I got whirled down to Durban for a brief spin in the soon to be launched Ford EcoSport, a small SUV aimed at young, sporty people. The EcoSport was originally designed in Brazil and now built in India. Ford South Africa will be importing these models directly from the subcontinent. We’re getting the second generation of the EcoSport; there are three spec levels, three engine options, two transmission choices and eight different colour choices. The name of the car is a portmanteau of Eco (economic) and Sport (lifestyle implications).
This is very much a car for the B-segment buyer (Ford Fiesta or VW Polo) looking for the SUV lifestyle and a vehicle that is more aspirational than your hatchback runaround. According to Ford the B-segment makes up 24% of yearly sales in South Africa, making this a smart move on their part. Competitors in the “B-SUV” segment include the Daihatsu Terios, Suzuki Jiminy and to some extent the Nissan Juke.
The EcoBoost is a fascinating car. I say fascinating because I have almost no idea where it fits into the grand scheme of things. Physically the car is bigger than a hatchback but much smaller than an SUV. Other manufacturers call this an “SAV” or “Sports Active Vehicle” although the EcoSport might be too small for even that description. Visually imagine Ford took a Fiesta and mated it with a Kuga. It’s an odd combination but it does work well visually. Interestingly it’s not a uniquely Ford “looking” car, especially at first glance. The grill is clearly similar to the facelifted Fiesta and the back of the car features the spare wheel giving a more butch and manly look. The side mirrors give the EcoSport an interesting front profile as they protrude quite substantially. They look like big ears and while it’s not everyone’s cup of tea I feel it gives the EcoSport some serious character. The standout is the grill and follows the recent car trend of being squat with hints of chrome. The back door was a little heavy to close and also requires a fair amount of space to open due to its fold out nature. You won’t be able to reverse park this car against a wall. Speaking of the boot, the button that opens the back door is built into the right brake light cluster. It’s a nice touch that adds some class to the vehicle.
I mentioned there are three spec levels: Ambiente, Trend and Titanium. Ambiente is fairly basic with steel wheels and hubcap covers, no SYNC audio system and non colour coded mirrors and door handles. Stepping up to Trend adds some silver on the grill, alloy wheels and some more colour coding of handles as well as the SYNC audio system. Stepping up to Titanium visually gets new wheels and chrome inserts but more importantly all the technical gadgets such as hill assist, cruise control, auto on headlights, rain sensing wipers and follow me home lights.
I only managed to drive the manual Trend and the Titanium models but the cabin is a great place to be in. There’s adequate headroom for even a relatively tall person such as myself and it’s very roomy inside the car. The leather seats and steering wheel in the Titanium model adds a premium feel to the car although unfortunately the rest of the cabin is made up of fairly hard plastics. They don’t look bad but they’re not entirely pleasant to the touch. The engineers put a heavy emphasis on insulating the cabin of the EcoSport making it impressively quiet even when cruising at 120 km/h. There’s no lack of storage space with a cooled glove box, four drink holders within easy reach of the driver and a small space under the passenger seat where you could store an iPad or phone when out. The seats fold down in a 60:40 split and we were shown a washing machine being put into the boot once the seats were down. As a cyclist I’m not convinced I could fit a full size mountain bike in the back due to the length of the car but you can definitely pack the car with some larger, shorter objects. Being in the back of the car is typical B-Segment fare: it’s tolerable on short distances but having a tall driver and a tall rear passenger is going to become unpleasant after a while.
Sitting inside the EcoSport is typical SUV: you’ve got a commanding seating position with the ability to adjust the steering wheel in order to achieve the most comfortable driving position. Unfortunately there is only seat height adjustment on the Titanium model. The proposition behind the EcoSport is that it can go offroad on gravel without scratching your car; a useful proposition for those with an active lifestyle. I doubt most people would take this car off road for proper 4X4 action but this is not an all wheel drive car so your options are limited.
It’s also important to mention the excellent SYNC system inside the car. Pair your phone via Bluetooth or plug a USB flash in and you’ve got access to handsfree calling and your music via voice command. It’s always great to see how technology has diffused downwards, something I’ve written about previously with regards to the system.
Engines and performance
So Ford have launched the EcoSport in South Africa with three engine options: a 1.5 petrol, 1.5 Diesel and the “Engine of Year” for the past two years: the 1.0 liter EcoBoost petrol engine. I didn’t have a chance to drive the 1.5 petrol and while I did enjoy the Diesel due to its low down torque: the pick of engine for me is the EcoBoost. It’s a 1.0 liter unit that pushes out 92kw of power, more than enough to get the EcoSport moving. The Diesel is the more pedestrian of the engines while the EcoBoost needs a little bit of punch to really get going meaning a more enjoyable driving experience.
Once we did get moving the car handled the hills of Kwazulu-Natal with surprisingly little hassle. I only drove the manual version and what I desperately would have loved is a sixth gear. Especially at 120 km/h on the highway the car felt like it had more to give except I was hamstrung by the lack of sixth gear. Steering is very precise and direct and the car handled extremely well. My co-driver decided on an impromptu figure 8 session through some cones on the road and the car handled this rather uncomfortable maneuver with ease. We flew through corners and took potholes with relative easy. At one stage traction control had to kick in due to a sudden braking to avoid a dog. The car handled beautifully by coming to a stop with absolutely no drama or squealing of tyres. One criticism of the driving experience was that the footwell seemed a little small and I had to make a concerted effort not to hit the brake when changing gears. I have big feet so this isn’t going to be an issue for everyone.
I was chatting to the Ford representatives on the drive before I got the official pricing and for some bizarre reason they wouldn’t give me pricing. I assumed this was due to it being excessively priced and some shame on their part. Based on the Ford Fiesta EcoBoost derivative being around R220,000 and the entry level Kuga being just under R300,000 I assumed the top end EcoSport would be around R270,000 to R280,000. How wrong I was.
The entry level petrol engine Ambiente is R199,000 with the top of the range Diesel Titanium is R249,000. Want the EcoBoost engine in Titanium spec? That’ll be R244,000 please. What I do like is that there’s only one option: metallic paint and it’s R700. For an extra R20,000 you get an SUV with more of a lifestyle flair to your traditional B-Segment car. I think this is going to fly off the shelves.
At first I couldn’t understand where the Ford EcoSport fits into the market but after spending a day with it and driving it like a hooligan through the hills of KZN I understand why you’d buy this vehicle. It’s small, nippy and gives you the SUV lifestyle without being a road hog. Pricing is extremely competitive and I think Ford are going to sell a lot of these cars.