LISBON, Portugal – The First EcoSport was introduced into South Africa back in 2013. And in the past four years, local sales have reached almost 35 000 units. This proves the popularity of the package, which offers value, space, compactness, crossover styling and drivability.
Even now, sales remain very strong. But the time has arrived for a few tweaks and improvements to extend the appeal of the EcoSport further still. Although it may appear to be a new car, this is officially a facelift. The European-spec cars we sampled have new engines, fresh styling, new facia treatment, more features and a choice of rear-end styling.
What we mean by the latter is that the left-hand-drive vehicles you see in the accompanying images each feature a clean rear without the spare wheel mounted on the side-hinged rear door. As a general rule, the Europeans have little need for full-size spares due to the clean, smooth roads largely devoid of hazards such as potholes. They thus make do with run-flat tyres and emergency mobility kits comprising a small compressor and a bottle of puncture sealant.
In South Africa, we tend to appreciate the insurance policy of a full-size spare due our generally longer travel distances and the condition of some of our roads. Therefore, SA-spec models will retain the spare fitted to the rear door.
Interestingly, that door is (as with the existing model) mounted for left-hand drive, which means it opens to the left, making for easy loading against the right-hand kerb after parking on the right. This is not ideal for parking on the left, as we do in SA, as you have to walk around the open door in order to load.
Other than the spare wheel, little of significance has changed at the back. Up front, however, it is a different matter. In place of the small sliver of a grille above the proper air intake, we now see a one-piece opening. In addition, the lower air dam is more aggressively shaped with redesigned foglamps. The overall dimensions, though, are retained, which facilitates a clean and compact design. You might expect a somewhat cramped interior, but space inside is good all round. Headroom and legroom are fine for a family of four and rear legroom is sufficient, too. The boot space, at 280 litres, is satisfactory, helped by the lack of any interior space required for that spare.
We had the chance to sample the latest 1,5-litre turbodiesel, which Ford dubs the Ecoblue. This engine is built to Euro 6 emission levels that are not completely suitable for our 50 ppm diesel, so our market will retain the existing 1,5 engine for some time yet. We also drove the version that uses the 1,0 T EcoBoost petrol engine. This has impressed us before and continued to do so.
Three-cylinder engines invariably have some imbalance vibrations that reduce refinement, but this one is nearly as smooth as a four, with the only tell-tale sign being its off-beat note. The design uses a DOHC configuration with four valves per cylinder and a camshaft belt drive that runs in oil, and is flexible enough to be built to different states of tune. The one that will definitely be on its way to SA is the 92 kW unit, as used in the existing EcoSport line-up.
We do have a change in the transmissions, though. An extra ratio has been added to total six, applying to both the manual and automatic gearboxes. Note that the auto is a conventional torque converter unit, not Ford’s Getrag dual-clutch Powershift gearbox. Furthermore, some improvements have been made to the steering, suspension and stability control systems and there is a four-wheel-drive version available in Europe (but, again, it’s unlikely to make it to SA).
The three-cylinder EcoBoost needs some boot to keep it on the boil but has little turbo-lag and good mid-range torque. The automatic has some torque-converter slip but features paddle-shifters should you wish to perform your own downshifts for overtaking.
We noted that our fuel consumption read-out differed quite substantially between the auto and manual. The auto was reading 9,9 L/100 km while the manual indicated a more palatable 8,0 L/100 km. We also noted that Ford’s claim for acceleration from standstill to 100 km/h is quicker for the auto than the manual, but we’d bet that we would get better times with the manual.
Ford has addressed criticism of the outgoing model’s overly fussy facia (with buttons all over the place) by reverting to an ergonomically sound layout where large, easy-to-find knobs cover important and often-used functions such as volume control, temperature and fan-speed adjustments. This is now complemented by touchscreens, including an eight-inch floating tablet within easy reach of the driver in Titanium models. Sat-nav is included along with Sync 3, while the instrumentation is also straightforward, featuring two large dials, two small plus a useful trip and fuel consumption computer in centre top. This doubles up with a supplementary sat-nav guidance display.
Another up-market system is the audio that in Titanium level is a Bang & Olufsen system with nine speakers. Seven airbags, a rear view camera, blind spot warnings and dual USB ports are further handy inclusions. The interior quality has been improved with a soft-touch facia to complement the new design. Driver comfort is immediately appreciated on setting off, from seating and steering feel to easy-going engine and gearbox operation.
On Titanium spec models, you have a choice of three wheel sizes: 16-, 17- and 18-inch items. Our test unit wore the 17-inch alloys and we would think that South Africans would prefer the slightly higher profiles of the 16- and 17-inchers. Concerning the all-important dimension (in South Africa, at least) of ground clearance, petrol-engined vehicles boast 190 mm whereas diesels have just 160 mm. A sportier version available to the Europeans is the ST-Line, complete with blacked-out treatment for the grille, side-mirrors and roof rails, along with a combination of ecological suede/leather upholstery with red stitching, and a leather-covered gearknob and handbrake lever.
The ride quality is not too firm, but not at all wallowy. In fact, cornering is quite fun, but this does show up the lack of sufficient side-bolstering on the seats. The roads around Lisbon and Estoril were not all of perfect quality and this showed us that the suspension could cope well with the bumps and the odd pothole.
EcoSport rivals include the Jeep Renegade, Renault’s Captur and Duster and the Mazda CX-3. While we wait for right-hand-drive production to kick off from both Romania and India, more details of South African-specific packages and specs for the EcoSport will emerge. What we do know now is that arrival should be during the second quarter of 2018. Expect pricing to be similar to the existing range.
Engine:1,0-litre, in-line three, turbocharged petrol
0-100 km/h:12,7/11,6 seconds
Top Speed:180 km/h
Fuel Consumption:5,2/5,8 L/100 km
Transmission:Six-speed manual/six-speed auto