Driven: New Ford EcoSport

A popular sight on South African roads, Ford launched the latest version of its small SUV, the EcoSport on local shores in 2018. Sporting a fresh design and new tricks and gadgets, the EcoSport aims to deliver in the same needs and supplies of modern young families of the outgoing model, while at the same time adding to the package that thousands of South Africans have come to love.

Since coming to market in 2013, Ford has managed to sell thousands of this popular SUV and has the vehicle been a constant contender in our monthly ranking of the ten top-selling passenger cars. The EcoSport has found that gap in the market where buyers aren’t too concerned with big, brawny SUVs, but instead want something that caters to their everyday needs without imposing itself too much on their lifestyle.

And this is what Ford has managed to get just right with the EcoSport and they’re hoping that the newer, fresher version will continue that trend.

Car Choice,ford,ecosport,ford ecosport,
Image: Charlen Raymond

Bold, new face

The 2018 Ford EcoSport continues with the same design ethos that made the outgoing model a favourite, but the overall look and feel of the car has been altered to accommodate the next phase of the SUV’s run in South Africa. At the rear the familiar spare-wheel-on-rear-door was retained, but is now covered in a secured plastic housing. The previous model had a cloth cover and owners I know personally often complained that it got stolen.

Even with the spare wheel stuck to the back of the vehicle, vision through the rear view mirror remains good and unobstructed. Depending on the level of trim buyers will opt for, a set of high-profile tyres with neat rim designs add to the visual effect of the car. Both the head- and taillights have new designs, but the aforementioned are now daytime-running LED units. The front and rear bumpers are also new, with the addition of rear parking sensors incorporated into the back.

The front is perhaps the mini SUV’s biggest attraction and it’s the new grille that’s leading the new design. There is even a nice design on the bonnet to add that little bit of spice to the mix.

Car Choice,ford,ecosport,ford ecosport,
Image: Charlen Raymond

Engine and gearbox

Ford only had one engine at the launch, its 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit, but there is also a 1.5-litre diesel engine to choose from. The diesel model, in Ambiente trim, is the affordable model in the range and offers power outputs of 74kW and 205Nm. Ford says, however, that this engine is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox.

But the engine availed to the media was mated to Ford’s new six-speed automatic gearbox. Ford says that this gearbox is not its PowerShift unit, but instead a new torque-converter ‘box also used in its upcoming Ranger Raptor. But instead of the Raptor’s ten forward gears, the EcoSport only has six. The three-cylinder engine, a six-time Engine of the Year winner, delivers 92kW and 170Nm of torque. The responsiveness of the engine can also be adjusted by flicking the gearbox into Sport mode and then changing gears via the steering wheel mounted paddles.

Speaking of, these paddles are standard on all automatic models, but are only usable when the gearbox is in Sport. In normal Drive they’re mere fashion accessories.

Car Choice,ford,ecosport,ford ecosport,
Image: Charlen Raymond

On the road

The launch route included a wide variety of road surfaces to truly get a feel for the new EcoSport. Covering both national roads and long stretches of gravel, the SUV had its work cut out to handle what the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands had to throw at it.

Manoeuvring out of King Shaka International airport to the Midlands, the road took us through arduous gravel sections with dongas the size of Kimberley’s hole. Ford’s EcoSport scaled over the rough terrain thanks to its 206mm ground clearance, but certain inclines were tackled with a lot more vigour than one would have liked. It made for spectacular dust shows, but the car scrambling for grip on the loose surfaces had you wondering when, and if, you’ll make it to the top. Granted, most of the scaling commenced from a complete stop as we were travelling in convoy, but momentum would surely have prevented any wheel spin.

Despite the appalling conditions of the road, the EcoSport felt composed and was there not a single rattle of loose components. Steering remained firm and did not hinder confidence on the gravel.

On the tar the car impressed with its smooth ride quality and low noise levels. Travelling at national speeds, fuel consumption dipped to below the 6.0 L/100km mark. The engine felt very responsive and the gearbox always seemed to hit the right gear. Seating position is also nice and high, but seats have to be adjusted manually.

Car Choice,ford,ecosport,ford ecosport,
Image: Charlen Raymond

Trim and features

In addition to the diesel model’s Ambiente specification, the 1.0-litre EcoSport models are only available in Trend and Titanium trims. The Ambiente model, for instance, has a non-touchscreen atop the dashboard from where one can operate media, but the screen is only 4.2-inches big and features Ford’s Sync1 multi-media system. The Trend (6.5-inch touchscreen) and Titanium (8-inch touchscreen) feature Sync3. All three media systems feature Bluetooth, voice control, controls on the steering wheel and two USB ports.

The Ambiente and Trend have 16-inch wheels, while the Titanium features 17-inch units. The latter two trims have seven airbags, but the Ambiente has to make due with six.

Ford also used new materials for the seats on all the models, as well as implementing a new design for the climate control and information clusters ahead of the driver. The Titanium models have a keyless start button. The boot can carry 333L of luggage and the boot floor can sustain a weight of up to 300kg.

The EcoSport has established itself as the second best-selling Ford in South Africa after the Ranger and amassed a segment share of 38%. Priced between R258 200 and R352 800, the new model makes a very strong case for itself and Ford is hoping to build on the success of the outgoing model.