine too many owners being concerned.
Given the torque on tap, overtaking is an absolute cinch. Boot the throttle and the transmission kicks down smoothly, while it's willing to rev right to redline when required. It isn't quite hot-hatch quick, but it's not far off.
We're not going to make out like the ST-Line is an outright sports car, but it can handle itself when the road gets twisty. With sharper steering and a lower ride than stock, it definitely feels a bit keener to turn and rolls slightly less.
The 235/45 Continental tyres are quality items, and cling on gamely when slung into a corner, but if you really push things the default state is gentle understeer. That's completely fine; this is a mid-sized crossover.
The 407L boot is slightly smaller than some of its competitors offer, but it was more than spacious enough to swallow food, drinks, clothes and bedding for two without stress. With generous cupholders and door pockets, along with a deep centre console bin, there's more than enough space for all the junk accompanying a road trip.
I still miss the rubbish bin from my Skoda Kodiaq, though.
2018 Ford Escape ST-Line
- Odometer: 5431km
- Fuel economy: 10.1L/100km
- Kilometres since last update: 864km
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