Stop shifting! Ford EcoSport Ambiente Auto proves it’s built for the city

By Pritesh Ruthun Time of article published Sep 17, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Ford sent us a press release a couple of weeks ago highlighting the fact that its latest EcoSport Ambiente Auto, which went on sale earlier in 2020, shows its commitment to supplying the cars that local the market wants.

The company says there’s an undeniable change in buying patterns that have seen sales volumes of SUVs and mini crossovers grow. In fact, research conducted by Ford shows that the ‘mini SUV’ segment, which includes the EcoSport, has grown from 4% in 2015 to 10% market share of the Total Industry sales in 2020, with many predicting a similar upwards trajectory beyond 2020. The fact that more people are buying these cars in automatic guise makes the new Ford EcoSport Ambiente Auto the complete all-rounder, they said.

Now, this is where things get interesting because to some of you reading this, a Golf GTI with DSG might be the quintessential complete all-rounder. To some of you, the latest Land Rover Defender with supercharged V6 petrol engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox might be the complete all-rounder. Heck, some of you might consider the achingly beautiful new Maserati MC20 to be the complete all-rounder. To each, his (her) own.

The idea of the complete all-rounder in the case of the EcoSport is no doubt coming from the OEM’s viewpoint of price, or value for money rather, being the key selling point. After all, new automatic cars are becoming more and more expensive every three months and as the rand plummets and the coronavirus pandemic leaves us all guessing about what to do next, there’s no better time for all-rounder type vehicles that remain affordable.

With this in mind, I thought I’d get on the long road in the new Ford EcoSport Ambiente Auto, for a variety of reasons; but mainly to see what it’s like as a compact family vehicle on a short weekend trip to the Dalmore Guest Farm near the Drakensburg. Ford supplied the vehicle and arranged with the farm, so they knew I was coming... here’s what happened…

A bit of background

The new Ford EcoSport Ambiente Auto is essentially one of the most affordable ways for you to jump into a compact SUV in South Africa right now. You get a relatively smooth-shifting six-speed automatic gearbox and the strong naturally-aspirated 91kW 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that we’ve come to know and love in the Figo. It’s still front-wheel-drive, but there are many other redeeming features. Our car even came with Hill Descent Control.

Ford notes that this particular vehicle is a unique and compelling proposition that offers exceptional value for money and that it’s ideally suited to active individuals and families where the convenience of an automatic makes it perfect for busy city driving (while delivering comfortable and hassle-free open-road cruising ability). Great, but as I’ll get to later, the autobox needs a bit of refinement for the hills and valleys in South Africa.

The EcoSport range was updated last year so inside, it feels modern and fresh and although there’s way too much cheap-looking plastic used on the upper parts of the dashboard and the door cards, I had to remember that this car comes in at a smidge over R300 000.

My favourite part of the vehicle has to be its multimedia functionality, which remains a stand-out feature of the EcoSport range. The EcoSport Ambiente, in particular, incorporates Ford's SYNC with Bluetooth and Voice Control, as well as two USB ports, six speakers and an 11cm screen. The system is easy to use, offers quick-and-easy Android Auto access and makes using your phone hands-free convenient.

Active driving safety features on the model also include ABS brakes, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control (TC).

Is it worth buying?

If you spend most of your time in the city and dare not venture on to the highway from Johannesburg to the coast, the EcoSport Ambiente Auto is made for you. It’s light, agile, easy to park and manoeuvre. I found it easy to fit the baby seat and the boot was large enough to swallow up a weekend’s worth of luggage for three people. To be honest, there’s really nothing to want for in the Ambiente, perhaps just a little more refinement.

You see, when I got on the highway to Dalmore, it was a rather windy day, with headwinds for most of the journey along the N3 to the N5 where I jumped off the highway and onto the R74. The ‘old road’ to Durban as some of you might know it; it’s a twisty, rising and falling ribbon of tarmac that truly tests a vehicle’s ability to maintain momentum.

On the way down the N3, the EcoSport proved fine, but it was rather frustrating when it hunted for gears between fourth, fifth and sixth whenever I needed to overtake. It felt as though it couldn’t decide which gear to select based on the load and the speed. In fact, it felt like a rather dated gearbox, something I hadn’t experienced in a modern Ford for sure. I mean, we currently run a Ranger with a 10-speed auto and yes, that’s a very different vehicle, but if Ford can nail the shifts on an LCV, they can surely ace the shifts in a compact car, right?

Fuel consumption suffered on the open road in the wind and climbing back up the R74 on the way back, sitting at around 10l/100km according to the on-board computer (way off the claimed figure of 6.9l/100km for combined cycle).

It was only when running around the city for a few days that the constantly-shifting nature of the autobox kind of worked well here. It was nippy between traffic lights and fun to drive between 60km/h and 110km/h.

When you’re test driving one, take it on an extended drive with inclines and some traffic to see if you can live with how it responds. It’s not terrible by any extent, but it’s just this general lack of overall refinement that stood out more than the value for money that the model brings to market.

So, is it worth buying? Not in this current state of tune, as the autobox really needs some attention, perhaps a shorter ratio all round to give it more of an alert feel in the hands.

I’d advise spending a little bit more and getting a 1.0T Trend auto because you get the best combination of useable performance and all the cool Ford tech and safety for not much more money than the Ambiente.

All EcoSports come with a 4-year/120 000km warranty and the Ambiente Auto comes with a 4-year/60 000km Service Plan.


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