Car reviews - Ford - EcoSport - range
Interior packaging, much better dash layout, nifty stowage areas, standard spec list
Room for improvement
Gutless 1.5L engine, unengaging drive experience, lifeless steering, cheap feeling interior materials, no front passenger seat height adjustment
15 Dec 2017
FORD was early to the sub-compact SUV segment back in 2013, and at the time only faced a few direct rivals, including the Holden Trax, Subaru XV, Nissan Juke and Mitsubishi ASX.
A lot has changed in four years, with at least another 10 new models arriving since then, including the seriously impressive Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, among others, that have proven to be popular with buyers.
The refreshed EcoSport does a lot to address some of its predecessor’s shortfalls, including updating that dated dash layout, but is it enough to put the little Ford on more shopping lists?
Small SUVs are big business in Australia, with the number of offerings more than doubling in the past seven years.
Despite their growing popularity, car-makers have had mixed fortunes with small crossovers in Australia.
Mazda, Mitsubishi and Honda have done extremely well with their respective offerings, but others have struggled to have much of an impact. See Renault’s Captur, the Fiat 500X and Ford’s EcoSport.
The Indian-built Ford small crossover lobbed in late 2013, earlier than many of its current rivals, but it has never bothered the top of the sales charts and wasn’t favoured by the critics.
Now Ford has launched the revised version that gets a fresh face, a redesigned interior with new connectivity and safety technologies and more standard spec.
Apart from a powertrain update, nothing has changed under the skin, and for the first half of 2018, the EcoSport will continue to be sold with the polarising tailgate-mounted spare wheel.
A model year update next year will see it removed. Ford Australia says its research shows that most buyers don’t want the bulky wheel, although many buyers in regional areas prefer it.
When the updated version arrives without the spare wheel on the back, the tailgate will still open from the side and will not revert to a top-opening tailgate like all of its rivals. That feels like a missed opportunity, given if someone parks too close behind you in the EcoSport, it would be difficult to open it up.
The new front-end styling of the EcoSport brings it into line with its larger Escape and Everest SUV stablemates and it is all the better for it. It is a much sharper looking car than the outgoing model.
However, the bigger changes are found inside.
Ford has, thankfully, brought the EcoSport up to date and ditched the terrible early-2000s Nokia mobile phone-style button heavy centre stack in favour of a clean and minimal look that incorporates new air vents, far more appealing air-con controls, USB outlets and a modern free-standing colour touschscreen across the range.
It features the latest Sync3 infotainment system that is a top quality set-up.
Only the Ambiente doesn’t have integrated sat-nav, but the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity means you can plug your phone in and navigate that way.
The standard rear parking sensors (a reversing camera is also standard across the range) has been calibrated to take into account the extra girth of the spare wheel.
The screen looks a little tacked on, especially when you look behind it, but the overall improvement is huge and makes a massive difference to the feeling of the EcoSport’s cabin. It even has a central front armrest now.
Despite the improvements, the heavy use of hard plastics cheapens the feel.
Some of the plastic panels look and feel cheap and nasty, including the steering wheel on the base $22,790 Ambiente.
New seats – cloth on Ambiente and Trend but leather-appointed on Titanium – are cushiony and comfortable, providing more than enough support for a long trip, however, there is no height adjustment for the front passenger, which is a big omission. Taller folk wanting to sit lower in the car have to just cope.
There is plenty of leg and headroom in the rear seat, although little ones might find it hard to see out of the high-set side windows. Also the middle seat in the second row should only be used if absolutely necessary as it is pretty tight.
Ford says the EcoSport has more than 20 stowage areas in the EcoSport, and while we didn’t count them all, we have no reason to question it.
In fact one of the crossover’s strengths is its flexible and user-friendly cabin.
Under the front passenger seat is a sliding drawer to stow items, the central compartment between the driver and passenger has a divider, and there are nooks in handy places up front and in the rear.
In the cargo area, you can move the floor panel higher to reveal a nifty underfloor stowage area. When the updated version sans external wheel arrives, the EcoSport will be offered with a tyre repair kit.
More clever ideas can be found in the second row. The 60/40 split fold rear seats fold down and the seat squabs fold up to the back of the front seats for an almost flat cargo area. It’s not quite as clever as Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’, but it helps boost the appeal of the EcoSport.
The launch drive route kept the EcoSport in its natural environment – the inner city, with the odd bit of bumper to bumper traffic.
The Ambiente now uses a three-cylinder 1.5-litre naturally aspirated unit offering 90kW/150Nm and it is a fairly asthmatic engine.
No-one would ever accuse the EcoSport of being a sportscar, but given the solid powertrain offerings from its competitors – the Mazda CX-3’s 1.5L unit and the Toyota C-HR’s peppy 1.2L turbo – it is well off the pace of the best in class.
The 1.5 is also a noisy little unit, but that also comes down to the lack of noise insulation in the EcoSport. Ford’s new six-speed auto – there is not manual option anymore – is a smooth shifting unit.
The steering is lifeless and the overall drive experience in the Ambiente is uninspiring.
Thankfully the 92kW/170Nm 1.0-litre three-pot in the Trend and Titanium is a more engaging unit and is the clear pick of the powertrains.
It is difficult to give impressions on ride quality as the drive route was limited to slow moving city roads, but the few bumps we encountered didn’t fuss the EcoSport too much.
The standard gear list is fairly impressive across the board, but we think the $28,990 asking price for the Titanium is pushing it. The mid-spec Trend is undoubtedly the pick of the range.
However, given there are so many strong offerings in the small SUV segment that do most things a lot better than the EcoSport, we would encourage buyers to shop around and see what best suits.
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