Ford targets all the right spots with this update of its popular small crossover: we test the Ford EcoSport 1,0 EcoBoost Trend auto derivative...

In many respects, a car’s midlife overhaul can be likened to renovating and redecorating a much-loved home where thoughtfully targeted and professionally executed updates can mean the difference between a new lease of life ... or a disastrous do-over. But it’s often not that simple, especially if the original is a goody that needs only sprucing up. In these cases, even the simplest changes have to be artfully applied.

The EcoSport is a good example of such an endeavour. Ford’s small SUV has cemented its place as one of the company’s pillar products, racking up 45 000 local sales since its arrival in 2013. The foundations were great – a spunky SUV frame perched on the chassis of the nimble Fiesta – but, after five years, niggles such as a budget-feeling interior and compromised ergonomics, not to mention some accomplished competition joining the fold, had the potential to become the automotive equivalents of smelly old carpets and an avocado-coloured bathroom suite. Ford claims to have addressed these shortcomings in the recently updated EcoSport but does this raft of small yet noteworthy updates constitute a tasteful renovation, or is it merely plastering over the cracks?

While comparing the previous car’s cabin with hideous 1970s sanitaryware might seem a touch harsh, its cockpit execution was perhaps the most obvious blot in the EcoSport’s largely clean ledger. It wasn’t ugly per se but the combination of hard, scratchy plastics and a centre console with small, poorly sited controls did it few favours. So, with the previous Fiesta’s scattergun facia binned in favour of a cleaner, infotainment screen-centred affair, it was only logical the mechanically related EcoSport should follow suit.

And what an improvement it is. Largely echoing the treatment doled out to its hatchback cousin, the cabin offsets the remaining stiff plastic trim with slush-moulded elements on the upper dash, while the third and latest iteration of Ford’s proprietary Sync infotainment system soaks up much of the previous car’s fiddly switchgear, housing it in a floating’ panel above the remaining analogue controls. In this mid-tier Trend model, the Sync3 system incorporates a 6,5-inch touchscreen interface, with extended connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone apps taking care of the sat-nav that’s standard fitment in the halo Titanium model’s eight-inch unit. Opt for the base-level Ambiente variant and the less user-friendly first-generation Sync system is what you’ll get.

The EcoSport’s interior remains a friendlier place for the smaller-framed, with a decidedly narrow feel to both the cabin and the front seats. The boot is a similar affair. While the on-paper measurements look generous, the tall load bay mirrors the cabin’s plentiful headroom but also reflects its narrow width and depth. That’s something prospective young families with kids and their associated gear need to investigate before considering the EcoSport.

Ford has also persevered with the side-hinged luggage door which, despite proving useful when trying to thread taller objects into the car, can make access to the rear tricky in tighter spaces and swings towards the kerb in right-hand-drive markets, forcing its owner to walk round the door and closer to the road in order to access the bay.

Externally, the biggest change is a front-end design following the larger Kuga’s template, with sharper-looking, LED-trimmed headlamps, a re-sculpted bonnet and the latest take on the signature trapezoidal grille ditching the previous car’s somewhat “chin-heavy” visage. Our Trend test unit rolls on a fetching set of gunmetal grey 16-inch alloys, with 17-inch items the preserve of the Titanium.

Revisions to the rear are subtler, comprising tweaks to the bumper and taillamps (sporting one of the most discreetly executed boot releases out there). Otherwise, the EcoSport’s chunky SUV shell, complete with rear hatch-mounted spare wheel, remains pleasingly intact.

Back when we first sampled the EcoSport, we were rightly enamoured with the driving experience afforded by the Fiesta-related mechanical foundations and, with minor revisions to the suspension and steering, that stance largely remains. Despite its tall centre of gravity, the EcoSport’s supple body control means it still feels composed in corners and is a reasonably entertaining little thing to pilot. The steering remains light yet responsive. Complemented by the car’s trim dimensions and now-standard fitment of park-distance sensors across the range, it makes round-town manoeuvring a doddle.

Motorway driving did, however, unearth some quirks, with the car tending to sniff out ridges in the road and tramline slightly, requiring small but constant steering adjustments. Although the MacPherson front/torsion-beam rear suspension setup remains, Ford has opted to fit the updated car with revised suspension bushes, softening the ride a touch. It does iron out some of the previous car’s fidgetiness but it still never quite settles like a Fiesta until the road surfaces smooth out.

The updates have also extended the suite of safety features fitted to the EcoSport. An electronic stability-control system is now standard across the entire range, along with hill-start assist and tyre-pressure monitoring. Barring the Ambiente model, the EcoSport’s complement of airbags stands at seven, including a driver’s knee bag and side airbags remodelled to improve lateral crash protection.

Power is still provided by the multi-award-winning 1,0-litre EcoBoost 92 kW turbopetrol engine, which continues to please with punchy performance that’s aided by the arrival of its maximum torque of 170 N.m in a pleasing swell between 1 400 and 4 500 r/min.

The previous car’s dual-clutch transmission has made way for the six-speed torque converter unit which debuted in the latest Fiesta and it’s something of a mixed bag. While it’s smoother than the occasionally shuddery Powershift unit, the new ‘box is a bit lethargic when confronted with brisk throttle inputs.

Fuel consumption has been a perennial issue with Ford’s lively little three-pot but the new car’s 6,8 L/100 km on our test route came close to matching its claimed 6,3 L/100 km consumption on a mixed-use cycle. More town-bound duties do, however, see the trip computer frequently registering more than 8,0 L/km.



TEST SUMMARY

Ford has done a good job of determining the areas on the EcoSport it needed to target with this automotive renovation, adding some welcome convenience and safety features and giving the cabin a successful overhaul. Owing to its competence in most areas, our criticisms are few in number and little in magnitude, with the occasionally lethargic new torque-converter transmission (likely in response to the sometimes problem-prone dual-clutch unit) proving the most apparent.

 

The competition in the local market has grown in the EcoSport's time, with such capable — if more car-like — rivals as Renault's well-resolved Captur and Mazda's CX-3 nibbling away at the segment, but the renovations to this already popular member of the Ford family definitely do enough to keep the EcoSport from derelict status.

 

*From the October 2018 issue of CAR magazine

 

ROAD TEST SCORE

EcoSport Ford 1.0T Trend auto
75 / 100
  • Price: R315,200
  • 0-100 km/h: 12.7
  • Power ([email protected]/min): 92 KW @ 6000
  • Torque ([email protected]/min): 170 N.m @ 1400-4500
  • Top speed: 181
  • Claimed cons. (l/100 km): 6.3 l/100 KM's
  • C02 emissions (g/km): 143 g/KM