Ford beefs up its baby SUV | Fin24
 
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Ford beefs up its baby SUV

Sep 28 2018 11:16
Glenda Williams

To remain in the driving seat, carmakers need to bring on their ‘A’ game. 

Much of remaining relevant hinges on improvements, central to which are advances in technology and safety – along with exterior and interior vehicle refinements.  

Ford’s beefed-up EcoSport ticks all the improvement boxes – now all the more necessary given that the brand’s small SUV is facing increasingly stiff competition.  

The Ford EcoSport was launched in South Africa in 2013, and has been a consistent leader in the mini-utility segment. 

Back then, though, the EcoSport had few competitors.   

Now competition is rife with rivals like the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR.

The EcoSport still has a 38% share of the segment it plays in and Ford is looking to up that share with its rejuvenated EcoSport.  

Its refreshed EcoSport spans five models, with the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine powering four of them in the Trend and top-of-the-range Titanium line-up.   

Entry point to the EcoSport range is the 1.5 TDCi Ambiente model with its turbodiesel engine mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.  

The new EcoSport also comes with an unexpected capability – while no bundu basher, it is surprisingly capable on gravel. 

It’s now unmistakably SUV styling cues provides a subtle clue to its proficiency on the dirt.  

Technology and styling enhancements, though, are likely to outweigh gravel proficiency for most consumers.   

With these must-haves in mind, finweek took to the road in the middle-of-the-range EcoSport 1.0-litre Trend automatic to find out how compelling a package the new Ford EcoSport really is.  

Outer skin

Exterior styling is cleaner and more sculpted, none more so than the EcoSport’s new streamlined hood. 

Ford’s distinctive trapezoidal SUV grille, new fog lamps with integrated indicators, LED daytime running lamps, black roof rails and sporty 16-inch alloy wheels enhance its rugged quality.   

Like its predecessor, the new EcoSport’s rear end is characterised by the full-sized spare wheel with its hard cover mounted on the tailgate. 

But the antenna is now sited further rearward, the tail lights have been redesigned, and so too has the bumper.  

Interior styling

The interior is easy on the eye. While still practical, it’s more refined and ergonomic with elevated levels of sophistication giving the EcoSport a more upmarket feel. 

The instrument panel has been completely redesigned and ambient lighting lights up the cabin. 

Also new are the leather steering wheel, display clusters and seat material. 

The centre console now comes with an integrated bin to prevent littering in the cabin (or on the roads).  

The level of standard equipment is very generous. 

Aside from a plethora of safety features, the EcoSport Trend comes standard with electric windows all round and power foldable side mirrors. 

Automatic models are fitted with steering column mounted paddle shifters as standard too.

Sophisticated technology is mostly standard. 

On the Trend that means a 6.5” colour touchscreen with Sync3 technology bringing with it an extensive and integrated infotainment system. 

That includes a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth for hands-free phone use and expanded Voice Control. 

One of Sync3’s key features is complete smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Steering mounted audio controls and two USB ports are also standard.  

Although it cannot be described as spacious, the EcoSport’s cabin space is certainly not snug. 

Driver and front passenger arrangement is quite roomy while rear room is adequate for two adults or at a push, three small adults. Rear headroom too is sufficient.   

Clever storage includes an adjustable boot floor (strong enough to support more than 300kg) that can be raised to provide concealed storage or lowered to increase luggage capacity to 334 litres.   

The journey

Starting the EcoSport brings to life Ford’s award-winning, efficient three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine.

The front-wheel drive EcoSport 1.0-litre Trend Automatic is spritely enough. 

With more than enough pep from the turbo petrol engine when you need it, overtaking is straightforward and cruising composed. 

Matching this efficient engine to a new six-speed automatic gearbox brings enhanced refinement to gearing, now more seamless than its predecessor.

Upping the engagement and dynamism factor comes with using the steering column-mounted paddle shifters. 

Manual shifting, while fun, doesn’t feel as smooth as the automatic setup, with a slight lag in shifting response detected. 

It’s a peppy, easy and enjoyable car to drive. 

The seats are comfy, everything is within reach and user-friendly and an elevated driving position provides decent all-round vision. 

The ride too is refined and comfortable, effortlessly soaking up the bumps even on the dirt. 

KwaZulu-Natal’s rural gravel passes can pose a testing journey. But the new EcoSport proved itself more than competent on the scenic and undulating gravel mountain passes. 

It was an unexpected yet pleasant surprise.  

Also impressive was the relative ease in which the Ford EcoSport Trend tackled – from stationary – a steep gravel incline. 

While there was a touch of slippage on the sand at the outset, the EcoSport soon got underway without too much fuss.  

Rolling back on inclines is now a thing of the past thanks to the EcoSport’s Hill Launch Assist. 

It’s a feature that holds the vehicle briefly after the brakes are applied to smooth the progress of hill starts and thwart rolling back.  

After much of the day on the dirt, where the well-damped suspension contributed to the EcoSport’s gravel proficiency and ride comfort, it was onto the tar roads of the Midlands.   

The EcoSport is surefooted on the tar albeit with a tiny bit of body roll courtesy of its height off the ground. 

But at higher highway speeds on water-grooved concrete surfaces, it is not quite as self-assured. 

On this surface the car feels skittish, a snag that could perhaps be thwarted with fatter wheels.   

Apart from this, Ford’s baby SUV provides a confident and comfortable drive that is further enhanced by its many safety attributes.   

Bolstering safety

Ford has really upped the ante on safety and security. 

The new EcoSport now ranks as one of the safest cars in its segment. 

Aside from a host of airbags – seven to be exact – standard safety offerings also include electronic stability control which incorporates traction control, and roll stability control that adjusts engine torque and braking to help drivers maintain control.

Remote central locking and a perimeter alarm with drive-away auto locking function, as well as new anti-theft door locks, also bolster security.  

Other handy standard features are the rear parking sensor and tyre pressure monitor.  

The new EcoSport is positive proof that big things come in small packages.   

This new quality-built EcoSport comes to the small SUV party with unexpected gravel competence, sophisticated technology, a plethora of improvements and generous standard offerings that negate the all-too-often need to pile on expensive options.    

Together with a sticker price that is not unduly heavy on the pocket, Ford’s dinky SUV is likely to be an enticing draw card, especially for young families. 

This article originally appeared in the 27 September edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

motoring  |  ford ecosport  |  cars
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