Timing is everything, they say – especially in business. Well, frankly, Ford in the past screwed up this crucial element in the crossover field and basically, it’s been a little while since they managed to get all gears in running order.
But all the hiccups are in the past now – and the Blue Oval has a complete SUV/crossover lineup. Frankly, whenever you have issues it’s also a blessing in disguise – you can always implement innovative changes you might have overlooked otherwise. The Kuga – playing in a very important segment, possibly the most important in parts of the world – has been refreshed and is now selling like hot pie on a chilly winter morning. The Edge – which in Europe represents an added bonus of bringing the “American flavor” – has just been presented in the restyled version and is bringing with it not just a design facelift, but also a completely new bi-turbo diesel engine, the ST Line trim and lots of technologies (including semi-autonomous features). And then there’s the EcoSport – we drove some years ago the European version that came all the way from the company’s Indian Chennai plant, and believe it or not, this was a second-generation model. The first one was a South American affair, while the second generation EcoSport was built around Ford’s global product development process and sourced most of its internals from the Ford Fiesta B2E platform (the past generation model). It came with some characteristics – most obviously the lateral-hinged rear door and the option to add a door-mounted spare tire – that were long dead and buried on the European market, so its success was relative.
Now there’s a completely different face (pun intended) to the EcoSport – the facelift has been a thorough one (not in the modify everything, but leave everything unchanged category), with company managers claiming that literally thousands of changes warrant the idea this is a new EcoSport. We’re not agreeing with that point of view – the underlying architecture hasn’t been changed, and there are still major areas where things have remained just about the same (spoiler – the lateral-hinged rear door…). But it’s truly a deep refresh – and perhaps more importantly production for Europe and lots of other markets has been moved on the Old Continent at Ford’s production facilities in Craiova, Romania. This means not only better quality – sorry India’s quality checks – but also prompt evolution of orders, you might notice that no one likes to wait for weeks or months for their shiny new vehicle to arrive from the factory. And Ford even upped the stakes with a few major introductions – the new 1.5-liter EcoBlue diesel, the Ford Intelligent All Wheel Drive and for those who value a high-end subcompact crossover, the sporty ST Line. These are actually things that are mandatory for the survival of a subcompact crossover in a segment that looks like a WWII battlefield – and where the dominant forces are always threatened by new arrivals. Just as a pointer, as the EcoSport was making its way late last year in the sales charts – and was jumping 10% overall during 2017 (a good increase, considering the new model only had a few months on the market) the top 5 exponents – Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008, Opel Mokka, Dacia Duster and the Nissan Juke – were also threatened by new entries such as the Opel Crossland X, Citroen C3 Aircross and the Kia Stonic.
There’s a point to Ford offering both a sporty and stylish ST Line trim and all-wheel drive versions – this way they can battle both parts of the segment, with the subcompact SUV segment being divided into real SUVs and front-wheel drive exclusive crossovers. It’s also important to note that while some will see the EcoSport and Dacia Duster as direct competitors, myself as a specialist don’t see the rivalry here – save for the fact that both compete on the same overall sales chart. The EcoSport is shorter, a true subcompact model, while the Duster strives for a compromise and it’s almost crossing into compact territory in dimensional terms. The Duster will most likely beat Ford’s credentials in rough terrain when things get dirty – the EcoSport has an electronically controlled AWD and the Duster also features axle lock capabilities. And at the end of the day the Duster is an affordable family all-rounder, while the EcoSport talks more about style and high-end life (Titanium, ST Line) and might feel best in urban areas and mild off-roading. It’s the difference between a family guy who prepares for an Ironman triathlon and an urbanite that is both modern and health conscious, so he’s got the latest gadgets to help prepare a weekend half marathon.
Now on to business – during our first trials with the EcoSport we also visited the new birthplace of the little SUV, and you can read about my experience there right here. We’re going to delve in a depth review later on, but at first glance, it’s pretty obvious the most important changes in terms of exterior design appear up front – there’s a modified bonnet, a new radiator grille, new headlights with integrated DRL LEDs, new fog lights with integrated turn signals – that’s besides the ST Line specific modifications. There are also new sets of alloy wheels up to 18 inch – more chromed (Titanium) or black (ST Line) inserts, while the regular models only feature lightly modified taillights at the back. The EcoSport ST-Line joins the Edge ST-Line, Fiesta ST-Line, Focus ST-Line, Kuga ST-Line, Mondeo ST-Line and S-MAX ST-Line range, and brings along its own bespoke Ford Performance visual enhancements. Moving inside, the evolution basically turns into revolution – the EcoSport basically adopts most of the changes premiered by the new generation Fiesta. If anyone has driven the predecessor, entering the cabin of the new EcoSport will deliver a shock – because it’s modern, up to date with technologies and most of all way more ergonomically reshaped. Virtually almost everything is brand new – the seats, the armrest, the steering wheel, the instrument cluster and the entire dashboard panel. And just talking about the newly available technologies will again represent a little shock – the EcoSport now being in line with the Ford offerings, as there are standard or optionally available things such as the Sync III infotainment system with touchscreen, navigation and smartphone control (Android Auto, Apple CarPlay), digital color display in the instrument cluster, a heated steering wheel, steering-column mounted paddle-shifters for the automatic and also the newly developed B&O Play premium audio system (675 watt, 10 speakers including subwoofer) that was specifically tuned for the EcoSport.
During our brief stint with the EcoSport we only got the chance to drive the award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine with 125 PS, both with a manual and a six-speed automatic transmission and in Titanium or ST Line guise – and only with front wheel drive. The drive involved brief stints on the highway, on regional roads and also a very sweet rough terrain road trip that included everything from potholes to muddy roads. We’ll have to drive more kilometers during a full review, but as far as I can tell, the EcoSport with the petrol engine confirms my opinion this is not a true all-rounder – and not because it lacks the urban or rough terrain capabilities. It’s actually the highway long-journey chapter that suffers – in terms of fuel efficiency, especially if you go for the automatic version (that one is a life saver in the city, though). Otherwise, the EcoSport aptly takes on anything you throw at it – Ford has done wonders in terms of drivability and ride comfort lately, and there is no model that shows the progress better than the EcoSport. The ST Line model is firm and plays like a little sporty hatchback when the road invites the driver to weave the trace of winding hairpins – but still provides plenty of comfort (especially in terms of NVH levels – noise, vibrations, harshness) when you exit the asphalt. The Titanium should be renamed into the Touring, it’s an almost perfect compromise between handling – if you remember you’re on board a high-riding vehicle – and comfort. And thanks to the short front and rear overhangs and the small wheelbase it’s almost a shameful pleasure to “torment” the car when off the beaten path – with even the 2WD model showing limits far off what an average driver will need to reach on a daily basis.