Nottingham Road, KZN - Ford’s EcoSport has pretty much owned the baby SUV segment since the day it first landed in 2013. Five years later and it’s still selling up a storm, despite having a whole lot more competition to worry about.

But it could certainly use a refresh, which brings us to the facelifted SUV that Ford SA introduced in late July. We recently got the chance to put the new EcoSport through its paces on a variety of roads in the KZN Midlands.

First thing you’ll notice about the 2018 model is that butch new front end, featuring a trapezoidal grille that’s positioned further up and directly between the redesigned headlights. This and a new bonnet with a central bulge make it look like a baby Ranger of sorts and no, you may not fit a ‘Raptor’ grille from the spares shop up the road.

There’s not much to tell the new model apart from the side and back, except for a subtly revised rear bumper and tail lights as well as new 16-inch dark grey alloys on the Trend.

Inside there’s a totally new dashboard that places the entertainment system above the central air vents and within very easy reach for the driver.

The new interior design not only brings things things up to date technologically, but it also looks much smarter and the materials and textures are all of a high quality.

Trend and Titanium models get Ford’s latest Sync3 system, operated through touch-screens measuring 16.5 and 20.3cm respectively. Sync3 features advanced voice control and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The touchscreen interface is easy to operate and the graphics look crisp and modern. There is no reverse camera but both models do get park assist as part of the deal and the Titanium gets navigation as standard.

The base Ambiente gets the first-generation Sync operating system, linked to a 10.6cm non-touch screen, and featuring voice control and Bluetooth connectivity.

Other standard features include aircon, electric windows, steering-mounted audio controls, remote central locking, trip computer, six airbags, ABS brakes and stability control.

In addition to the aforementioned Sync3, Trend models gain a leather steering wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat, tyre pressure monitoring, Roll Stability Control, a hard cover for the spare wheel, chrome grille trim, LED daytime running lights and 16-inch alloys. The Titanium grade adds cruise control, automatic climate control, LED ambient lighting, auto headlights, lower body cladding and 17-inch alloys, among other additions.

Nothing much changes on the engineering front, apart from measures to further reduce noise, vibration and harshness and there are new suspension bushes. Even on harsher roads, of which we experienced many in the Valley of 1000 Hills, the EcoSport remains impressively quiet. The suspension did a good job of soaking up the ruts and ripples on the dirt stretches, although I feel the suspension could have been made a little softer given that this vehicle is largely aimed at family buyers.

Road holding is quite neat however, and body roll is not excessive, particularly given the EcoSport’s top-heavy stance, and the steering feels relatively well weighted and communicative.

Engines carry over although the base 1.5-litre normally aspirated petrol falls away - something that Ford has compensated for by offering the 1.5-litre turbodiesel in base Ambiente form. The 74kW/205Nm engine is however only available in this base guise and only with a manual gearbox, something Ford SA attributes to supply constraints from the factory in India.

The 1-litre turbpetrol models are now sourced from Europe however, and buyers have a choice between a six-speed manual and a new torque converter six-speed automatic gearbox.

It was the latter model that we drove on the KZN launch, and it is a very refined and smooth revving engine, with none of the usual three-cylinder imbalance. It’s got enough power to suit most needs and overtake safely but there were a few occasions when we wished for a bit more power.

Economy is a mixed bag - in our lower-speed run up to the Midlands - with plenty of climbing as well as frequent stops and pull-offs, fuel consumption crept beyond the nine litres per 100km mark, but on the highway back down to Durban, at a steady speed, it consumed less than six litres per 100.

Priced between R264 500 and R339 900, the EcoSport offers relatively good value in relation to its rivals, and given its overall sophistication it is likely to continue dominating the segment. The SUV is sold with a four-year/120 000km warranty and a four-year/60 000km service plan.

FORD ECOSPORT PRICES

EcoSport 1.5 TDCi Ambiente manual 74kW/205Nm R264 500
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Trend manual 92kW/170Nm R287 500
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Trend auto 92kW/170Nm R300 700
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium manual 92kW/170Nm R327 800
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium auto 92kW/170Nm R339 900

ALTERNATIVES

Hyundai Creta 1.6 Executive 90kW/150Nm R329 900
Hyundai Creta 1.6 Executive auto 90kW/150Nm R249 900
Mazda CX-3 2.0 Dynamic 115kW/104Nm R317 200
Mazda CX-3 2.0 Dynamic auto 115kW/104Nm R329 200
Nissan Juke 1.2T Acenta+ 85kW/190Nm R324 300
Opel Crossland X 1.2 Turbo Enjoy 81kW/205Nm R318 895
Peugeot 2008 1.6 HDI Active 68kW/230Nm R284 900
Peugeot 2008 1.2T Active 81kW/205Nm R299 900
Peugeot 2008 1.2T Allure auto 81kW/205Nm R334 900
Renault Captur 1.2T Dynamique 88kW/190Nm R307 900
Renault Captur 1.2T Dynamique auto 88kW/190Nm R322 900
Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL+ 86kW/151Nm R319 900
Suzuki Vitara 1.6 GL+ auto 86kW/151Nm R332 900
Toyota Rush 1.5 S 77kW/136Nm R299 900
Toyota Rush 1.5 S auto 77kW/136Nm R313 500

IOL Motoring