Three years on from its European launch, Ford’s baby SUV, the EcoSport, has been treated to a much-needed upgrade.
A mild exterior makeover, new technology, more refinement and comfort, plus an extra engine and an all-wheel drive option, have transformed the car into a more serious contender in the blossoming compact SUV sector.
Ford couldn’t have timed it better because the EcoSport is up against established rivals including the Renault Captur, Nissan Juke and Mazda CX-3, plus a whole new wave of small crossovers – the Kia Stonic, Seat Arona and Citroen C3 Aircross to name but a few.
It’s fair to say that the styling changes are subtle. Perhaps most obviously, the EcoSport has been given a cheekier face, bringing it closer in looks to its big brothers (the Kuga and Edge), plus new HID headlights (High Intensity Discharge) and LED daytime running lights.
The EcoSport’s taillights and rear bumper have also been revised, though sadly the rear door still opens sideways. Retro at best.
Ford has also taken the opportunity to broaden its appeal with a series of personalisation options allowing buyers to choose from several roof and body colour combinations, plus snazzy new wheel designs and accessories including a cycle carrier.
There’s no doubt that the EcoSport looks smarter in its distinctive chunky way, but the most radical changes are inside where the cabin has been brought right up to date.
The dashboard and centre console layout has been largely lifted from the new Fiesta (which is no bad thing). Depending on the trim level, a floating infotainment screen up to 8.0 inches dominates, while the instrumentation is now much clearer and the seats sport new fabrics and are more comfortable. An impressive 675 watt B&O Play sound audio system is also available.
Cruise Control with Adjustable Speed Limiter is offered on the EcoSport for the first time. Other goodies available include a rear view camera, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a heated steering wheel, Ford’s Blind Spot Information System that can alert the driver to vehicles approaching alongside. Sadly no sign of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) though.
The interior in general seems to have more of a quality feel with increased use of soft-touch plastics, though not on the door interiors. Crucially, it’s now well put together and has an air of solidity.
Ford’s also worked hard to make the EcoSport a more satisfying car to drive with tweaks to the suspension and steering to make it more European, it’s claimed.
Available in three trims levels – Zetec, Titanium and sporty ST-Line for the first time – the range starts at £17,495, rising to £21,145.
There are three petrol and diesel engines on offer, starting with the award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder turbo petrol unit, available in two states of tune (124bhp or 138bhp). Both are mated to a six-speed gearbox, while C02 emissions are 119g/km and fuel economy is a claimed 54.3mpg. From mid-2018, a 99bhp EcoBoost will also be offered.
Significantly, Ford’s all-new 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel engine will also be available from mid-2018, The 124bhp 1.5-litre EcoBlue four-cylinder diesel will be mated to a new six-speed manual gearbox, offering “lower CO2 and greater fuel efficiency”, but we don’t have the exact figures yet.
In the meantime, the only diesel available is the Blue Oval’s long-serving 99bhp 1.5-litre TDCi, offering 107g/km CO2 emissions and economy up to 68.9mpg.
We tried the new EcoBlue diesel fitted with Ford’s Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system and a manual gearbox, plus the 124bhp version of the EcoBoost petrol engine with a six-speed automatic gearbox. On paper, the latter is capable of up to 48.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km.
Of the two, the diesel was more to our liking. Our route took us on motorways, up and down twisty hill roads and through towns, and not only was it surprisingly smooth and refined, but there was more than enough grunt.
We couldn’t test the effectiveness of the AWD, which can adjust torque delivery up to 50/50 between the front and rear wheels in under 20 milliseconds (that’s 20 times quicker than it takes to blink), but there seemed to be plenty of traction. The ride is firm, while the handling is more assured than EcoSports of old with little body roll.
However, our switch to the 124bhp EcoBoost petrol with auto box wasn’t quite so impressive. This is likely to be the most popular engine choice, yet the quoted 11.6 seconds to reach 62mph seemed slightly optimistic.
What’s more, on hilly stretches the automatic gearbox seemed overly sensitive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad engine/gearbox combination, you just have to take things easily.
This version wasn’t as planted as the diesel AWD either. More fidgety on trickier sections of roads, there was also a little more body roll in the corners. On the plus side, the steering was fine on both models.
You sit high up in the cabin – especially on the passenger’s side where there’s no seat height adjustment – but it’s generally a comfortable place to be with good visibility.
There space for adults to sit comfortably in the rear – even the middle seat isn’t totally out of bounds. There’s plenty of place to stow smaller items, while the boot, which includes a new height adjustable floor, has a capacity of 334 litres, or a useful 1,238 litres with the rear seats folded.
In the UK, more than 40,000 EcoSports have been sold since 2014, and given the popularity of compact SUVs and the new model’s updates, there’s no reason why it won’t continue to sell well. It will never be a class leader, but Ford has done just enough to make sure it can keep up with its rivals
Verdict: The Ford EcoSport is much improved with better build quality, refinement and comfort, plus updated technology. In particular, the new EcoBlue diesel engine paired with AWD coming in 2018, is a real step up.