Our time with the Escape ST-Line is over. The blue crossover is back in Ford's keep after three months in the CarAdvice office. During that time, it's won plenty of fans. But more on that to come.
First up, a quick recap of what the ST-Line actually is. It's not quite the top-grade Escape – that honour belongs to the Titanium – but it's not far from it, with a sporty look and chassis.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine making 178kW and 345Nm, put to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It's properly punchy when you're up and running, with peak torque on tap between 2100 and 4500rpm, although there is a bit of low-down lag as the turbocharger spools up.
It isn't quite hot-hatch fast, but it's not all that far from it, which won the Ford plenty of fans around the Melbourne office.
One member of our team said "it was quite powerful and the start/stop engine worked really seamlessly" after a weekend behind the wheel, although Kate Arcidiacono, marketing manager, actually wanted more grunt.
For me, there was more than enough grunt for day-to-day work, although the occasional moment of laziness from the transmission can be frustrating. It definitely feels more 'muscular' in-gear than, say, a VW Tiguan 162TSI, although it isn't necessarily faster.
The engine is shared with other Escapes, but the ST-Line does get some things to itself. For one, the car sits 10mm lower than the wider range, and has thicker anti-roll bars than the standard car to complement its pointier steering set-up, 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.
It should come as no surprise to hear the slightly stiffer ride proved divisive. Mike Stevens, producer here at CarAdvice, had no issue with the suspension on a drive from Melbourne to Wilsons Prom, while Kate was unimpressed again, describing the car as "rough, not particularly smooth".
I'd argue the average Escape ST-Line buyer has a pretty good idea what they're getting in for. They might even consider the firm edge a good thing... It never worried me, and the payoff is noticeable.
Point the nose at a twisty road, and the Escape demonstrates poise belying its family-first billing.
No, it can't match a proper passenger car – bring back the performance wagon, Ford! – at full noise, but there's a dash of sporting talent in this SUV's genes. It's also a good size: more like a big hatchback on stilts than a gigantic crossover.
That makes it feel wieldy on tighter roads, easier to park in my tight underground carpark, and well suited to inner-city work.
It also means the boot is a bit smaller than that of the Holden Equinox, and the boot floor isn't flat with the rear seats folded. It still passed the CarAdvice road bike test, but with less space to spare than some of its rivals.
Storage around the cabin is plentiful in all five seats. There are spacious door pockets front and rear, cupholders (one of which transitions to a bottle holder) between the seats, a deep centre console, and a large glovebox, all of which make for plenty of space for your lollies, sunnies, and other oddments.
Sync 3 is also excellent. It isn't the prettiest-looking technology suite in the world, but it's very functional and easy to operate. The voice control also works well, which is never a given.
Smartphone mirroring worked flawlessly, barring some mild flickering from the display over bumpier roads, but Ford's inbuilt navigation is perfectly capable of getting the job done if you don't like Google Maps.
Kelly found the infotainment "really easy to use" and noted the voice control's accuracy.
The same slightly ugly, functional vibe is prevalent throughout the interior. As with the previous-generation Focus, the design team behind the Escape took its inspiration from mobile phones, with lots of small buttons scattered around the dash.
Perhaps in a nod to Henry Ford, the cabin is predominately black.
The dash is covered in a dark, soft-touch rubberised trim, the console and transmission tunnel are finished in soft-touch plastic, and the trim add-ons are all grey. Not black, sure, but not far off.
Unique equipment includes sportier seats with red contrast stitching, and that's about it. They're very comfortable and good to look at, but manual adjustment and a lack of heating both feel a bit at odds with the car's high-spec billing.
The word funky was used to describe the general layout, but I'd say old is more appropriate. A makeover is coming with an all-new Escape, and it can't arrive soon enough.
Fuel economy varied over our time with the car, settling around 11L/100km. That didn't worry Mike, but it left me slightly underwhelmed.
Yes, it's a brawny engine and a heavy car, but there's also part of me that just expects better of modern, downsized motors. Unfair, perhaps.
In a crowded segment, the Escape has struggled to stand out for a long time. Based on our time with the car, I'd argue it deserves more consideration from buyers.
It drives nicely and has a distinct character compared to the madding crowd, while the $41,390 sticker price is competitive. If you're in the market, it's more than worth a look.
I enjoyed my time with the car, but never came to truly love it. Maybe it was the interior design, maybe it was the fuel bills, but handing the keys back was more of an amicable parting of ways than a heartfelt goodbye.
Ford Escape ST-Line
- Odometer: 7898km
- Average fuel economy: 10.9L/100km
- Kilometres since last update: 2467km