First Drive: Ford Focus EcoSport image

The second largest US automaker has been thriving in North America ever since it eschewed the shameful bankruptcy reorganization that hit GM and Chrysler back during the days of the economic crisis. There’s one catch though – the European unit has not yet yielded the same satisfactory results.

You might wonder what has got to do with the European launch of the refreshed EcoSport small sport utility vehicle? Well, due to the “One Ford” strategy you need to think global today. The days when Ford of Europe was almost a separate entity from Ford’s headquarters in Detroit are almost gone – and this is a trend seen at all three US automakers. Chiefly, we have here a crossover SUV in the subcompact class that is sold in Europe and built and manufactured in India. I said the days are almost gone because the EcoSport we tried is a prime example of what happened when Ford’s units were on their merry – independent and parallel – ways. The model has been redesigned (it looks like the same car but it’s not, more on that in a minute) almost immediately since reaching the European market due to a major issue – it was conceived and produced with the Indian market in mind. And that doesn’t bode well with the European consumers, which immediately taxed the predecessor. Now, the facelifted model – even though the guys at Ford call it a new generation, it’s merely a refresh – is here to make amends and gently introduce the EcoSport to a wider range of audience.

Ford-ecosport-first-drive (9)

Take the EcoSport we saw and drive at the press preview – gone is the off-roader inspired external spare wheel (still optional though) – which was rather an off-shoot since the model in Europe has no all-wheel system on offer. Back in India it’s a good reasoning – the roads are poor, infrastructure lacking and a small 4×4 with fully fledged off-road capabilities is an asset. But over in Europe, where roads are mostly impeccable the public has been looking for lifestyle crossovers in this segment – this is why the Captur and 2008 rule the sales chart. They don’t even offer 4×4 as an option and only the third places Nissan Juke has optional all-wheel drive. And the EcoSport was seen as a rugged model that failed to deliver the high level of quality Ford has been showcasing in Europe.

So, out with the old and in with the new EcoSport. You’ll have a hard time differentiating the first arrival from the newly refreshed model because design changes are scarce and namely revolve around the missing external spare wheel. The lifestyle choosing point has been duly noted by Ford and soon the EcoSport will be available in a trendy Titanium S livery that comes with an emphasis on sportiness rather than rugged capabilities. It’s gonna be easily distinguishable thanks to the new alloys and added styling modifications. Overall, the exterior design was never the problem for the smallish EcoSport and we can see it battling successfully its main rivals in Europe – the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and Opel Mokka.

The main issues that bewildered customers mostly had to do with the cabin and technical platform. While judging from the exterior design the new EcoSport is not at all new, if we had a scanner we could see the real revolution. The engineers must have had some late work nights but managed to deliver a crossover from what was previously a real off-roader – they didn’t change the road clearance (great for escalating sidewalks in the city) – but other than that the old and new EcoSport are worlds apart. The chassis has been stiffened and the suspension retuned for the usage scenario common for all European countries: paved roads, highways and numerous twisting journeys. We see the EcoSport now able to handle anything from mountain passes to highway driving in comfort and safety – the Titanium S version even has a level two retune of the suspension – the redesigned setting has been modified even further with sportiness in mind. Final judgment on the road driving characteristics will be reserved to a more ample review but so far the setting has promise.

Ford-ecosport-first-drive (11)

In terms of engine options, the EcoSPort has something in store for every consumer category – an entry level and affordable 1.5 naturally aspirated petrol with 115 horsepower, the award-winning high-tech EcoBoost one liter engine with 125 PS and a 1.5 TDCi diesel option with 95 ponies. Gearbox options include a five-speed manual and a six speed automatic. And the company has expansion plans in store: the Titanium S trim comes with new amenities, an upgrade to the Sync 1 infotainment version and the introduction of a more powerful and just as fuel efficient EcoBoost one liter with 140 HP.

If you choose to have the external spare wheel present on the EcoSport, total length will reach 4273 mm and in the standard version the car barely passes the 4 meter threshold. That means great city driving qualities, with the small crossover easily parked even in the tiniest of places. While the exterior dimensions are in line with the offerings from the sub-compact class, the interior was a nice surprise being roomier than anyone imagined just looking at the exterior. Two adults have lots of room up front and another two will have a comfortable journey if they sit in the back. Speaking of the interior, the EcoSport still exhibits an Achilles heel – the abundance of dreary black plastics that look durable but have nothing to do with the upscale image of European lifestyle crossovers. Ford did work extensively on this front as well – the interior noise and vibration levels have gone down quite a bit from the predecessor. But the dashboard still remained at the same level of the pre-facelift Fiesta and this will seriously impact the model’s appeal among the tech-savvy early-adopters that always look for the latest technology in their new car.