I still remember the first time I tested the Ford EcoSport. It was a decent city runabout with fun handling, good dynamics and a high driving position. It was well-equipped too with its advanced (for the time) infotainment system and stability control fitted as standard in most of the range.
Unfortunately, the jerky dual-clutch transmission spoiled what should have been a decent car. I distinctly remember getting knocked back and forth in heavy traffic, and it gets worse when it gets hot outside. A shame, really, because the basics are there for it to be a great.
Fast forward a couple of years and thank heavens Ford finally ditched the dual-clutch transmission in favor of a more conventional six-speed automatic. But the thing is, the EcoSport isn't exactly a spring chicken. So the question now is this, is the change too little, too late?
But first things first, the looks. It's still the familiar shape we've been seeing for quite some time now but I do like the new front. The headlights are bigger, and so is the grill. The tweaks make it appear more masculine while retaining its 'cute-ute' design. There's a new set of alloys too which I say suit the small crossover. Also, the metallic brown color, exclusive to the EcoBoost model, is a nice addition to the range.
There are still some quirks however. For starters, the spare tire is still mounted on the tailgate and the hatch release is still a button on the tail light garnish. While we're on the subject of its tailgate, it still swings out sideways so be wary when opening it in tight spaces.
Changes are more dramatic on the inside with a totally new dashboard and slightly redesigned door panels. The early-2000's mobile phone-inspired center controls have been replaced with a more intuitive and easier to understand touchscreen. As a result, it looks neater inside, and more user-friendly if I may add. The instrument cluster has been given an overhaul too, now employing the same look as the Focus. It looks clean and uncluttered with high-definition graphics and a host of information that won't overload you. Sitting in front, you're given the impression that you're driving a new car and not a major update.
But one thing they didn't change in the EcoSport is the space, or lack thereof. There's only so much you can do updating a model and its small dimensions limit interior room. Foot and legroom in the front are decent but accommodations at the back are still tight. Headroom takes a bit of a hit too because of the sunroof but, personally, I like sunroofs and the extra light they bring in to the interior. Cargo capacity is still smaller than most of its rivals, but the low floor means you can stow tall items in it. You can somewhat pack heavy in the EcoSport, for as long and you're willing to stack luggage and play a bit of Tetris with them.
The biggest update, aside from the more conventional six-speed automatic, is the new engine. There are no more four-cylinder EcoSports in showrooms today. It's all powered by three-cylinder engines and the the Titanium now boasts a 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It came from the Fiesta and it packs 125 PS and 170 Nm of torque. It's a significant amount up from the old 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine which made 110 PS and 142 Nm of torque. Amazing what a turbocharger can do, eh?
First impressions are good then. It's stylish, packed with tech, has a turbo, and it drops the fuzzy transmission. With all those combined, how does it feel out on the road?
Hop in, climb on board, and when you close the door, it lets of a solid thump one would normally associate with European offerings. Start it up and the engine is surprisingly void of vibration, a common trait of three-cylinder engines. Much like before, the EcoSport feels solid and robust despite its small size.
That feeling of solidity translates well when you're driving it, with a hushed cabin and supple ride. The old one felt rather firm so tweaks to the chassis has certainly made the EcoSport a more comfortable choice. Seats are nice and cozy too although folks with wider waistlines (like myself) might find it a bit snug. The flipside to that a lot of hip support, which is helpful if you frequent twisty mountain roads.
But despite the more forgiving suspension, handling is still good and made better by more feedback through the steering wheel. Granted, it's a crossover, but the fun DNA of the Fiesta is still evident. If anything, Ford knows how to tweak a chassis in something as humdrum as a small family car, and add a bit of zing in it. What makes the feat more impressive is the fact that the EcoSport is a rather tall car.
Now you may be wondering why I haven't talked about the engine and the transmission just yet. I'll go straight to the point then: It's a bit of a mixed bag.
Performance is good, and it feels like a non-turbo, 1.5-liter engine around town and on the highway. The 1.0-liter EcoBoost is fantastic for cruising, achieving 14.2 kilometers per liter at an average 43 km/h, and goes up to 16.1 kilometers per liter at an average of 88 kilometers per hour. Passing power is adequate, giving you enough confidence to overtake.
The downside? It still like a bit of a drink in heavy traffic. At an average of 18 kilometers per hour, it returns a mere 8.2 kilometers per liter, which is low for a 1.0-liter engine. It drops even lower when things end up in a standstill, reading 7.7 kilometers per liter at 15 kilometers per hour. Perhaps it's because it hasn't reached 1,000 kilometers just yet, but I was expecting more 'Eco' out of EcoBoost.
What annoyed me even further is the fact that it doesn't have a manual mode; no 'plus-minus' buttons in here. Instead, it's the good ol' P-R-N-D-L lever, meaning the engine has to rev a little high to shift to the next gear. A shame because the addition of a manual mode would make the engine feel more flexible, and help save a bit more fuel.
Still, the combination of the six-speed automatic and the 1.0 EcoBoost has done wonders for the overall driving experience. The jerky sensations of the past have been replaced by smoother, seamless shifts from one gear to another. As a result, the whole car feels grown up. The performance is fine as it is, but a few more tweaks would make it more efficient.
Overall, not a bad car then. It's much improved from before and I wouldn't even mind having one. At Php 1,168,000, prices have come up a fair bit, but it's packed with technology and safety kit. There's nothing Ford could do about the cramped quarters, which may put some car shoppers off the otherwise capable crossover. With the new engine and transmission, I wish this was the model Ford put out back in 2014. But nevertheless, it erases most of its sins of the past.
If you want an EcoSport but don't want to shell out over Php 1.1 million for one, there's the Trend model without the turbo and the advanced infotainment system. But as it is, the EcoSport Titanium is still worth recommending if you've always wanted one but have been having doubts about its reliability. Needless to say, the changes are not too little, too late, but rather, just in time.