Driven: Ford EcoSport 1.0 Ecoboost Active – How is the EcoSport still competing after so many years?

I kept asking myself this question as I was on the N1 north between Pretoria and Polokwane. This was when I did a 700km journey on the recently introduced Ford EcoSport Active.


Look, I have seen the EcoSport enough in my life to accept it, the car has been around since 2013 and the first time I saw it, I thought it was a little weird. This is because my first vehicle is a 2014 Ford Fiesta 1.4L Duratec Ambiente and I could not help but see a Fiesta dough mixed with yeast when I first saw the EcoSport. I was not even thinking about fancy terms like “Platform-sharing” at the time, I just saw that the two are similar in many ways but the height and length of the EcoSport could not allow my eyes to process it well.


It seems like I needed glasses because wow! Did Ford not sell so many of these vehicles? It’s been almost 10 years and the EcoSport was still counted amongst the fifteen top selling cars in South Africa by mid-2022. I don’t have the total sales figures since the introduction but there should be a reason Ford South Africa is keeping this car going for so long.


Unlike its bigger sibling in the bakkie segment, the Ranger, the EcoSport is not built/assembled here in South Africa, it’s an import from India and Europe, where the former is providing the 1.5 normally aspirated variants and the latter provides 1.0 Ecoboost. In fact, India has indicated that they stopped manufacturing it but no such word came out of Europe, so if the love we’ve seen over the years is anything to go by, South Africans are still in for a treat from the European arm of the Blue Oval.


I was given the latest derivative to arrive on our shores, the EcoSport Active 1.0L Ecoboost to test and see what is it that convinces South Africans so much that it is still dancing with the recently introduced vehicles because, since its initial release, it has seen competition increasing by the day, some probably even found it and left and it still running, by that I mean
you can still get a brand new one from the dealership today. As we’ve seen before with Ranger and Everest, Ford sure knows how to trigger consumers with some subtle tweaks on their current products. I mean look at the freshness of the special editions of the outgoing Ranger and Everest, the vehicles they are based on are more than 10 years old, but Ford still finds a way to make you turn your head when the Stormtrak or Everest Sport is passing by. This derivative is also part of that story by Ford, it is a special edition.


What’s the story with it?


The EcoSport Active is based on the Trend variant, which means it falls just below the top-spec Titanium. It is powered by the same 1.0L turbocharged- EcoBoost engine that is good for 92kw and 170nm of torque. In South Africa, you can only get it with a 6-speed automatic. It identifies differently from the vehicle it’s based on by the amazing 17” rims, all-around cladding comes with rear privacy windows, black styling that includes a black roof, mirror caps, blacked-out grille, and some black trim around the front headlights and fog lights.
 

When you get inside you will not miss the leather seats engraved with the letter “A” which surely stands for Active. To say these tweaks made it a looker is an understatement, this is, in my opinion, the best-looking EcoSport variant. It really stands out in the crowd and well into it's segment. By Segment, I mean the Kia Sonet, Hyundai Venue, Toyota Urban Cruiser, Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Chery Tiggo 4 Pro, Nissan Magnite, Renault Kiger, etc. This list is not exhaustive as this segment is way more competitive than when EcoSport first came out. 

But, how come it still has a seat at the table with recently introduced vehicles after so many years running?
 

Let me talk about my story with it. It was on a Thursday morning around 8:00 am when Ford South Africa dropped off the EcoSport Active by my place. I took the car into my parking lot, not overly curious as I did expect it to be as simple as cars come in this segment. I mean I have tested several cars in this segment already. I got into the apartment and started wondering, but why? Why did Ford keep it running for so long? I went into a mini-research mode and realised that this vehicle is one of Ford’s most strategic vehicles. Ford saw the future and realised the likes of Figo, Fiesta and Focus are not going to keep up well considering that the world is going crazy on SUVs. This is Ford’s smallest SUV in the Ford SUV family, it shares its underpinnings with the Figo and Fiesta and by that, they managed to give the world a real compromise between what used to be first-time-buyer-cars-turned-family-cars and SUV. In technical terms, one may consider this a cross of those hatches.


I thought to myself “okay that makes sense” I see why they would want to keep it. Another question arose, but why did they not change it over the years? I mean the one we are talking about here is the first facelift, a few updates were made when Ford brought the seventh generation Fiesta and that’s about it, nothing much has been changed on it.


Don’t fix it if it’s not broken? Ford says “Yes.”


After about 20min, I went to the car and drove it for about 5km then returned. Parked it and thought “Okay, I get that it’s looking fresh but if it’s gone, I won’t be as bothered as I was when the Ford SA indicated that the Fiesta is not coming back.” Remember that it was just a 5km drive. I had a long journey to cover over the weekend, so I left it and almost forgot about it that day. Come Friday, journey time, I was heading home for a family event where, naturally, I must go with family members who need the “lift.” Cool, went to pick them up, and it was three of them, I was the fourth one. We got onto the N1 facing North towards Polokwane. The 333L boot was full, as it can only take so much but it’s more aligned to the segment. The cars I mentioned above range between 328 litres and 405 litres in boot space.


One would be a little concerned about safety when travelling in a car like this as it's more family orientated but there was some comfort in that it comes with a class average four-star NCAP rating, class airbag count of seven including side, curtain, and driver knee protection. It also has advanced safety tech such as a collision mitigation (crash avoidance) system and electronic brake assist. I am slowly starting to see why it is still here and why I should be bothered if it is discontinued.


All right, back to the trip, I always start the journey with the sound system. I could not help but notice that it is not as powerful as it is in my old Fiesta, none-the-less it has quality balance, and clarity of the notes but lacks that bass that gives your chest some thump. Take the volume up and it will start to give you a little more of it, luckily the people I was travelling with loved the playlist, so they did not mind the high volume. The impressive thing with Ford is that no matter if their sound system is premium or not, it blends in well with insulation and the noise cancelling is quite great once you turn on the sound system, this alone brings about some comfort and premium feel to it.

Talking about overall insulation, this is a class leader despite the hard plastics used on the door panels. I found myself accepting the wind and road noise. It is riding on 205/50 R17 tyres. You’d be aware that the “50” there represents the height from road to the rim, so half of 205 (meaning 112.5) is the millimeters from ground to rim. That is a low-profile tyre but it still managed to keep out some of the unwanted cheap-sounding noises from disturbingly coming into the cabin.


By the time we were halfway towards Polokwane, I was already starting to feel an unexpected joy. This was because I was in a 1.0L 3-cylinder engine and it never felt like I was falling behind or being pushed out of the fast lane by just anything driving above the national speed limit. The way the torque feeds into gears when you gently press the throttle really impressed me. This is not a performance vehicle by any means, this is a 9-year-old small SUV refreshed to meet 2022 design standards but still managed to get on way better than some of its newer rivals.


The engine is not one to make unnecessary noise when cruising unless you want to overtake or try to pick up quickly from the line. It’s quite punchy but somehow, I think the 1.0L turbo 85kw from Volkswagen can challenge it due to the higher torque figure of 200kw. Where I see it winning is the 6-speed transmission, I think besides the engine that is one area that impressed me so much, it is so seamless that I started rating it higher than Ford’s 10speed in the bigger siblings.


Hear me out, I am very disturbed by a transmission that changes often on a slight slope change of the road and this transmission knows when not to respond to the slight changes, you really can control it like a manual via your throttle input even when going on a long uphill. This transmission does not even kick you from your seat, it can still feed the power in at gear six without losing the steam at around 120km/h. It will respond with a change down should you need to go higher and well wasn’t I impressed taking the N1 North Mokopane hill like it’s a bigger engine capacity? Look, there was a BMW sedan behind me going uphill, and yes it pushed me from the fast lane and I let him pass But I can tell you, that at the speed we were travelling at, that BMW was travelling at an illegal speed, which can tell you how this little 3-cylinder engine managed to go up that hill.


Now that we were close to Polokwane, I started looking at the fuel gauge and realised that all the fun from Pretoria doesn’t come cheap, it comes at a cost. Ford claims average fuel consumption of 6.3L/100 but at that time we were at around 7.8L/100. Not entirely bad but I thought, in my mind this was a 40-litre tank the way it drank the fuel, thanks to the happy right foot. Okay, so I arrived at the destination and drove around a bit over the weekend, it was on Sunday when I had done around 483km that the fuel reserve light came on showing 80km remaining. I was like "well, I deserve that" then I went to the pumps, the results shocked me, as the attendant was pumping I saw it still running fast as it approached 40 litres, I think it got to 48 litres and some change on the pumps and that when I thought "damn! this has a bigger tank."  After doing a quick search, I realised that it has 52-litre tank and that means we chowed close 10l/100km combined with the ups and downs. I felt that, I immediately took it as a lesson and even consoled myself with “fun was had, you can’t take that experience away anyway.”

 

In the afternoon, we packed up the boot full, again, even more than when we came to Limpopo, now with an additional person, meaning we were 5 adults in the car. Impressive head and leg room  as no one indicated discomfort, in fact, they even managed to sleep on the way, I mean all of them, I was just cruising along the N1 by myself. I forgot to say that I reset Trip B to see this consumption clearly with a different driving style. With my Friday lesson in mind, we got on to the N1 and headed south, I maintained the speed between 120km and 129km for most of the way, again the transmission proved to be a winner with minor change downs. This time the air conditioner was on, I used the cruise control a bit. Oh, did I mention that it has cruise control and speed limiter? I think I did not, it has, and a speed limiter is quite rare in this segment. 


So, when we got to Pretoria, Trip B was averaging 6.7l/100km after we had done 358.7km. The fuel gauge was above half, impressive I thought, in fact when I got to 414km on Trip B after driving and running some errands the next day, the car was still left with around 325km of range. It was impressive considering the first tank did not last that long. After reading all the above, I apologise but all I wanted to say is if you keep playing with your right foot you will go to the pumps frequently but with a sensibility as is expected of an EcoSport buyer, you should be fine.

In the competition, how does it play with newbies?


Talking about the EcoSport buyer, this is an extremely sensitive buyer considering that they are spoilt for choice so packaging vs pricing is especially important. This is an old vehicle and lacks some of the current nice-to-haves when compared to the competition, to name a few: no keyless entry (but there is a hack), you need to start the car with the key, the biggest bother is that it has no reverse cameras, no auto headlights, LEDs headlights are mixed with halogen high beams and air conditioner is manual. It does not let itself go down just because it’s been around it still has some tricks that can fight with
newbies: you can remote start it and unlock it with your phone via Ford Pass, you get cruise control with speed limiter, the 8” touch screen is crisp and responsive, it has lumbar support, rear park assist, leather interior, and what I would regard as the most comfortable steering wheel in its class.


The competition is not necessarily sitting back though, looking at the pricing, the EcoSport starts at R311 400 and tops at R416 900. The Active variant is priced at R393 700, which is already above all the competition mentioned. Pricing alone might sway you the other way, but it doesn’t end there does it? This car shines on its driveability (engine, transmission, and comfortable suspension), exterior and interior designs, safety, and robustness.

 

Overall, it feels more whole and premium over the competition. The competitors such as Magnite, Sonet, Urban Cruiser, Vitara Brezza all come with two airbags, I mean when you think that this is a family segment, seven will surely give you some comfort, they honestly don’t drive as good as this car does. The Kia Sonet is the only one that feels as solid as this one, the top-spec EX+ 1.0 turbo comes with 6 airbags, I am yet to drive it but if it’s as good as this, Ford can expect a run for their money.


I can’t forget a serious dark horse, the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro, I left it for last because its giving everyone a run for their money, and Ford is not spared from this. Chery has been indicated to
be pushing numbers that threw it into the top ten selling car brands in South Africa as of July 2022. That is no small feat, the advantage it has over the Ecosport is surely the pricing vs features. It is packed with technology and features; it drives well and feels premium for its price. Ford will surely edge it with what people would regard as “familiarity comfort” as Chery is pretty new, and people are still asking themselves if it will hold its screws and value.


Chery’s biggest flaw of the Chery against EcoSport is its fuel consumption, it really is a big call considering that this segment is very price sensitive. Otherwise, I think the Sonet Turbo and the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro are the real contenders against the EcoSport Active.


This car comes with an optional four-year/60 000km service plan at 15 000km intervals and a standard 4-year/120 000km warranty.

 

Will it be felt if it left our shores?


Definitely, since I got this car for the test week, I have realised how much consumers bought the EcoSport, so if that can be a measure of love, people really warmed-up to the EcoSport. As for the Active derivative, it is for me the most beautiful variant, packaged well to sell as it touches on all basics and what you need. It lacks some nice-to-have this and that but the way it drives really gives it an edge over the competition. Despite its age, it is still holding up so well and I don’t see you regretting it should you decide to pick it up.
 

Photos: Sebuwa M

Pen: Sebuwa M