Paternoster, Western Cape – COVID-19 slowdown or no, the compact crossover market is where some of the fiercest sales battles rage these days. For cash-conscious buyers, tall-riding mini-SUVs based on humble B-segment platforms are still relatively cheap to purchase and sufficiently practical to suit a wide variety of lifestyles. Ford Motor Company of South Africa has been padding its existing EcoSport line-up to ensure every taste and budget is catered for. The latest model to enter the fray (back in June of this year) is the 6-speed automatic in entry-level Ambiente specification, and we’ve been driving it.

What is it?

We first tested this generation Ford’s compact crossover – based on the Blue Oval’s global B-car platform – back in October 2018 and found it to have “Ride and handling that was perfect for the city,” with the qualifier that it certainly was “no off-road vehicle.” That was the award winning 1,0-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol auto (92 kW and 170 N.m) Trend. What we have beneath us for a weekend getaway to Paternoster is the new-generation naturally aspirated 1,5-litre producing 91 kW and 150 N.m. The price divide between a 1,0T Trend and 1,5 Ambient auto today is R37 400. So things look good for the Ambiente from a Rands and cents point of view.

What stands out?

In an entry-level vehicle of this sort what is commendable is the inclusion of six airbags, Isofix child-seat anchors, electronic stability control and rear parking sensors as standard. However, as this EcoSport is still a +R300 000 purchase, perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is what doesn’t stand out? The Ambiente goes without Sync3 connectivity and the more premium 6,5- or 8,0-inch touchscreen display, instead it makes do with a basic 4,2-inch screen. It’s the same deal with manual climate control, but it’s not all COVID austerity measures inside, because there are two USB ports for phone charging and syncing your preferred music streaming app – the process is effortless and almost instantaneous.

Also welcome for the taller drivers amongst us is height and reach adjustable steering and sturdy cloth seats. The interior layout is best described as utilitarian, borrowing extensively from the Figo, with plastics that are hard-wearing and somewhat coarse to the touch.The rear door, affixed with a full-size 16-inch spare wheel, swings open to the side with a low load height to the boot. It opens to left-hand side which means you need to access it from the traffic side of the street. It surely would’ve been safer to hinge the door on the right to allow approach from the curb side?

Behind the wheel

From day one the EcoSport has claimed to offer the agility, affordability and fuel efficiency of a compact car and the spaciousness and versatility of a mini-SUV. To that end you enjoy a taller seating position than you’ll find in a Figo for example, decent 200 mm ground clearance so you can zip over speed bumps to your heart’s content or tackle the occasional dirt road sortie, all in a package that seats five adults and offers up 333 litres of cargo space. What’s not to like?

Within the confines of an urban environment it’s manoeuvrable and easy to drive. The 1,5-litre feels perky and relatively unstressed, with the no-fuss 6-speed auto looking after the gear-shifting duties. Out on the open road however, the naturally aspirated three-cylinder comes performs less urgently, taking a bit of time to get up to speed. You must remember the EcoSport still weighs in the region of 1 300 kg, so don’t expect to be charging away from a set of traffic lights like a Fiesta ST. It’s best you leave a bit of time and space to build up momentum for any overtaking manoeuvres out on the open road. We also would’ve preferred some sort of manual override system on the gearbox, whether paddles or the +- button on the shifter that’s common place on most Ford automatics.

Summary

Ford’s two-pedal EcoSport is sure to find a wider appeal with buyers than ever before in this particular Ambiente specification, undercutting the existing EcoBoost Trend automatic markedly. Sure, it doesn’t come with some of the niceties of the more expensive Trend, but it still offers a high-value proposition that's hard to beat right now.

 



FAST FACTS

Model: Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ti-VCT Ambiente 6AT
Price: R306 700
Engine: 1,5-litre, three-cylinder, petrol
Power: 91 kW @ 6 500 r/min
Torque: 151 N.m between 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: N/A
Top Speed: N/A
Fuel Consumption: 6,9 L/100 km
CO2: 159 g/km
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Service Plan: Four-year/60 000 km