Ford EcoSport (2018) Launch Review

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Ford’s popular compact family car – the EcoSport – returns with an updated interior and more safety equipment as standard. Is it still a bargain buy, however?

Turn back the clock to 2013 when the EcoSport arrived in the local market. Back then, Ford's mini SUV had very few competitors to fend off. In fact, the polarising Nissan Juke and chunky Renault Duster were its main threats. Now, the segment hosts far more players, many of which are produced by volume manufacturers, such as the Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Creta, Suzuki Vitara, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008.

As a result of its early arrival, Ford got a bit of a jump on the segment with the EcoSport; large volumes of the Indian-made model found homes over the course of the first model’s lifespan. Some months would see close to 1 000 units sold, making it a top-seller across the whole market, not just the compact family car segment. Now, after ceding sales to newer entrants, Ford has renewed the EcoSport, which we drove in the KZN Midlands.

What’s new?


New EcoSport shows the more aggressive front grille as well as the new bonnet bulge.

The range still consists of Ambiente, Trend and Titanium derivatives, but it’s now the 1.5-litre turbodiesel that sits at the bottom of the range, it's only available in Ambiente trim and with a 5-speed manual gearbox. This unit is sourced from India, whereas the Trend and Titanium versions are built in Ford’s Romania plant. The Trend and Titanium feature the longstanding 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbopetrol with 92 kW and 170 Nm of torque.

The interior has been vastly improved. We sampled the Trend and Titanium derivatives at the launch and their infotainment systems feature the Sync 3 interface, plus are Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatible. The Titanium gets a larger touchscreen and features navigation as standard.

Meanwhile, the EcoSport's standard safety specification has been improved to such an extent that it now ranks it as one of the safest cars in the segment. Stability control is stock fitment across the range, with 6 airbags on the Ambiente and 7 on the Trend and Titanium models.

Is it practical?


The EcoSport retains its rear-mounted spare wheel. It allows for a full-size spare to be equipped and avails more luggage space.

The EcoSport is based on the Fiesta's underpinnings, so there’s only so much space you can create on a B-segment hatchback platform. The luggage bay can accommodate a maximum of 333 litres and has a 2-tier system where the bay floor can be raised to hide valuables underneath it. Rear legroom feels economical for an adult with a (just about) acceptable level of kneeroom. We'd say that width-wise, you’re going to struggle to fit more than a pair of adults in the back. Children will have enough room, however, and that’s why Ford markets the EcoSport at young families.

While many other brands have opted to position the spare wheels of their compact family cars inside or underneath the vehicles, in the case of the EcoSport, it remains bolted to the tailgate. The tailgate-mounted spare allows for a full-size spare, as well as improving the luggage capacity.

Is the 3-cylinder engine enough?


The 6-time Engine of the Year-winning 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo delivers 92 kW and 170 Nm of torque.

The short answer is yes. The 1.0-litre turbo has been around for a long time by modern engine standards and garnered 6 Engine of the Year awards (in its class) along the way. With 92 kW and 170 Nm of torque, it does the job adequately. The new torque converter 6-speed automatic is also better suited to the engine than the previous dual-clutch ‘box. It cruises better than expected at freeway speeds with enough in reserve to overtake easily.

The question of "actual versus claimed" fuel consumption often comes up in discussions about small-capacity turbocharged engines and during our trip up from Durban to the Midlands, the dirt track and multitude of climbs took a toll on the EcoSport's return. We averaged in the range of 10 litres/100 km, but on the return leg back to the airport (which comprised a stretch of freeway), we achieved a more reasonable 5.6 litres/100 km.

During our off-roading stint, the small turbo provided enough shove to climb some quite steep inclines. Not once did the pint-sized engine’s capability come into question.

Is it comfortable?


The Trend derivative gets these black wheels and black surrounds on the foglights, but it appears to be the sweet spot in the range.

The EcoSport is only available in front-wheel-drive configuration in South Africa and that suits its purpose just fine. It handled the 60 km of dirt road with consummate ease. The suspension is well damped and balanced nicely between being cushioning and firmly sprung.

The steering lacks feel on twistier roads, but has enough weight to it around the centre to instil confidence when the EcoSport's travelling in a straight line. The taller body style does contribute to more body roll than in the Fiesta, but nothing worse than any rivals in the segment.

What’s it like inside?


Improved materials throughout the cabin lift its ambience. The Sync 3 system is one of the best infotainment systems around.

First of all, the EcoSport's interior quality levels have been improved by virtue of the fitment of comfier seats and a more liberal use of soft-touch panels. At this price point, as you’d expect, there is still a fair amount of coarse plastic applied around the dashboard and door panels. Having said that, it’s a modern cabin that feels more upmarket than many of its rivals, mostly due to the high-res infotainment system.

There are 2 USB ports positioned in front of the gear lever and the Titanium derivative comes with an armrest/centre console storage compartment. It’s a bit on the small side, but a nice place to rest your arm.

Summary

Appealing design/packaging and keen pricing seem to be the major characteristics that buyers look for when shopping in this segment. The new EcoSport has enhanced kerb appeal by virtue of its more purposeful and eye-catching front-end styling – its looks alone could attract new buyers. Plus, shoppers who were a little put off by the lack of safety equipment will now be appeased with the improved safety spec across the range.

As for pricing, Ford has kept it very competitive, so much so that the EcoSport doesn’t demand much of a premium over its Fiesta sibling. The range starts at R264 500 and tops out at R339 900, making Ford's newcomer good value for money in the segment. It is a little dinky compared with its rivals, but if you’re a family with small kids or looking for a dirt-road capable car to support your hobby, the EcoSport makes a good case for itself.

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