autoevolution

Driven: 2018 Ford EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost 125 PS 6MT

In terms of trends, the sport utility vehicle onslaught is gearing up for electrification at the present moment, with volume- and premium-oriented brands investing lots of funds in this area of interest. Before we got here, automakers tried their hands at the subcompact crossover segment with the likes of the Renault Captur in Europe and Jeep Renegade stateside. The reasoning is quite simple, as in the oversaturation of larger SUV segments.
2018 Ford EcoSport (European model) 126 photos
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What started as a means of diversification in the post-financial crisis world became a boom overnight, with the mini SUV getting under the skin on millennials in no time at all. Speaking of millennials, this generation has an immense influence on the evolution of the industry.

Those people we label as Generation X, as any study will confirm you, have changed their car-buying behavior as they got older. Therefore, it’s the millennial consumer that dictates what’s in with the In Crowd and what isn’t.

Ford, which is extremely focused on this sort of stuff, knows it all too well. This is how the second-gen EcoSport came to be, though the initial release in 2012 was met with mixed feelings.

First things first, the more informed of consumers weren’t happy with the Indian and Brazilian influences on the design and development of the subcompact-sized crossover based on the B-car platform of the previous-generation Fiesta.

The first time I got behind the steering wheel of the Ford EcoSport, the most shocking thing that sprang to mind was the quality of the plastic trim, or lack thereof if I may add. Then there was the uninspired cabin design, coupled with sub-standard soundproofing. The tailgate-mounted spare tire was another reason for criticism from the public, but that’s one element I believe makes the EcoSport look more like an SUV rather than a jacked-up Fiesta with an overstated starting price.

As for the biggest nail in the coffin of the EcoSport, that came in the form of questionable engine-transmission combinations. And the lack of all-wheel-drive in critical markets. To make a long story short, the Ford Motor Company didn’t think the EcoSport through for developed countries. Better late than never, however, the 2018 model year ushers in the refresh that promises to change things for the better.

2018 Ford EcoSport \(European model\)
Before we get down to business, it must be highlighted that the layout remains largely unchanged: independent MacPherson strut suspension up front and a torsion beam at the rear. Be that as it may, Ford of Europe highlights that the EcoSport boasts 2,300 new and improved parts. Case in point: even some of the welding points have been changed from the pre-facelift. And that, from an engineering standpoint, speaks volumes about the attention to detail that went into the facelift.

Right off the bat, the EcoSport no longer has that “me too” trait to it. From the point of view of exterior design, the Blue Oval aligned it to the Kuga (Escape) and Edge, bringing it in line with the One Ford strategy created by Mark Fields and Alan Mulally. Be it the entry-level Trend, range-topping Titanium, or sporty-looking ST-Line, the 2018 model year is markedly more mature. And a lot easier to customize.

Take, for instance, the two-tone combinations for the body and roof. The Titanium boasts eight, but the ST-Line calls dibs with no less than 17 combos. If there is a drawback to be called out, that would be the optional full-size spare wheel. On the one hand, it’s not available on the ST-Line. As for the other, opting for it to the detriment of the flat tire repair kit means that the parking camera becomes obsolete.

Moving on to the interior, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the mini SUV apart from the seventh-generation Fiesta. From the instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch digital screen to the SYNC 3 infotainment system that knows how to mirror your smartphone's screen, the perfect positioning of the driver’s right-hand armrest and the two cup holders that don’t interfere with your gear-shifting hand, it’s not bad at all.

Soft-touch materials are used in the areas the driver and front passenger touch most, but the most unexpected attribute of the interior is the size of the door bins. In addition to the built-in cup holders, there’s room in there for half-liter bottles and an average-sized smartphone. Compared to the pre-facelift EcoSport, the improvement in comfort brought to the front seats is admirable too, including on the long haul.

2018 Ford EcoSport \(European model\)
My 1.83 meters (6 feet) aren’t comfortable in the rear, though. With the driver’s seat in my driving position, the lack of leg/kneeroom in the rear is most obvious. A three-hour drive from Bucharest to the Ford plant in Craiova, the place where the Euro-spec EcoSport is manufactured, was more than enough draw that conclusion. On the upside, there’s a 12-volt outlet located on the right-hand side of the rear seat.

While on the subject of interior, rearward visibility is hindered by the design of the C-/D-pillars, but not so much that it makes parking or lane changing difficult. When equipped with the 125-PS EcoBoost three-cylinder turbo, the cabin also happens to be suitably quiet, even at highway speed. The areas where noises from the outside world manage to get in are the side mirrors and rear end’s wheel wells.

Trunk capacity? From 334 to 356 liters with the rear seats in place, which is better than the Fiesta it’s based on and the all-new Fiesta. The side-opening tailgate, which is operated from the right-hand side taillight, is reassuringly square. The low loading floor also helps, but getting rid of the rear seats is a bit of an undertaking.

First off, you’ll need to pull the seat bottoms against the backside of the front seats, after which the EcoSport allows you to fold the rear seats. Even though they don’t fold flat into the floor, cargo volume increases to 1,238 liters. That’s less than what the B-Max (1,386 liters) has to offer, the MPV the EcoSport replaces in Europe.

In regard to drivetrain options, Ford offers three- and four-cylinder mills coupled to six-speed manual and SelectShift transmissions. The latter is of utmost importance, for it replaces the oft-loathed PowerShift dual-clutch gearbox of yesterday. Now that the Getrag DCT is gone, the torque-converter SelectShift proves itself as a much better fit for the 1.0-liter EcoBoost with 125 horsepower and 170 Nm (125 pound-feet).

For the time being in Europe, the Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive system is exclusive to the 1.5-liter EcoBlue turbo diesel coupled to the six-speed manual. In the United States, on the other hand, the option is exclusive to models equipped with the 2.0-liter Duratec four-cylinder, which is rated at 166 horsepower.

2018 Ford EcoSport \(European model\)
Even with front-wheel-drive and the stick shift, the EcoSport with the least potent of EcoBoost options is a pleasurable drive. Swift in the city and refined on the highway, this drivetrain configuration is suitable for most driving contexts.

On the other hand, torque is on the small side of forced induction, and it feels when accelerating in 4th and 5th. Trying to pass a slowcoach at high speed in 6th gear is nigh on impossible. Make no mistake about it, that transmission is made to be rowed.

In defence of the EcoBoost-ed EcoSport, there are little vibrations coming through the firewall even under serious acceleration. The refinements brought to the award-winning powerplant are perceptible even to the untrained ear, and as strange and surprising as it sounds, the EcoSport has that slow-car-fast feeling about it.

A feeling that’s most obvious in the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Toyota GT 86, the slow-car-fast nature of the EcoSport is only the Mazda CX-3 can pull off in the subcompact SUV segment. But in comparison to the plusher and more expensive CX-3, the Ford Motor Company’s contender could use more steering feedback.

Electric power-assisted steering aside, the square-ish proportions of the EcoSport make it easy to position the car where you want to, knowing exactly in which direction the front wheels point toward. For some reason or other, European models get drum brakes at the rear, and Ford is trying to shrug this detail off by calling attention to the low mass and not-so-high center of gravity. That, however, is BS.

If the Chennai plant in India can assemble the U.S.-spec EcoSport with disc brakes on all four corners, regardless of engine option and trim level, why can’t the Craiova plant in Romania do it as well? The answer is, of course, production costs.

2018 Ford EcoSport \(European model\)
The torsion beam rear suspension coupled with rear drum brakes shows its limitations in cold-weather conditions such as sleet-covered roads, with the rear axle tending to lose its cool under hard braking. But when it’s dry and the temperature is on the positive side of the Celsius scale, the EcoSport stops swiftly and surefootedly. All in all, you’ll hardly pay attention to this little compromise.

“Sounds legit. But is it fun to drive?” Although I didn’t have high expectations from the facelift based on my experiences with the original, the EcoSport grips and grips and grips even in slow, tight corners. I could even go as far as saying that it’s chuckable, with understeer barely making its presence felt. Those who claim that it drives like a lifted Fiesta are, to some extent, right. It’s a nice-handling SUV, but the Mazda CX-3 is that bit more rewarding on a B-road thanks to its sportier chassis setup.

In stark comparison to the pre-facelift, the redesigned EcoSport is a different car, one that deserves to be called a sport utility vehicle. It’s a shame that Ford took its sweet time with squeezing every little bit of potential out of it, but better late than never, the Blue Oval did it. And for most European and American buyers in this segment of the utility vehicle domain, it’s an option worth putting on your shortlist.

This gets us to pricing. At $19,995 in the United States for the S and €18,590 in Germany for the Trend, value for money isn’t on the EcoSport’s agenda. Looking at the competition, the Hyundai Kona starts at $19,500 stateside, is more powerful and better equipped than the Ford-badged challenger. Over on the Old Continent, the Renault Captur kicks off at €15,990 and comes with a comparable standard kit.

2018 Ford EcoSport \(European model\)
The truth of the matter is, one can nitpick all he or she likes. The EcoSport will sell by the bucketload, having the potential to surpass the pre-facelift thanks to the upgrades ushered in by the 2018 model year. In addition to the handling and countless customization, there’s something else the EcoSport does extremely well.

And that’s light off-roading. As long as it’s fitted with the right type of tires, the 190-millimeter (7.5-inch) ground clearance enables an approach angle of 21 degrees and a departure angle of 33.3 degrees. Bear in mind, however, that going for the 1.5-liter EcoBlue sees those 190 millimeters drop to 160 millimeters (6.3 inches).

The verdict? Anyone who has test driven a rival or two, namely the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR, will be aware that the EcoSport still is rough around the edges. Not a diamond in the rough such as the Dacia Duster - which is low-cost from head to toe for the sake of unbeatable value in the segment - but at this price point and with the inherent potential of the Blue Oval, the discerning customer knows that there’s room for improvement.

Ford has made perceptible gains with the mid-cycle overhaul of the EcoSport, but the segment has moved on at a faster pace than the Blue Oval is capable of playing catch-up.

 
 
 
 
 

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