One of the original entrants in the now-booming small SUV segment has never attracted the attention it probably should have. I’m talking about the Ford EcoSport.
The smallest SUV from the blue oval brand is built in India, and perhaps that’s part of the reason it hasn’t been that well received. I went on the international launch of the EcoSport way back in mid 2013, and some of the fit and finish left a lot to be desired.
That didn’t change when the car launched in Australia, and while the pricing it launched with was attractive, there were other elements that perhaps weren’t… like the tailgate-mounted spare wheel.
That spare wheel remains a feature for the time being (a further model change for the MY18.5 version will see the deletion of it in favour of a repair kit, and thus no spare) - but there have been some other styling changes for the Ford EcoSport 2018 range, and perhaps even more importantly, new drivetrains and big interior revisions.
It is undoubtedly an improvement, but just how much has it improved? Read on to find out.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
According to Ford, the new look “fits in the contemporary Ford SUV showroom”, and its design certainly looks more fitting when parked alongside the next-size-up Escape. It has a new bonnet, new headlights (halogen on the entry grades and HID on the flagship), a new grille shape with different colour trims based on variant (entry - grey, mid-spec - gloss black and top-spec - chrome) a revised front bumper and revised rear-end styling, too. There's a dinky little rear spoiler, but no body kit or side steps.
It remains one of the more ruggedly styled offerings in the segment, with a more muscled appearance than, say, the Honda HR-V or Mazda CX-3. The spare wheel has a lot to do with that.
The Ecosport has a new bonnet, new headlights and a new grille shape. (2018 Ford Ecosport Trend shown)
The spare wheel will be removed from the tailgate in the coming months. (2018 Ford Ecosport Trend)
While the spare wheel will be removed from the tailgate in the coming months, the one fitted to this version has been redesigned. And if you’re worried about hitting that cover when reversing, the reversing camera should alleviate your concerns, and the rear parking sensors are tuned with it in mind.
Just keep in mind that if you park on the street and someone parks close to the back of you, you may struggle to open the boot - along with swinging open the wrong direction (the opening side should be closest to the kerb, but it’s on the traffic side!), the rearmost door is quite big.
Still, the interior has seen perhaps the most important changes, both in terms of aesthetics and usability. Its interior dimensions are impressive, as you'll see in the interior images below.
There is no denying the Ford EcoSport is one of the most practical small SUVs you can buy. After all, it can fit a washing machine in the boot - that was one of the big selling points for Indian buyers, apparently - so storage space, size, luggage capacity and dimensions are all important.
The boot space is even more practical now, with a variable shelf system offering the option of a deeper cargo hold, a small hidden area in the mid-range position, and a flat (but sloping?) cargo area with the back seats folded - you do that by lifting up the rear seat bases, then lowering the backrests down. In that configuration there is 1178 litres of cargo capacity (SAE - the more generous of the formulae to measure space) to the roof, while seats up the figure stands at 743L (SAE). If that's not enough, you get roof rails on the top two models, so you can add a roof rack if you need to.
The boot space is 1178 litres with the seats down.
The storage has been improved for occupants, too, with a new centre console bin between the front seats, while rear-seat occupants get a fold-down centre armrest in the mid- and top-spec models. In those versions there are two cupholders in the back as well as two up front, while all four doors feature bottle holders. The front passenger seat lacks height adjustment, and taller occupants may feel like they’re looming large in that position.
Space is good for the class, especially for rear legroom and headroom. If you try and fit three across the back it’ll be tight, but for those younger buyers with children there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and three top-tether hooks.
The centre console area has been reworked with a new storage area in front of the gear selector that is almost deep enough for a smartphone to sit, but it’ll inevitably fall over. There are two USB ports in all EcoSports, and they’re illuminated, which is a bonus, but the air conditioner controls are cheap feeling.
All levels of the Ecosport comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring tech.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 9/10
The Ford EcoSport has one of the most compact model ranges in the segment, with three variants that aren’t priced too far from one another. In fact, from the bottom of the range to the top, there’s only a $6200 gap.
However, it is a simple line-up, which means there’s not as much choice for buyers. All three versions are petrol powered, automatic, and front-wheel drive - which is exactly what the vast majority of customers in the small SUV segment demand. But in order to compare the models in the range, keep reading for our model comparison.
How much is the cost of Ford EcoSport? At the bottom of the price list is the entry-grade Ambiente is $22,790 plus on-road costs (rrp), which is good vs most of its rivals. It kicks off proceedings with a 6.5-inch touchscreen media system running Ford’s 'Sync 3' media console, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity with phone and audio streaming, two USB ports, CD player DAB radio, voice control, central locking, cruise control, a sound system with six speakers (no subwoofer, no DVD player) and cloth seat trim.
The mid-range model in the EcoSport line-up is the Trend, which is priced attractively at $24,490.
It rides on ugly 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers (rip them off and roll on steelies - own it!) and has silver exterior trim elements that delineate it as a base car. All members of the EcoSport range now include a 4.2-inch digital driver information screen between the dials, which includes a digital speedo, and the Ambiente is fitted with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors as standard.
The mid-range model in the EcoSport line-up is the Trend, which sits midway up the price range at $24,490.
The Trend adds black roof-rails, black exterior trim elements, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-lined steering wheel, and it moves the media game along with an 8.0-inch touch screen with Sync 3, inbuilt sat nav / GPS with free map updates for the navigation system for life, and a seven-speaker sound system.
The Trend adds a leather-lined steering wheel, and it moves the media game along with an 8.0-inch screen.
The Titanium is $28,990, which is relatively affordable considering some other competitors are well into the low-to-mid $30k zone with their front-drive petrol high-riders.
It comes with all the stuff the Trend has but adds keyless entry / smart key, push button start, climate control air-conditioning, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power sunroof, leather seats, HID projector headlights and LED daytime running lights (not LED headlight), bigger 17-inch alloys, powered side mirrors with puddle lamps, and silver roof rails.
And it takes the safety game a step further as well, with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, not to mention front parking sensors.
But, and it’s a big but, the Ford lacks some of the great safety technology features you’ll find in some its competitors. See the safety section below for more on that.
If you're in the market for a used EcoSport, you might be happy with the second hand price that most early versions fetch - they are quite affordable. And while the number of Ford EcoSport colours isn't as extensive as it once was, you can still get black, white, blue, silver, grey, and a new brown hue. There is no red, nor is there that eye-catching yellow anymore. There is no 'black pack' yet, but Ford did have a Shadow edition back in 2016, so it could happen.
While avoiding cows may be an everyday consideration in India, there are no special features like a bull bar, nor a nudge bar. You can't get a snorkel for it (you wouldn't need one!), but there is a tyre change tool kit in the boot. You can get accessories like floor mats and a boot scuff guard.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
It's a tale of the specifications here.
There is more than one engine to choose from (and for this reviewer, the engine you choose will determine the rating the car scores, too), but there is no diesel available (so you'll have to reserve that good old 'petrol vs diesel' debate for the Escape - still you get a fuel tank capacity of 52 litres, a good size so you'll be able to do plenty of distance). And the EcoSport isn't available in Australia with 4x4 / AWD / or rear wheel drive - every EcoSport is 4x2, or front wheel drive.
The entry-grade Ambiente model is powered by a new three-cylinder non-turbocharged 1.5-litre motor, and is mated with a six-speed conventional automatic transmission. The horsepower outputs for the Ambiente are pretty good, with 90kW of power and 150Nm of torque.
The existing Ambiente had a 1.5-litre non-turbo engine with a five-speed manual transmission or one of Ford’s now-infamous six-speed dual-clutch auto transmissions. But manual vs automatic demand, and the apparent automatic transmission problems with the dual-clutch auto, saw the switch to a conventional torque-converter auto.
Engine size for the Trend and Titanium models drops to a 1.0-litre three-cylinder with a turbocharger, which has a touch more punch to it despite its smaller capacity. The outputs are 92kW and 170Nm, which is easily enough to push the little high-rider along with ease.
The Trend and Titanium get a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine, that produces 92kW/170Nm.
Previously, buyers of the higher-spec models had the choice of a 1.5-litre non-turbo four-cylinder which had 10kW and 30Nm less, and was teamed to a six-speed dual-clutch auto, or the 1.0-litre turbo with a five-speed manual gearbox… which no-one bought.
Now, though, the 1.0-litre 'EcoBoost' engine is available with a conventional six-speed auto, and in the Titanium you get paddle-shifters, too. There haven't been any major reports of engine issues with the tiny EcoBoost engine, which runs a timing belt - not a chain - presumably to save weight. The gross vehicle weight for the EcoSport is between 1705kg (Ambiente) and 1755kg (Trend and Titanium), with kerb weight pegged at 1319kg (Ambiente) and 1368kg (Trend and Titanium).
Claimed fuel consumption for the Ambiente model is rated at a pretty thirsty 6.9 litres per 100km, while the Trend and Titanium are said to use a touch less: 6.7L/100km. For those who prefer the measurement of fuel consumption km/L, the Ambiente will do 14.5km/L and the Trend/Titanium models will be capacble of 14.9km/L. Not quite diesel fuel economy, but enough to ensure pretty good mileage per tank.
The readout on the Trend I drove displayed 7.6L/100km after a mix of urban and highway driving, while the Ambiente showed 8.2L/100km in some horrific Melbourne traffic.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
Ford has a knack when it comes to making its SUVs drive like smaller cars than they actually are - and the steering is the key.
In the EcoSport that’s definitely the case. Sure, it is actually small, but it feels decidedly more nimble than some of its rivals, with great steering feel, weighting and response that allows the driver plenty of confidence, whether piloting it along a highway or parking it kerbside.
Ford has a knack when it comes to making its SUVs drive like smaller cars. (2018 Ford Ecosport Titanium shown)
The front and rear suspension is well sorted, if a little firm over sharp bumps - but it sits well on the road, and is easily comfortable enough to deal with tram tracks, potholes and cracked pavement.
The obvious star engine is the turbocharged 1.0-litre, which is rewardingly punchy and nicely refined while retaining the trademark three-cylinder rumble. The six-speed auto is inherently eager to go for the highest gear it can to save fuel, and that means it will hunt a bit when you’re on and off the throttle. That might make your 0 100 acceleration timing a bit difficult, but it gathers speed decently.
The suspension is well sorted, if a little firm over sharp bumps. (2018 Ford Ecosport Trend shown)
Thankfully, though, the throttle is easy to modulate - which isn’t the case in the 1.5-litre. There’s a little too much travel at the top of the pedal to make for smooth take-offs, and when you get moving the engine has a tendency to allow the throttle to hang before it changes gears.
In both models the brake pedal took some getting used to, again with a dull spot at the top of the pedal then big grabbiness mid-way. It stopped reasonably well though, especially considering it still uses drum brakes at the back.
In case we didn't make it clear, there will be no off road review for the EcoSport. It may have good potential capability and performance if you look at the numbers: 209 (ground clearance mm); 10.7 (turning circle radius in metres, kerb to kerb); 24.7 (approach angle degrees); 29.0 (departure angle degrees) - but there is no wading depth figure, and hey, it's front-wheel drive!
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / 100,000 km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
It may seem harsh to give the Ford EcoSport a 7/10 for a safety rating, especially considering it has features such as a reverse camera, park assist with rear parking sensors, stability control with hill descent control and hill start assist, ESP, and it retains a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating from 2013. Where is the Ford EcoSport built? You can leave your preconceptions at the door, because it's made in India.
But the fact of the matter is that the EcoSport doesn’t have the latest advanced safety tech - there is no auto emergency braking (AEB) and “there won’t for in the foreseeable future”, either, according to the company. You can put a line through things like lane keeping assist and forward collision warning, too.
But the EcoSport hits back in other ways. It has a system where it can call the emergency services using a connected phone in the event of an accident. And it has a dual key system that allows worried (interfering?) parents to adjust key parameters of the car, including how fast it can go and how loud the music can go. And if you need to fit a baby seat, it has ISOFIX points.
It has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee).
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Ford backs its new cars with the bare minimum three-year/100,000km warranty plan. Well behind the best in class, and it could be enough for you to reconsider if you've read about the issues, common problems, faults, complaints and defects that could have possibly afflicted some earlier versions with the dual-clutch auto. And if you're really concerned you can lengthen the standard warranty with an extended warranty for up to six years or 200,000km: there's no doubt that having a piece of paper with that alongside your owners manual in the glovebox will increase the resale value of your EcoSport (you can transfer the extended warranty). But with the new transmissions we have no reason to expect reliability issues.
Buyers do, however, have access to a capped-price servicing plan for the life of the car, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The service cost is reasonably well considered, too - over five years/75,000km, the average cost per visit is $281. So, along with a low purchase price, a low maintenance cost gives it an edge over some competitors.
And Ford has that free loan car program, too, where you get to borrow a set of wheels when your car is in the shop.
While the waiting time for Ford EcoSport models is expected to be short, there are plenty of pre-facelift versions still in stock.
If you’re going to buy a Ford EcoSport, it seems to me that the best one you can get is the Titanium - and that’s mainly because of Ford’s aggressive pricing strategy. The equipment on offer is compelling, especially looking at what else you get in competitor compact SUVs at that price point.
Again, I’m disappointed by the lack of AEB - but if that’s not a deal-breaker for you, the EcoSport may well prove a surprisingly adept option as a small high-rider. Just watch that tailgate in tight parking spots…
Would you prefer a spare wheel on the tailgate, or none at all? Let us know in the comments section below.