Driven in SA: Ford's next-gen EcoSport

<i>Image: Images: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond</i>
<i>Image: Images: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond</i>
Charlen Raymond

A popular sight on South African roads, Ford has launched the latest version of its small SUV, the EcoSport on local shores. 

Sporting a fresh design and new tricks and gadgets, the EcoSport aims to deliver in the same needs and supplies of modern young families of the outgoing model, while at the same time adding to the package that thousands of South Africans have come to love.

Since coming to market in 2013, Ford has managed to sell thousands of this popular SUV and has the vehicle been a constant contender in our monthly ranking of the ten top-selling passenger cars.

The EcoSport has found that gap in the market where buyers aren’t too concerned with big, brawny SUVs, but instead want something that caters to their everyday needs without imposing itself too much on their lifestyle.

And this is what Ford has managed to get just right with the EcoSport and they’re hoping that the newer, fresher version will continue that trend.

                                                            Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Bold, new face

Fiesta, Figo... it's been a big year for Ford South Africa with two major launches locally. In July, Ford launches its next-generation EcoSport compact SUV.

The new EcoSport continues the same design ethos that made the outgoing model a local favourite but the overall look and feel of the car have been altered to accommodate the next phase of the SUVs run in South Africa. 

At the rear, the familiar spare-wheel mounted on the rear-door is retained though for 2018 it is now covered in a secure plastic housing. The previous model had a cloth cover much to the chagrin of some owners.

Even with the spare wheel stuck to the back of the vehicle, vision through the rear-view mirror remains unobstructed. Depending on the level of trim, a set of high-profile tyres with neat rim designs add to the visual effect of the car. Both the head- and taillights have new designs with daytime LEDs. The front and rear bumpers are also new, with the addition of rear-parking sensors incorporated into the back.

The front is perhaps the mini SUVs biggest attraction sporting a new grille and bonnet design

                                                         Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Engine and gearbox

At the launch, the EcoSport was only available with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit though buyers can also choose from a 1.5-litre diesel engine. The diesel model, in Ambiente trim, is the more affordable option in the range and offers power outputs of 74kW and 205Nm. Ford says, however, that this engine is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox.

The engine available to test for local media was mated to Ford’s new six-speed automatic. Ford says that this gearbox is not its PowerShift unit, but instead, a new torque-converter ‘box also used in its upcoming Ranger Raptor. But instead of the Raptor’s ten gears, the EcoSport only has six. 

The three-cylinder engine, a six-time Engine of the Year winner, delivers 92kW and 170Nm of torque. The responsiveness of the engine can also be adjusted by flicking the gearbox into Sport mode and then changing gears via the steering wheel mounted paddles.

Speaking of, these paddles are standard on all automatic models but are only usable when the gearbox is in Sport. 

                                                                 Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

On the road

The launch route included a wide variety of road surfaces, covering both national roads and long stretches of gravel. The SUV had its work cut out to handle whatever the roads through Kwazulu-Natal Midlands had in store for it.

Manoeuvring out of King Shaka International airport to the Midlands, the route took us through arduous gravel sections riddled with bumps and undulations as well as suspension-ruining dongas. 

Ford’s EcoSport scaled over the rough terrain thanks to its 206mm ground clearance. Taking on inclines made for spectacular dust shows as the SUV  scrambled for grip on the loose surfaces left us wondering whether the EcoSport would make the ascent. Granted, most of the scaling commenced from a complete stop as we were travelling in convoy and momentum would surely have prevented any wheel spin.
Despite the torrid road conditions, the EcoSport felt composed, unshaken and without the usual rattle of loose components following an off-road stint. Steering remained firm and did not hinder confidence on the gravel.

On the tar, the car impressed with its smooth ride quality and low road-noise levels. Travelling at national speeds, fuel consumption dipped to below the 6.0-litres/100km mark. The engine felt very responsive and the transmission always seemed to hit the right gear. Seating position provides a commanding view of the road though seats have to be adjusted manually.

                                                                Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

Trim and features

In addition to the diesel model’s Ambiente specification, the 1.0-litre EcoSport models are only available in Trend and Titanium trims. The Ambiente model, for instance, has a touchscreen atop the dashboard from which occupants can operate media. The screen, however, is only 4.2" large though features Ford’s Sync1 multi-media system. The Trend (6.5" touchscreen) and Titanium (8" touchscreen) all feature Sync3. All three media systems have Bluetooth, voice control, controls on the steering wheel and two USB ports.

The Ambiente and Trend have 16" wheels, while the Titanium features 17" units. The latter two trims have seven airbags but the Ambiente has to make due with six.

Ford also used new materials for the seats on all the models, as well as implementing a new design for the climate control and information clusters ahead of the driver. The Titanium models have a keyless start button. The boot can store 333-litres of luggage and the boot floor can sustain a weight of up to 300kg.

The EcoSport has established itself as the second best-selling Ford in South Africa after the Ranger and amassed a segment share of 38%. Priced from R264 500 and R339 900, the new model makes a very strong case for itself and Ford is hoping to build on the success of the outgoing model.

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