Ford’s evergreen EcoSport compact crossover lineup has just been bolstered by the addition of a stylish update in the shape of the 1,5 Ambiente-based Black. We took a trip into the Little Karoo and the picturesque town of Montagu to get the measure of this sporty-looking newcomer.
Styling: dark artistry
Spun off the entry-level Ford EcoSport 1,5 Ambiente automatic, the Black breaks from the relative ubiquity of its stablemates by ushering in a wealth of dark-hued styling addenda. Black finishes for the grille and front skidplate are complemented by black roof rails and bold decals for the bonnet and swage lines on the doors. The Ambiente’s standard 15-inch steel wheels make way for 16-inch alloy items with a gloss-black finish that’s shared with the wing mirror caps and spare wheel shell on the tailgate. Matched as it was with our test unit’s Smoke dark metallic grey paintwork (other colours include Diamond White, Moondust Silver, Blue Lightning and Canyon Ridge) the overall effect is subtle but sporty and – especially in the case of darker hues – cohesive with just enough differentiation from the Ford EcoSport herd to prove individualistic without trying too hard.
Our two-hour drive to Montagu gave us ample time to get to grips with the EcoSport Black – not to mention the opportunity for a game of ‘spot the other EcoSports’…needless to say, it’s a high-scoring game and with good reason, too.
The EcoSport is a great little all-purpose vehicle owing to an interior that’s surprisingly spacious when accounted for against its compact external dimensions – our 280-1 032-litre boot and utility measurements certainly held water with some generous packing for a weekend away and fruitful visits to wine farms and markets easily accommodated. The outward-hinging ‘barn door’ tailgate arrangement is something of a rarity in this segment and has its pros and cons; the lack of pneumatic lift does make opening the heavy hatch a bit labored for the less muscled but good access and the fact six-footers such as myself don’t risk beaming themselves on an upwardly open tailgate is something of a boon.
While the Ecosport line-up doesn’t feature any AWD models, it has to be said that the generous 200 mm of ground clearance and supple suspension ensured that even deeply rutted farm tracks were negotiated without any drama. It’s therefore easy to see how the EcoSport has gained popularity as something of an ‘every-car’ capable of shouldering everything a small family could potentially send its way and with a good mix of dirt- and on-road ability.
If there was a black mark (no pun intended) in the Black’s ledger, it has to be the perceived quality of the cabin fixtures. Driving at the national limit was met with a chorus of buzzes plastics from the B-pillar and glovebox, something that’s not helped by the somewhat thin, cheap-feeling plastics that abound many of the interior surfaces.
On the road
The Ford EcoSport has often gained plaudits for its on-road composure and the Black continues in that vein. Despite its fairly high centre of gravity and generous ground clearance, the EcoSport Black’s B2E platform (a variant of that currently serving the likes of the Fiesta) is a good foundation that allies with quick steering and supple suspension to make it feel fairly nimble and composed, even when confronted with swift directional changes (thank you, careless-overtaking bakkie for that little nugget).
Power is provided by a naturally aspirated 1,5-litre inline-three petrol unit developing 91 kW and 150 N.m. It’s the latter that’s perhaps the Black’s Achilles heel, as despite the six-speed torque converter’s willingness to kick down under hard acceleration it wants for some low-end urge that would make overtaking less strained. Prolonged uphill sections on our drive back to Cape Town on the N2 via Caledon certainly knocked the wind out of the little three-pot’s sails, and it’s here that the turbocharged 1,0-litre’s extra 20 N.m would’ve proved welcome.
Being a three-cylinder unit, it does become somewhat coarse when pressed, especially when you consider that peak power chimes in at a heady 6 500 r/min and plenty of throttle is required to keep the engine revs in the sweet spot at speeds above 100 km/h.
In the majority of driving conditions, though, the 1,5-litre unit feels lively enough and our mixture of Dorp/farm track/motorway driving saw the Black return 7,6 L/100 km, which bridges Ford’s 6,9 L/100 km claim and our 8,3 L/100 km CAR fuel index.
With its nimble chassis and a welcome dose of visual attitude in the shape of the Black treatment, there’s lots to like about the EcoSport. Granted, rivals such as the Kia Sonet and Nissan Magnite are more generously equipped (bear in mind that Ambiente spec only provides a fairly basic infotainment system, while the likes of cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, leather trim for the steering wheel – a surprisingly effective ambience-lifter compared to the Ford’s urethane item – are the preserve of higher-tiered models) and cheaper but can’t quite match the EcoSport’s on-road poise and generously proportioned boot and cabin. The Black will no doubt do its job of revitalizing the line-up of a crossover that’s fast approaching its tenth birthday, but the competition is getting stronger…as is the case for the funky-looking Puma, upon which Ford Motor Company South Africa has yet to make a call.