The new gold standard for family vehicles

Published: 21 March 2017

suv

Apart from your children and significant other, there’s no more personal relationship you’re ever going to have in life than the one you share with your car. You care for them, your kids will give them pet names like they’re a living member of the family, and you even stress when they get ‘hurt’.

It’s a bizarre bond we have with our cars in this country, just like jackaroos and their horses of old; ask any mature adult and you can guarantee they’ll regress to a smirking teen as they bore you in beloved detail about their first (for the record, I loved that TD Gemini).

And for decades, those fond family memories involved the gold standard of family vehicles - the trusted station wagon. You could load it up with anything, take them anywhere - they were a trusted member of the family. But unfortunately, for reasons unknown the relationship soured, and Australians moved on.

And like any break-up, there was a period of mourning, we dabbled around, trying to find another 4-wheeled soulmate... but nothing quite compared with the five seats and ton of room in the back. We pined for our old station wagons, wondering if anything better would ever come along.

Guess what… It did. 

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You may have already seen an army of them on the roads for years... but last month, for the first time in Australia’s history, SUV’s officially overtook sedans, hatchbacks and others to become the most popular car type in Australia.

That’s right… Station what? SUV’s… while slowly gaining popularity over the past decade have really hit their straps now, becoming the ‘new black’ for families fed up with sedans and hatches that just keep getting smaller and smaller.

Tony Weber from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries told CarsGuide the change was due to a “steady, demonstrable shift in consumer preference which has been occurring in the past few years.”

“Clearly Australian buyers are attracted by the features and capabilities of new generation SUVs, and how these types of vehicles suit their needs and lifestyles.”

The market shift comes just in time for Ford’s launch of their newest SUV: the Ford Escape.

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The new release supplants the previous Ford Kuga model, and comes in at a slightly more affordable price of $28 490 [for the cheapest model] – just undercutting rival SUV’s from Toyota, Kia and Hyundai.

Aimed squarely at young families, Ford have gone to great lengths to make the medium-sized Escape safe, smooth and kid-friendly… mostly with the help of some neat mind-bending tech.

Lane-keeping assist, blind-spot alert systems, tidy gear shifts and an array of parking sensors make everyday maneuvers a little easier and convenient, and the 8-inch display sporting a reverse camera is something to behold.

Can’t be bothered parking? The car can handle the steering – you just need to work the pedals.

Can’t be bothered clicking ‘unlock’ on your key? Not to worry – the car senses your approach and unlocks it for you.

Hands full and want to open the boot? Look a bit silly and slide your leg across the base of the boot –it’ll open for you... Which is nothing short of a revolution for any Mum or Dad who has a toddler on the hip and another in hand in a busy shopping centre carpark. 

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Photo: Plenty of room in the back of the Escape Trend

There’s even an automatic braking system that’ll slam the brakes for you if you’re approaching a stationary vehicle under 30 km per hour – very helpful for distracting inner-city driving. This ‘Active City Stop’ system doesn’t recognise pedestrians, animals or smaller objects … so don’t go testing it out with friends just yet.

It’s a steep learning curve to master all the bells and whistles – the driver’s seat slightly resembles a pilot’s cockpit – and for young parents fussing over children this could prove to be a handful. It’s easy to become flustered when trying to find a park while dealing with yells and hoots from the backseat while you’re listening to directions in-between loud music and then you accidentally turn the wipers on… you get the idea.

But putting in the time pays dividends… especially regarding infotainment system SYNC 3, which recognises Australian accents demanding directions, song changes, or phone calls. A neat navigation tune-up enabled the system to recognise address shorthands – you didn’t have to spell out the address for Sydney Airport, and it would recognise ‘six-two-six’ for street address ‘626.’ The Sony stereo system offers a solid audio experience, and syncs up seamlessly with Spotify and iTunes playlists.

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Photo: The SYNC 3 in action in the Ford Titanium

Driving-wise, the Escape moves like a much smaller car – courtesy of its zippy EcoBoost engine [ranging from 1.5 litre to 2 litre]. The lower range models come equipped with front wheel drive, with the higher ends enjoying ‘Intelligent all-wheel drive’ – which adjusts torque for each individual wheel based on each wheel’s circumstances [grip, surface, etc.]

This affords the higher-end models of the Escape a degree of off-road capability, perfect for a cheeky drive on the beach or along a dirt track… but it’s not recommended to take it on more extreme routes.

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Photo: The Ford Ambiente model

Speaking of stability, the Escape has also been awarded a 5-star ANCAP rating – the highest there is, and a nice comeback from Ford’s recent 2-star ANCAP rating for the popular Mustang nameplate.

Overall, there’s a lot of nice features packed into the Ford Escape. Some are buried deeper into the instruction manual than others, but when used in a drive they feel natural and not gimmicky. The altogether experience is comfortable and smooth with a futuristic edge – especially when the safety-conscious tech flexes its muscles.

The new Ford Escape comes in three varieties – the Ambiente, Trend, and the up-market Titanium, going from $28 490, $32 990 and $44 990 respectively.