It’s a flooded market, the mid-size SUV segment. But one way to stand out is to offer lots of power. The 2021 Ford Escape ST-Line is one of the most powerful options currently on sale in Australia. And it’s not even a full-blown ST model. Is it like having a hot hatch in an SUV body?
The ST-Line variant is inspired by Ford’s sportiest vehicles. Namely, the Fiesta ST and Focus ST. But this stops short of coming equipped with hardcore components. Instead, the Escape ST-Line retains an excellent level of practicality and everyday usability, only it happens to feature a 183kW turbo engine.
Despite seeming like it could be the flagship variant in the Escape range this is actually a mid-range option. The new lineup spans from the base Escape FWD, the ST-Line in FWD and AWD, and the top Vignale also available in FWD and AWD. All use the same 183kW 2.0T petrol. A plug-in hybrid version of the ST-Line is coming to Australia early in 2022.
Also helping the new Escape stand out among the competitive rivals is the price. The base model kicks off from $35,990, but if you can stretch just $2000 more, this ST-Line starts from $37,990. We think this is an absolute bargain. Optioning up to all-wheel drive is another $3000 more, which is probably a bit much for such a straight-forward upgrade.
2021 Ford Escape ST-Line – THE SPECS
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder
Output: 183kW@5700rpm / 387Nm@3100rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18-inch alloy, 225/60
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1586kg
Power-to-weight: 8.66:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 8.6L/100km
Economy during test: 7.7L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 57L/95 RON
Power efficiency: 21.27kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.31 seconds*
0-100km/h: 6.44 seconds*
60-110km/h: 4.10 seconds*
1/4 mile: 14.61 seconds at 161.5km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.716g
100-0km/h braking: 2.98 seconds at 37.10 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.481g
Decibel at idle: 37*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 84*
Priced from: $37,990
* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different
2021 Ford Escape ST-Line – THE PACKAGE
The ST-Line is pretty easy to spot compared with the rest of the range. The exterior is dressed in a unique bodykit, with more aggressive front and rear bumper bars, discreet badges, and dark highlights such as for the window trims. There’s also bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels, which are pretty small by today’s standards, painted in fashionable dark grey.
When you look inside, it’s mid-level position becomes quite apparent. Passengers are treated to basic cloth seats, and most of the cabin is mono-tone. It would be nice to see a bit more excitement in here, perhaps with more heavily bolstered sports seats. Although, there is some red stitching to signify the ST inspiration.
Cabin practicality is really very good, with high-mounted seats making it easy to get in and out of, and most of the controls are thoughtfully positioned. You’ve got cup holders in the front and a decent centre storage box, and thanks to the rotary gear selector you can freely move about. It all feels very open and easy to live with.
Up on the dash is an 8 inch touch-screen running Ford’s SYNC 3 operating software. It comes with an embedded modem with FordPass Connect, allowing you to remotely communicate with certain functions of the vehicle, and of course Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. The ST-Line does feature digital radio and sat-nav, but it misses out on the 10-speaker B&O sound system that’s fitted to the top Vignale model. Still, the standard six-speaker unit here is quite impressive.
Passenger space is excellent for this class. Rear seat legroom in particular is a standout, and it’s great to see rear climate vents, and even a couple of charging ports (USB and USB-C). More of that durable fabric from the front is carried through, with red stitching holding it all together.
Boot space is at the pointy end of this class, with an impressive maximum volume of almost 1500 litres; 556L, expanding to 1478L. A 12-volt socket is presented in the back and comes in handy for those camping trips, and we like the pull-tabs for the rear seats on the boot wall as well. A space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
2021 Ford Escape ST-Line – THE DRIVE
Up front is a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder. It produces a tarmac-tearing 183kW, which is one of highest outputs of this class. Needless to say, the performance certainly puts a smile on your face. We timed 0-100km/h in just 6.44 seconds with a Racelogic Vbox. That’s only 0.14 seconds behind the result we got from the manual Focus ST. In other words, this is proper hot-hatch fast.
Aside from driving it like a hoon and having some fun, it is an effortless daily driver. And it is so easy to overtake on the highway. The mid-range torque really pushes you back in your seat, with all 387Nm available at the meaty – 3100rpm – point of the rev range. This means, when exiting corners, there is heaps of grunt available to slingshot you away.
What lets it down somewhat is the driveline’s ability to cope with all of that oomph. Wheelspin is a regular occurrence, even when you’re not necessarily requiring the full can of beans. It chirps and skips when hammering over country roads, constantly fighting with the tarmac when you’re pushing hard. It really could do with a limited-slip differential. Not just because of single wheel spinning – although it usually hooks up both wheels – but because it might help to bolster directional stability; there is some noticeable tug and tension at the steering wheel under power.
The steering setup is typical modern Ford, in that, it’s fast and precise. In a hot hatch or even a regular hatch like the Focus or Fiesta, that can be a good thing as it makes for a zippy and energetic drive experience. In a practical mid-size SUV? It’s probably overkill for most buyers in this class. It can be overly sensitive in conventional situations, resulting in a busy and almost bothersome experience.
However, if you’ve always wanted a hot hatch but your other half demands an SUV, this is a great compromise. You get to take it for a Sunday blast and have some genuine fun in it, while the other half enjoys the dependable SUV attributes.
Speaking of typical SUV attributes, the Escape is a decent off-roader. Well, obviously not for serious all-terrain excursions. Like any vehicle in this class, there are limitations. But with 178mm of ground clearance and tall profile 225/60 tyres, it can certainly tackle rough dirt roads and explore camping grounds and so on. With good approach and departure angles (again, for this class) it also means you don’t have to fret about entering steep driveways or hitting unseen potholes.
Despite the cracking performance the fuel economy is actually not bad. The official average is 8.6L/100km, and we averaged just 7.7L/100km during our week-long test drive. Mind you we did enjoy a weekend escape (pun not intended), involving a few hundred kilometres of highway driving. Even still, you really have to keep in mind that this is a lot quicker than many rivals out there. It all comes down to what your priorities are.
2021 Ford Escape ST-Line – THE VIDEO
2021 Ford Escape ST-Line – THE VERDICT
Much like its design, the new Escape ST-Line tends to fall under the radar. We’re glad we drove it though as we were not expecting this level of not just performance, but also in-car practicality and segment-intimidating rear seat accommodation and boot space. And that low price. For the amount of kit you get here, including the potent engine, $37,990 is brilliant value for money.
– Tarmac-tearing power, great family hauler
– Fun and eager handling characteristics for this class
– Thoughtful cabin layout and features
– Big boot and standout rear seat space
– Good fuel economy for the performance
– Attractive price tag
– 183kW easily overwhelms the front wheels
– Interior a bit mono-tone, lacks ST inspiration
– Fun handling means firm ride and busy steering
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