The recipe for the EcoSport has been pretty straightforward all these years. Take the high seating position and robust air associated with SUVs and cram it into an urban, sub-4-metre package. But, as the years went by and we got newer products in the form of the Maruti Suzuki Brezza, the Honda WR-V and even the Tata Nexon, the EcoSport‘s advantage was washed clean. Not to mention, it had its own share of shortcomings too.
The facelift is Ford’s way of making the EcoSport more exciting and more sensible. Have they succeeded?
First things first
Even in its new avatar, the little SUV continues to be quintessentially EcoSport. Changes to the design are most noticeable at the front. The sleek headlamps have been shown the door. In its place are big, chunky units that make the EcoSport look angry. If you pick the top-spec Titanium or Titanium+ variant you get halogen projectors and a sweet daytime-running lamp setup too. Then there’s the new grille, which gets some neat hexagonal detailing. Of course, the hood has been resculpted to accommodate the new nose. Tying all of these elements together is the redesigned bumper. The prominent faux skid plate finished in dull silver adds another dollop of muscle.
In profile, there’s not much new. There’s no change to the sheet metal here, so it continues to sport a fuss-free, likeable design. The only noticeable difference is the new set of 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 205-section rubber. The large rims and the low profile tyres give it a sporty stance.
The rear gets a redesigned cover for the spare wheel, but we’d be happier showing off the fifth alloy. The rear bumper has been worked upon as well, but the changes are of the blink-and-miss variety.
The EcoSport looks every bit the compact SUV it should. The formula isn’t drastically different. But this works just fine. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?
The EcoSport’s dash looked wow back in 2013, but as time passed it started to look a bit cluttered and fussy. Ford’s fixed that with an all-new dash that’s simple and functional. The all-black theme with piano black accents is sporty and there’s some conservative use of dull silver accents as well. What’s new here? Well, quite a lot.
Kicking things off is the new 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It’s integrated well into the new dash and also gets physical controls for the audio right under. Of course, there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also gets Ford’s new SYNC3 tech (borrowed from the Endeavour) - which means the car can read out your text messages, and you can use voice commands too. Lower variants will get a 6.5-inch touchscreen sans Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, whereas the base-spec Ambiente will feature a simple audio player and Ford’s nifty phone dock. The screen is among the best we’ve used so far. It’s quick to respond to touch and swipe gestures are dealt with smartphone-like speed.
There’s a new steering wheel too that’s borrowed from the Ford Focus. It’s a meaty leather-wrapped three-spoke unit with well-defined contours at the ten and two positions. In the top-spec Titanium+ trim it gets buttons for cruise control and limiter over and above the usual buttons for music and phone. Like before, there’s tilt and telescopic adjust with a healthy range, so drivers of a variety of sizes will feel right at home.
Then there’s the new instrument cluster. Compared to the rest of the interior, it does look a bit blah. The MID, although informative, is a bit too tiny. The monochrome dot matrix display doesn’t help its cause either. We reckon Ford could’ve gone a step ahead and offered a bigger (and coloured) display here. Also, a little dull silver accent around the dials would’ve added a bit of flair.
Sit down and chill
We mean that quite literally. The air-conditioning on the EcoSport is an absolute chiller. Yep, it still doesn’t get rear air-con vents, but we never felt the need for it. Even as the mercury soared past 35 degrees, the cabin was cold in no time. If you’re a sucker for stats, Ford says the air-conditioner on the EcoSport can cool the cabin from 50 to 25 degrees in 15 minutes. We’ve got no issues believing that.
The cabin is a nice place to relax, and the reworked seats add to the comfort. Based on customer feedback, the two seats are wider, have better bolsters and softer cushioning. It does deliver in terms of support for the side and the lower back. Over to the rear, kneeroom is just about enough for a 6-footer to sit behind his own driving position. But there’s no way you’re fitting three of your friends together in the rear seat. There simply isn’t enough width. We’d use it as a four-seater, and use that well positioned rear armrest.
The front occupants gets an armrest as well. But we think it’s positioned a bit too low. A little higher, and it’d have been equally usable for the co-driver as well. What’s good, though, is the deep cubby hole the armrest hides.
The Little Details
What really rounds off the experience inside the cabin of the EcoSport, though, are the little details. For instance, there’s not one but two USB slots to juice up phones. There’s a 12V socket thoughtfully tucked away for the rear-right passenger, along with a tray to park the phone in. There’s configurable mood lighting too, that lets you choose between a total of eight colours.
Then there’s the boot floor that can be adjusted for height. This not only gives you some secret under-floor storage but ensures that the loading bay is flat when you flip the rear bench down. Bear in mind, you’ve got quite a lot of space to play with, considering the spare wheel sits on the bootlid. With the second row tucked away you’re looking at 1178 litres of space. That’s enough for a mini fridge, or maybe two.
Heart of the matter
The EcoSport’s confused engine lineup has been simplified. And boy are we glad! So you now get the choice of the good old 1.5-litre diesel and a brand new 1.5-litre petrol. The oil burner remains unchanged on paper, and out on the road it doesn’t feel any different either. It’s as drivable as ever and there are no surprising peaks in power delivery like the Brezza. Since that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the new kid on the block.
The 1.5-litre petrol engine is the first from the Dragon family to report for duty. The three-cylinder engine develops 123PS of power and 150Nm of torque. That’s a healthy bump up of 12PS and 10Nm over the old 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine it replaces. Ford’s thought behind the new motor is to reduce size, weight and emissions while bumping up fuel efficiency and drivability. Have they delivered?
To start with, the engine is silent and refined. Sure, it's got a bit of vibrations when you start up, but as you build speed they settle down pretty quickly. The engine itself has a laidback nature and is tuned to ensure it’s easy to drive inside the city. Power delivery is smooth and it takes its own time to build speed. If you're looking for a sporty drive you might want to look elsewhere; this one is happier being driven in a relaxed manner. There's no fuss, no drama and it just gets the job done as far as commuting is concerned.
What makes the drive calmer is the 6-speed automatic. Yes, the dual-clutch transmission has been binned in favour of a conventional torque converter, and in our books that's a step in the right direction. The DCT wasn’t outright sporty or convenient. More often than not, it’d be puzzled as to which cog to choose. Not this one. This one’s tuned to sip frugally and it knows how to do one thing right - take the sting out of day-to-day driving.
Drive with a light foot, and the gearbox upshifts early. Shifts are smooth and there are no unpleasant jerks as the gearbox goes through the gears. It also responds quickly to part-throttle, letting you overtake moving traffic easily. It’s only when you flat foot it that it stutters a bit. There’s a lag of about a second before it drops a gear. Of course, you can take charge and use the paddles but the shifts don't get any quicker. We're happy leaving it in Sport for those quick overtakes on the highway.
Speaking of which, the motor is happy cruising and can hold triple-digit speeds quite easily. To get a move-on quickly, burying the right foot into the mat works just fine. What complements the EcoSport’s ease on the highway is its ride.
Striking a balance
The little Ford has a big 200mm ground clearance. This means it doesn’t break a sweat if you fling it into a pothole or two. The underpinnings aren’t different from the outgoing car and it still gets a pair of McPherson struts up front and a semi-independent setup at the rear. Ford has tweaked the suspension bushes to account for the bigger wheels and give it a plusher ride. Has that had a significant impact on the way it behaves? Simply put, not really. It continues to have a stiff edge as you go over the rough stuff, but the cabin remains steady. For everyday use, the ride doesn’t seem overly stiff like the Brezza, but it isn’t as cushy as a Honda WR-V either.
Yes, it is on the stiffer side, but it’s something you can use everyday. What’s appreciable is the silence the suspension works with. Potholes and broken roads are dispatched without a murmur. In fact, on the move, there’s practically nothing that distracts - tyre noise, and wind noise are well under check.
Making the tyres squeal is pretty easy, though, as they let out a shriek as you chuck it into a corner. A little more grip from the Bridgestone Ecopias would’ve been welcome too. But once you do flick it into a bend, you’ll realise that the electric power steering is rather well tuned. It’s sharp and doesn’t need frequent corrections to make the car hold its line. Even if you aren’t wringing it through the twisties the steering remains easy to use and precise.
And that leaves us with the brakes. The EcoSport continues to sport a front disc-rear drum setup. On the automatic, dabbing on the brakes gently didn’t give us as much bite as we were hoping for. But prodding the pedal slightly more gave us all of it. So there’s a bit of learning curve to drive the automatic smoothly in bumper to bumper traffic. On a related note, the brakes on the diesel felt progressive with predictable bite.
Bring it home?
Well, yes. With the update, the EcoSport has got its lost mojo back. But it isn’t a drastically different package from the compact SUV we’ve come to love over the past few years. Of course, this means that the cabin is still suited for four, not five, and if you want to have some fun you’d probably have to look at the diesel. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Dragon engine does its job beautifully. Yes, it isn’t sporty. But we won’t hold that against it because paired with that automatic transmission it delivers in spades inside the city. That’s where the EcoSport will spend most of its time, so that’s a tradeoff we’re willing to live with.
Finally, Ford’s expected to price the EcoSport quite aggressively since localisation levels have risen from 65 per cent to 85 per cent. To top things off, Ford claims that the EcoSport will be the cheapest to maintain in its class - 0.39 paisa/km (diesel) / 0.42 paisa/km (petrol) vs 0.62 paisa/km (Brezza). When you put all of these together, the EcoSport comes across as a package that’s impossible to ignore.