Ford India surprised us back in 2012 when they unveiled the EcoSport Concept. That smart little compact SUV was going to make it to the Indian market soon and come May 2013, they did launch it. This car ignited the sub 4-metre SUV segment, and made manufacturers like Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors look up and take notice. With the SUV craze building up rapidly in India, other manufacturers started bringing their SUVs, which meant the EcoSport wasn’t as popular as it once was. The company kept on updating it from time to time, with the latest version being the Platinum Edition that got a larger touchscreen infotainment system, and bigger 17-inch wheels. But even Ford India knew it was time to bring in a major upgrade very soon. Which is why they got us to Goa yet again, for the test drive of the new 2017 Ford EcoSport. Now this car isn’t just about a cosmetic upgrade, but also gets a change in its heart. Read on to know more…
Still a head-turner?!?
The popularity of the Ford EcoSport back in 2013 can be owed to the way it looked. There was something futuristic-looking about this vehicle. For something that is under 4 metres in length, it looked like a proper mini SUV. The mini SUV look was further enhanced by that tailgate mounted spare wheel, which till date is a Ford EcoSport exclusive feature in its segment. Ford had the option of taking it off on this all new 2017 model, but they retained it specifically for India. And does it still turn heads like it did 5 years back?
Not as much, but there still were people around us who were actually taking notice of the new front end look whenever we stopped in a crowded place. The new front is inspired by the bigger Endeavour. The new projector headlights are now bigger than before, and the old two-piece grille has been ousted for a larger single frame. The grille is overdosed with chromes, while the new larger fog lamps also get the turn indicators integrated in them. The front bumper is again redesigned and the bonnet now has a power bulge that adds to that upright stance. Rest of the design though stays similar to the outgoing model. Apart from the new design, 17-inch alloy wheels on this top spec Titanium+ trim, rest of the design including the roof rails, taillights and the rear bumper have been very mildly touched.
Some of the features though, are new. The outside rear view mirrors are now electrically foldable and also get puddle lamps integrated into it. The keyless entry and go system has been further updated that now detects the key even without pressing the exterior button on the door handle. This is also true when you stop the ignition, close the door and walk away from the car; it will automatically lock itself. Also the tailgate operating button is now placed on the inner side of the handle instead of on it, giving it a clean look. The roof antenna is also been moved to the rear, and is now a shorter stick.
Transformed on the insides…
Get inside the cabin of the new Ford EcoSport and you will find the dashboard has completely transformed, for the better. It is dominated by the new large 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that runs on Ford’s latest SYNC3 software. There is a larger instrument cluster than before, with better legibility, but the design looks a bit passé even compared to the older EcoSport. The HVAC system controls are borrowed from the Figo and Aspire. The passenger side of the dashboard gets a nifty storage space that holds your mobile phone neatly. The centre console now gets a centre armrest with a storage box inside it, and a couple of bottle holders as well. Also, the all new multifunction steering wheel helps you operate the multi-info display, audio system and cruise control. The indicator stalks are all new, and so are the functions buttons for operating the ORVMs.
Coming back to the infotainment system; this one supports Apple Car Play and Android Auto. There is no satellite navigation sadly. But in case you need to use it on your car display, you can do so by connecting your Android phone to the interface. It will mirror Google Maps, and you can use it exactly the same way you do on your phone. The resolution of the display is sharp and offers great legibility even while driving, thanks to its large icons. The touch response of this touchscreen display feels slick and more like your smartphone. For us, this has to be the best infotainment system in its segment even though it misses out on sat nav. Ford India has also thrown in up to 7 colours for the interior ambient lighting. The multi-info display also shows the tyre pressure monitoring system and things like driving time, average fuel consumption and tripmeter amongst others.
The seats on the previous Ford EcoSport were criticized for being snug and were most comfortable for slim fits. But now the company has updated the seats and used softer cushioning that are much more comfortable than before. The top Titanium+ spec comes with leather upholstery for seats. At the rear, the cabin does feel narrow and is best for two adults. Comfort for two is good with excellent thigh support and decent legroom. Interior space is down when compared to new rivals like the Tata Nexon and Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza. The rear seats also lose out on the back angle adjust from the previous car, but does gain on the practicality front, with buttons that help fold down the rear seats easily to increase boot space. Boot space itself is 10 litres down over the previous car, at 352 litres. Ford has included an intelligent shelf with three different settings that helps you improve boot space.
Heart of a Dragon…
One of the most disappointing news about this facelift was that the award winning 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine was discontinued in India. This was going to come some day or the other, as people did not really realise what a gem of an engine this really was. Sales were really low to justify the investments made for this engine, as it was completely imported into India. Earlier last month though the company unveiled its all new engine that has debuted with the new Ford EcoSport facelift. This 1.5-litre engine is an all new 3-cylinder engine that is naturally aspirated. It develops a rather strong 123 HP and 150 Nm that is 2 HP and 20 Nm down on the 1.0-litre Ecoboost motor that we loved. We weren’t really prepared to how impressive this engine feels, especially coming from the old 1.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol motor, but more on that later.
The new 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine belongs to the brand new Dragon series engine and replaces the old 1.5-litre Sigma petrol motor. This one borrows a lot of technology from the Ecoboost motor and features things like an integrated exhaust manifold, independent variable valve timing for the intake and exhaust ports, variable displacement oil pump, timing belt submersed in oil and a balancer shaft with hydrodynamic bearings. The engine block is made up of Aluminium (instead of iron on the Ecoboost), an offset crank design and hydraulic tappets with roller finger followers. I know you might have to google these engineering terms but all you need to know is that this engine feels impressively smooth. Apart from the startup shake, this engine feels extremely smooth for a 3-cylinder motor. Idle is pretty silent too.
On the move too, this engine feels surprisingly refined and cruising at high speed at high RPMs is no issue at all. The only issue we found is that when you are in the mood to drive hard, this engine will get vocal at the top of its rev band. Although even at the red line there are absolutely no vibes or signs of strain on the engine. The engine revs all the way up to 6800 RPM and that’s a rarity today even with naturally aspirated motors (even though the Ecoboost revved till 6500 RPM! Are you feeling the pinch??).
Ford India has also introduced an all new automatic gearbox with the new EcoSport. This one is a torque convertor unit and replaces the dual clutch transmission on the previous car. The gearbox feels pretty smooth, but that’s about it. It will do its duty well when slotted into D mode, whether in the city or out on the highway. The S mode or Sport mode holds engine revs longer in each gear, but doesn’t really inspire the fun or the thrill we usually take for granted in a dual clutch setup. The automatic Ford EcoSport also comes with paddleshifters behind the steering wheel, although taps on them don’t equate to immediate shifts. The gearbox remains slow to react to the paddle inputs and hence it is best to leave it Drive mode, as earlier mentioned. We also go as far as to say that the automatic variant is for those who want an unhurried drive back home, or want the comfort of an automatic on long highway drives. This can also be the variant to go for, going by today’s lifestyles and car-buying choices.
As mentioned above, we were not ready to be impressed by this new engine until we got our hands on the manual petrol variant. There’s nothing like having manual control over the engine to know it the best. This new engine comes very close to the 1.0-litre Ecoboost motor when it comes to outright power. It feels as much (or even more) fun to drive. Apart from the mid-range torque, this engine feels right up there with the Ecoboost with respect to top end punch. The icing on the cake is that it feels very responsive at low revs, unlike new generation naturally aspirated motors. The Ford EcoSport with the new Dragon petrol motor coupled to the 5-speed manual gearbox feels fun to drive, and pretty much on par with the outgoing 1.0-litre Ecoboost motor. All said and done, we will still miss the charm of that gem of a 1.0-litre motor.
We also drove the diesel manual variant and we are happy to report that it still feels adequately powered and we expect it to be as fuel efficient as before.
The suspension setup on the new Ford EcoSport has been made a tad bit softer than the outgoing car. This has definitely helped as the setup on the previous car was criticized for being stiff. The ride feels better than before on the petrol variant. The back seat ride on the diesel variant though felt like it was not settled even on smooth tarmac. But we are not sure this issue was with our particular test car as the suspension setup is virtually the same on both the petrol and diesel variants. We will keep that judgement pending till we get a diesel EcoSport for a longer test drive. The steering still feels communicative, and we say it again is the one of the best EPS systems on any of the mass market cars in India.
Set for big comeback…
With the new engine and gearbox, added equipment and the refreshed looks, the new Ford EcoSport is set for big comeback in the segment that it popularised on its own. Yes, it isn’t as spacious as the Maruti Vitara Brezza or the Tata Nexon, but there is an emotional appeal that this car has, that very few cars in India can boast today. And if you think practically too, this car does not disappoint in the rarest of your dreams. The three different engine gearbox combos are like three different characters of the new Ford EcoSport. The petrol manual is fun to drive, the petrol automatic takes out the stress of driving, while the diesel is the practical and fuel-efficient option. The choice is yours! For us, it would definitely be the new Dragon petrol motor.
Story: Siddhant Nagvekar; Photography: Ritesh Madhok