A heavy facelift that just undercuts being an all-new model, the venerable Ford Ecosport is back with more tech and a bigger grille!

Ford almost turned its fortune around in India with the launch of the original EcoSport which had the winning combination of compactness, clubbed with a butch SUV stance. The consumers lapped it up, but soon the competition got a whiff of this secret sauce and started building the heat on Ford. It’s time for the blue oval to fight back and I was whisked away to Goa to witness the successor. Well, I don’t mean that as an all-new car, but when the total number of changes to the “facelifted” model amount to a staggering 1600, it’s hard to see it as just a cosmetic upgrade.

Main image courtesy: Shantonil Nag

Smart for the city

It’s not just the cosmetics though, Ford has also transplanted the famed EcoBoost petrol engine with a brand new DragonAir 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated 3-pot that promises better fuel efficiency and as much, if not more driving fun. But we’ll get to that later. What’s obvious when you first set your eyes on the car is the brand-new grille that is a scaled down version of the big Ford trucks and even the Endeavour.

The single, big face looks cleaner and more robust than the split look of the outgoing model. Bigger headlamps with integrated DRL and projector beams add the necessary aggression and signature while new fog lamps on the lower lip act as functional add-ons. The side profile is largely the same, but the smartly-designed 17in wheels with a bright sheen instantly tell this car apart from the outgoing model. Make your way around the back and the spare wheel mounted on the tail-gate still makes it look like a cheeky little SUV trying to find loopholes in government regulations and makes it distinctive out on the road.

Amped up tech

It’s only when you step inside though, you feel like you’re sitting in an all-new EcoSport. The extensively redesigned centre console is now dominated by a floating 8in touchscreen running the Ford SYNC 3 system that is now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto friendly. The first thing that strikes you about it is the responsiveness and lack of latency. It’s as good as any 2017 smartphone in terms of fluidness and response time, making the entire touchscreen experience so much more enjoyable than the cars above its segment haven’t been able to manage. Back this up with 2xUSB ports and 2x12V sockets and an Aux port and you can’t complain about connectivity. The steering-mounted controls offer the ability to control the usual volume, track and even voice commands, but the ergonomics and screen make it just easier to manually get your way around the entertainment system. With so much going for it, it’s a pity that the poor quality speakers let the overall sound quality down and don’t encourage you to push the volume knob beyond background listening levels. You do get the option of changing the sound focus for either the driver or all passengers for better imaging but that will only help so much.

Ambient lighting makes an appearance too with multiple choice options to liven up the cabin along with faux metallic garnishing around the new automatic climate control module. Quality is a mixed bag overall, with hard plastics and garish chrome strips on some parts while the great steering and new, wider seats stand out with white contrast stitching and excellent lumbar support. There’s a new armrest and some electronic goodies too like Traction Control (switchable), Hill Descent Control and automatic rain-sensing wipers. There’s no sunroof though, if getting toasted under the sun is your thing.

 

One for the driver

Out on the road, the 100bhp, 1.5-litre diesel bearing the same old motor with the manual transmission is still a competent little car, although the steering and the suspension seem to have been given the comfort treatment. Ford’s small cars have always been known to be fun handlers ever since the Ikon came out. The EcoSport had a reputation too, so Ford’s engineers were careful to retain that DNA without making it too stiff. So, comfort does get the priority here and the ride has improved over patchy roads, but the steering feel has taken a small hit as a result. It’s still responsive and direct, but lighter for easier manoeuvrability now.

The seats right away feel more supportive and the driving position is spot on too. It’s a car that makes you feel like you should be in the driver’s seat and on the petrol version, it’s even more true. This new 120bhp, 1.5-litre DragonAir engine is responsive from the get-go. Thanks to its naturally aspirated nature, there’s no initial turbo-lag that plagues all turbo-powered cars in this segment and it instantly feels sprightlier on its feet than the diesel. It’s a rev-happy little motor that eagerly darts towards 5000RPM, but it’s post that, that it loses steam and can’t keep up with a bigger block. But again, as a city runabout, this is as good a 3-cylinder engine as they get. The handling around corners is outstanding and rarely ever makes the FWD understeer prominent. Body roll is kept in check and turn after turn, it manages to put a smile on your face.

The 6-speed auto is smooth too but put it in tiptronic mode, engage the paddle shifters and you realise that it’s the transmission that lags a bit and forces you to plan quick overtaking moves. It’s great to have the convenience and feel of a manual override in an auto but when the paddles are this small, it almost feels like an afterthought and doesn’t encourage much use. It gathers speed with ease and also sheds it rapidly thanks to strong brakes all around. The rear seat is adjustable for angle and is one of the most comfortable in the segment. Even the boot has had a makeover with intelligent parcel shelf management and an increase in overall capacity by 30-litres.

 

Initial verdict

EcoSport fans will definitely be tempted to trade in their rides for the new version. During my drive, I encountered two families in Goa that stopped to ask questions and even got the OK from the missus!  Its smart new alloy design, the bold face and new tech toys inside the cabin will provide enough reason for new potential buyers to get excited too. In reality, it is still a trailblazer with competent engines, transparent service and support system and a fun-to-drive character that isn’t matched by the competition. Sure, it needs bit of polish when it comes to certain plastics and the transmission could be recalibrate for more engagement but as a product overhaul, this is as extensive as an update can get and Ford have done a fine job of it.

 

Where to buy Ford EcoSport First Drive: