Driven: Ford EcoSport facelift
Even though it has been four years since the Ford EcoSport was launched in India, the sub-four metre SUV segment has shown no signs of slowing down. However, a slew of new competitors have been launched pushing the EcoSport to the sidelines. The Vitara Brezza has really been raking in the moolah for Maruti Suzuki, and the recently launched Tata Nexon has been priced aggressively, and is expected to do the same. So Ford have done the necessary to keep the EcoSport fresh — a mid-life makeover. It not only gets the obvious external tweaks, but also gets a huge makeover on the inside and most importantly, gets a new petrol engine under the hood.
While the diesel engine that accounts for over 70 per cent of EcoSport sales and the 1-litre Ecoboost engine remain unchanged, the older 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine called Sigma has been replaced by a new one. The new ‘Dragon’ Ti-VCT engine is a three-pot, and while it is a distant relative of the the three-cylinder Ecoboost, it has a lot changed to make it lighter and more efficient. For starters, it has a displacement of 1497cc and it doesn’t have a turbocharger — it is naturally aspirated. Neither does it get direct injection. What it does get are twin camshafts, which are independent with variable valve timing, a lightweight aluminium block, a belt driven primary drive system (lubed in oil) and balancer shafts to reduce vibrations. Performance figures are good as well : 121bhp and 150Nm — a 10 percent and 7 per cent bump in power and torque respectively over the engine it replaces. Ford have focussed on keeping the weight down and on compact packaging. The engine comes mated to an option of a 6-speed automatic gearbox or a 5-speed manual, and it was the automatic that we tested. The gearbox is a new unit as well. While the older 1.5 EcoSport petrol engine came with a dual-clutch transmission, this new one comes with a torque convertor. How does it drive? More on that in a bit, let’s get through the other changes first.
The EcoSport gets a number of tweaks to the front — the new trapezoidal grille is more now in-line with the rest of its SUV line up. The headlamps get a new cluster and DRLs and even the fog lamps are larger and more aggressive. On the side, the overall silhouette remains the same, however the stance has changed owing to the new wheels. The top-of-the-line Titanium+ variant gets 17-inch wheels (the pre-facelift had only 16s) and is shod in lower profile rubber — 205/50 R17s instead of the 205/60 R16s that the older one came with. The rear remains largely the same, and Ford have retained the boot mounted spare wheel. The changes are minor, but they really do wonders to the way the EcoSport looks — it looks aggressive, with its strong lines but more importantly, it looks fresh.
The insides have received a more comprehensive overhaul. Gone is the clutter on the centre console, and it has been replaced by a neat, floating 8-inch touchscreen. The infotainment system is integrated with Sync 3, just like the Endeavour is. Here though, the touchscreen really moves the in-car experience up a fair bit. The screen itself is responsive, has a host of connectivity options including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. That aside, it has a good resolution and even the rear-view camera throws up a very clear feed. The interface itself is very intuitive and you even get a digital compass included — the system is easily the class benchmark, and can outdo infotainment systems from some SUVs in a class above as well.
The overall design of the insides are rather minimalist. A lot of hard plastics are used, but fit and finish cannot be faulted. The seats are a real highlight and are really supportive and comfortable. The only issue with the interiors is space is a little cramped inside the cabin compared to the competition. Nevertheless, Ford has done well to make use of all available space. There are neat little cupholders neat the handbrake, doorpockets that are actually useful and small cubbyholes everywhere to make the cabin feel more spacious. The boot now gets an adjustable floorboard (it can be set at three different settings, dividing the space and making it more versatile.
How does it drive?
First up, let’s talk about the engine. The engine feels punchy, especially coupled to the new gearbox. While it is a bit sluggish below 3000rpm, the power delivery post that is linear and builds up nicely to a redline of 6500rpm. The gearbox itself is not lightning fast, but it is sufficiently quick at shifting. The top-of-the-line variant gets paddle-shifters and these really help with keeping the car in the meat of the powerband. But even if you leave it to its own devices, the gearbox really works well especially at slow to brisk paced drives. If you start getting overly enthusiastic with it though, you will find it getting caught out a bit. Even the shifts requested from the paddles area bit sluggish at higher revs. The EcoSport also gets a Sport mode on the gearbox, which hold gears to the redline, however I don’t recommend you use this as it gets rather noisy at higher revs. The car can pick up pace well, and is more than comfortable at triple digit speeds, but it lacks the outright punch to pull quick overtakes. It is rather refined for a three-cylinder motor but it can get a bit noisy as the revs climb. The cabin is well insulated from noise though, and occupants won’t be too bothered by it.
Ride quality is good, it absorbs smaller undulations quite well though the lower profile tyres do lend a slight firmness to it. Handling is good as well, there is very little roll for such a tall car and the perfect weighting of the steering just adds to its enthusiast credentials.
Ford are really on to something here. The facelifted EcoSport really has a lot that puts it ahead of the the likes of the Vitara Brezza — in terms of equipment, design, and even variety of engine and transmission options. The quality of the interiors are now better, and the new engine makes for quite an appealing option. The fact that 85 per cent of the facelifted EcoSport is localised (compared to 65 per cent) of the older one should allow them to price it competitively as well. If they manage to do so, they might really have a winner here.