Does a fresh design and a stack of new technology offer buyers enough to consider the Ford EcoSport? Paul Maric finds out.
If a large SUV isn't your cup of tea, small SUVs offer a perfect compromise between space and that alluring commanding vision over the road.
Ford has taken the styling stick to the 2018 Ford EcoSport with an all-new front end, revisions to the rear plus a new interior that adds a stack of new technology and features.
Kicking off from $22,790 (plus on-road costs), the EcoSport Ambiente now comes with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 90kW of power and 150Nm of torque and uses a combined 6.9 litres of fuel per 100km.
The entire range comes with a six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, with the manual and Powershift gearbox killed off in favour of the automatic-only line-up. It's also front-wheel-drive only, as opposed to some of the EcoSport's competitors that offer all-wheel-drive options. The EcoSport is now also exclusively built in India for the Australian market.
While the Ambiente is up 8kW of power and 10Nm over the outgoing model, the rest of the range gets the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine that produces 92kW of power and 170Nm of torque and uses a combined 6.7L/100km.
Changes to the front end give the EcoSport a more aggressive stance, with the Ford SUV family grille sitting proudly across the front.
The spare tyre with barn-style boot door remains on the rear, but that will disappear in 2018 when the EcoSport gets its MY18.5 upgrade. Ford admits that country buyers love the peace of mind a spare wheel on the rear offers, but most customers want to see it gone.
While the spare tyre will disappear, the door will remain as a barn door, as opposed to a conventional tailgate, which swings about a hinge at the roof line. The barn door also swings toward the kerb side, which isn't overly convenient.
Customers will love the boot space on offer here and the addition of a multi-stage cargo floor. Measuring in at 1178 litres floor to ceiling, it's a versatile space, especially when the second row is folded to offer an almost flat cargo space.
Squeezing adults into the second row is a chore. It's a space mainly reserved for children or occasional travel, and it's only to be expected from a vehicle in this segment that is often purchased by older Australians or young couples without a family.
It's up front that the bulk of changes have helped make this a more appealing option for buyers.
Ford's excellent Sync3 infotainment system is standard across the range either in the form of an 6.5- or 8.0-inch colour touchscreen. It's very quick with menu transitions lag-free.
Both variants of Sync3 come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with 8.0-inch versions also getting native satellite navigation built in.
Ford claims that this latest version of the EcoSport has improved materials and build quality, but interior materials still feel fairly low rent with scratchy plastics on almost every surface.
On the upside, the steering wheel sits nicely in the hand and it comes with a full suite of steering wheel controls. There's a softly padded centre armrest, plus a 4.2-inch screen nested in the instrument cluster that provides a digital speedometer, navigation functions and the trip computer.
Disappointingly, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) isn't available at all on the EcoSport platform, despite the technology being rolled out across the Mazda CX-3 range and a number of Ford's SUV competitors.
Other safety features include a full suite of seven airbags, reverse-view camera, rear parking sensors (along with front parking sensors on Titanium), and an emergency assistant function that dials emergency services in the event of a serious accident.
Our drive route included time in the mid-specification Trend and top-specification Titanium models that mainly included urban and suburban roads.
Despite the on-paper numbers of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, it's a very eager unit and even more so now that it's mated to a six-speed automatic torque converter gearbox.
It's enough pep to get in and out of traffic, while visibility out the front, sides and rear is excellent. The reverse-view camera helps with rearward visibility, while a host of parking sensors make this seriously easy to park. Steering and brake pedal feel are excellent with an obvious focus on driving through city conditions.
The ride is fantastic thanks to softly sprung suspension that caters for the bumps and potholes you're likely to find littered throughout the city. We also noticed that the light vibration felt with the previous generation is gone. You can often get vibrations through the cabin with engines that feature unevenly numbered cylinders.
The sound system is great and using Sync3 is a breeze thanks to the voice-recognition function. It teams up with two USB ports that offer charging and external music connectivity.
Building on an already good base, the new Ford EcoSport offers a sensible package that delivers versatile interior space, city-friendly driving and a host of excellent features that will keep tech-savvy buyers happy.
Is it a segment leader? Not with the lack of AEB. But, we're keen to put it up against its competitors to see whether it has the goods to deliver more than just value for money.
Would you buy a Ford EcoSport with its refreshed design?