Styling cues, such as the lights and grill, are borroved from the bigger Kuga SUV.
Styling cues, such as the lights and grill, are borroved from the bigger Kuga SUV.
Johannesburg - Ford has made some serious nip and tuck changes to its ever-popular EcoSport which was introduced to South Africa in 2013.

Sales have been good to Ford with almost 35 000 units sold, but it was getting a bit long in the tooth and the changes see a big improvement both in terms of style and the interior, and will no doubt see South Africans continue to buy the baby SUV and keep it as the leader in its segment when it arrives here in the second quarter of the year.

The outside features a much bolder look with the designers having taken a leaf out of the new Kuga’s design. The front end now sports the same shaped grille with angular headlights with intergrated LED daytime running lights, giving it a bit more of a beefier look. The back has a new bumper as well as tail light clusters.

The test cars we drove on the international launch in Lisbon featured the European design without the spare wheel on the rear door with only a small compressor and emergency mobility kit for the runflat tyres.

However, we like to have the insurance of a full-sized spare with the distances South Africans drive as well as the condition of some of our roads, so the South African spec will continue to feature the wheel on the back, also adding to the SUV look and feel. Unfortunately though the door still opens to the left which is a bit of a problem though when parking on the left as we do.

Boot space is quoted at 280 litres which is not bad for a mini SUV although with four up and baggage it’s likely to be a tight squeeze.

Inside though it’s a whole new look and feel. There were some rumblings about the unwieldy and plastic nature of the previous design and Ford has addressed these with aplomb.

A soft-touch dashboard replaces hard plastic and a completely redesigned fascia with a lot fewer buttons (which was another issue some people had) give it a much smoother and neater appearance. The seats have also been redesigned.

Ford’s SYNC 3 is now also included and is accessed using the new 20cm colour touch screen in the Titanium derivatives while the middle of the range features a 16.5cm touch screen and base models a 10.7cm screen. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto.

The vehicles we tested were fitted with a B&O sound system with incredibly clear sound coming out of the 10 speakers even at high volume cruising along the highways around Lisbon.

Built in India and Romania, the EcoSport coming to South Africa will be fitted with the existing 1.5-litre turbodiesel pushing out 74kW and 205Nm and the three cylinder 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine with 92kW and 170Nm of torque.

The transmission now has a six speed gearbox on both the auto and manual versions with the automatic gearbox not Ford’s dual-clutch Powershift, but a standard torque converter.

Ford has designed and built a new 92kW 300Nm 1.5-litre EcoBlue turbodiesel to Euro 6 emission levels which unfortunately won’t be coming here because of our fuel quality. A Ford executive did say, however, that with more research and design it’s possible that it could arrive here within three years. Also unlikely to arrive on our shores is an all-wheel drive version.

Our first drive was with the automatic 1.0-litre which needs to be pushed a bit to keep up but there was minimal turbo lag and you have the option of paddle shift if you want to overtake in a hurry.

There have been some tweaks to the steering and suspension and it handled some serious twists and turns in the mountains on the outskirts of Lisbon well but it also showed that despite the new seats, a little more side support would have been welcome.

On day two we were behind the wheel of the new manual diesel. It’s a lovely punchy motor that responds well with a nice turn of speed and even in the hills gear changes were minimal, but I do believe that it would probably be better suited with an auto box.

If the number of existing EcoSports I saw on local roads in the December holidays is anything to go by, the facelift model is likely to appeal to a wide spectrum of South African buyers and I don’t doubt that it will continue to sell well particularly if priced similarly to the current model, as was the word from Ford.