Ford has given its EcoSport compact family car a makeover and we attended the world launch of the updated model in Lisbon, Portugal to experience the changes first hand.
The EcoSport was first introduced in South Africa in 2013 and, despite the fact that the segment it has helped to establish is now far more competitive than 4 years ago (rivals include the Renault Captur, Suzuki Vitara and Hyundai Creta, to name a few), the Ford remains a bestseller. In fact, Ford has sold nearly 35 000 units in South Africa alone.
If you think this facelift is a mere nip and tuck, you’re mistaken: Ford has thoroughly enhanced its baby SUV to capitalise on seemingly inexhaustible global demand for compact SUVs. In fact, this latest EcoSport features more than 2 300 new parts.
Although the EcoSport's styling has always been inoffensive, the more grown-up and overtly-SUV styling cues are welcome.
The first thing you may notice is that the latest iteration of the EcoSport features a new look; we think its exterior execution is bolder and more assertive than that of the current iteration.
Ford has incorporated styling cues from its larger Kuga family SUV: the front-end is now dominated by a large trapezoidal grille and flanked by angular headlights with integrated LED daytime running lights. The rear features a revised bumper and tail light clusters.
Buyers will have the choice of 12 exterior colours and while the European market has the choice of a contrasting roof execution, this option won’t be offered in South Africa. As for wheels, various finishes will be offered with a choice of 17- and 18-inch wheel designs.
Local versions of the EcoSport will feature the characteristic spare-wheel-on-the-tailgate look, unlike this European-spec example.
Ford is also launching a sportier EcoSport ST-Line derivative in Europe, but it sadly it too won’t be offered in South Africa.
Also note that the South African-bound EcoSport (built in Romania and India) will have a full-size spare wheel attached to the tailgate. We prefer the look of the EcoSport without the spare wheel and are of the opinion that Ford SA should offer it as an option.
Ford has introduced major improvements to the EcoSport’s interior, which draws inspiration from the all-new Fiesta (also due in SA in Q2 of 2018); the biggest revision is that the plastic-dominated, somewhat clumsy interior of the current EcoSport has been replaced.
To put it plainly: the interior overhaul is a breath of fresh air for the EcoSport. The soft-touch dashboard and newly designed fascia (with far fewer buttons than before) contribute to a cleaner, neater look overall and comfort has been enhanced with newly designed seats.
Ford's top-selling compact family car now sports a much more modern interior, replete with a raft of connectivity features.
Perhaps the most significant improvement to the EcoSport’s interior is the inclusion of SYNC 3, which is accessed via a new 8-inch colour touchscreen mounted on the dashboard in high-spec derivatives. A 6.5-inch touchscreen will also be offered on mid-grade derivatives while a simpler 4.2-inch screen will be offered on base models.
The system incorporates pinch and swipe functionality, much like a smartphone and is Bluetooth-enabled, while also being compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Prospective buyers will be happy to know that 2 USB ports are provided.
Music lovers are in for a treat as the EcoSport can be equipped with a sonorous 10-speaker B&O Play sound system, including a luggage bay-mounted subwoofer and a mid-range speaker integrated in the dashboard. The sound quality delivered by this new sound system is impressive and it certainly kept our heads bopping in Lisbon traffic.
While the side-opening rear door configuration is quite an anomaly these days, the Ford's loading capacity has improved a little.
Other notable features include a new 4.2-inch instrument cluster, cruise control with speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors with reverse camera, heated electrically-folding mirrors, Blind Spot Information System and Roll Stability Control. A total of 7 airbags are fitted as standard.
The luggage bay capacity has also improved with a height-adjustable floor that increases space to 334 litres. The floor is made from recycled material with honeycomb construction that can withstand weight up to 300 kg. With the 60/40 rear seats folded down, space increases to a useful 1 238 litres.
Exact specification for the South African market is yet to be finalised.
At this stage, only 2 engines are expected to power the EcoSport in South Africa. A 3-cylinder 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine with 92 kW/170 Nm of torque will be available to South African buyers. Average fuel consumption is claimed at 5.8 L/100 km.
Although the South African market won't offer the latest generation turbodiesel, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost remains a peach of an engine.
Ford is launching a new 92 kW/300 Nm 1.5-litre EcoBlue turbodiesel engine in Europe with all-wheel drive, but due to our poor local fuel quality, this engine is not coming to South Africa, which is a pity, because it’s a solid, refined engine that delivers good performance and reasonable fuel economy, as we discovered on our drive in Lisbon.
Instead, the current 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine with peak outputs of 74 kW and 205 Nm will continue to do service in the local market (claimed fuel consumption figure of 4.6 L/100 km).
In terms of transmissions, a new, lightweight 6-speed manual transmission, the same as that earmarked for the new Fiesta, will replace the current 5-speed manual. A 6-speed automatic transmission with a torque converter is also on the way, which will replace the current 6-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Over and above improvements to the fit and finish of the EcoSport, its on-road demeanour remains comfortable and composed.
What’s it like to drive?
Our launch route started at Lisbon Airport behind the wheel of the SA-bound 92 kW /170 Nm, 1.0-litre Titanium automatic derivative. We found the engine offered just enough grunt for the average commute without feeling underpowered. It’s quite refined with minimal engine noise under normal driving conditions. However, if you mash the throttle pedal to extract more power, it becomes a bit more vocal (but it’s still mostly quite civilised).
The 6-speed automatic transmission seemed to be well matched with this engine and its shifts were relatively smooth and unobtrusive. Manual shift paddles behind the steering wheel allowed for further manipulation of the 3-pot’s performance. The steering is nicely weighted and communicative with good response to inputs.
The engine/transmission combination prefers a measured driving style to achieve the best driving experience; however, we were surprised to see an fuel consumption readout of around 9.9 L/100 km, which was somewhat disappointing considering that we weren’t thrashing the engine. Isn’t the point of a downsized engine to deliver better fuel economy?
We also sampled the new 6-speed manual transmission in the 1.5 EcoBlue diesel ST-Line (not coming to SA) and you will be happy to know that it’s an excellent gearbox with a solid, positive gear action.
Even though the Ford's user-friendly cabin comes well equipped, the lack of lateral support/bolstering on the front seats was a drawback.
As for the EcoSport’s ride quality, it’s comfortable and quite forgiving. It rides well overall and despite the poorer road surfaces experienced in the countryside on the outskirts of Lisbon, the EcoSport felt composed and managed to take bumps and imperfections in its stride.
Although handling isn’t a critical area for the EcoSport, the Ford still suffers from excessive body roll while cornering. This perception was exacerbated by the lack of side bolstering on the front seats, which left the driver and passenger sliding from side-to-side in the bends.
We also spent some time in the back of the EcoSport and found the aft accommodation sufficiently spacious and comfortable in terms of legroom, headroom and shoulder room.
We came away impressed with the new-look interior of the EcoSport. The cabin appeared to be solidly put together and not once was a squeak or rattle heard. We did, however, notice a fair amount of wind noise around the windows/mirrors at highway speed.
Strategic improvements to an already successful product bode well for the sales prospects of the updated Ford EcoSport.
The updated EcoSport seems a vastly improved product. Apart from the enhanced exterior styling, the changes to the interior improve the Ford’s purchasing proposition appreciably.
This updated EcoSport is bound to resonate well with South African buyers and if Ford SA can strike a good balance between spec and price, the revised EcoSport may even lure buyers away from other products in this segment. As long as the exchange rate remains stable and pricing competitive, Ford has another winner in this updated EcoSport.
Pricing and specification is yet to finalised but we will keep you informed as soon as more information becomes available.