Ah yes, the Ford EcoSport. It's a decent little crossover.
It's reasonably priced, high off the ground, offers a decent drive and packs a fair amount of equipment. But there was always one thing that spoiled it: that clunky PowerShift dual-clutch transmission.
So when Ford introduced the 2018 EcoSport to the country a few weeks back, we were glad to hear that the dual-clutch transmission has been dropped in favor of a more conventional six-speed automatic. But now, there's a new question that needs to be answered: will the EcoSport be better the second time around? Or will the changes be too little, too late?
To answer that question, as well as to check out what else is new and improved on the 2018 EcoSport, Ford recently invited us on a two-day ride and drive around Batangas. But before we answer that, let's look at the more obvious changes, starting with the looks.
Fresh new look
Okay, its looks won't exactly be setting the world ablaze. But compared to the pre-facelift version, the 2018 EcoSport looks sleeker and more cohesive. As much as the old EcoSport looked unique back then, it hasn't exactly aged as well, from my perspective at least. But judging from the looks that passers-by and other motorists gave us, the redesigned EcoSport does have a more striking appeal.
Taking inspiration from the Everest (and other Ford SUVs), the refreshed EcoSport gets a bolder and chiseled appearance which suited the crossover quite well. Gone is the dual-style front grill as the refresh now gets a large hexagonal-style grill that is accompanied by more substantial headlights. The top-of-the-line Titanium variant even comes with HID lighting although the Trend and Ambiente models only come with halogens.
What else is new? There's the reshaped foglights that adopt a more modern design, and it complements the EcoSport's sleek new look. Also worth mentioning are the new 17-inch alloy wheels which are available throughout the model range except for the base model Ambiente.
Changes at the back were very minimal. So far, the only change I saw was the new spare tire cover. Other than that, it still gets the same taillight and foglight design, as well as the familiar rear bumper. While Ford could have done more to change its looks at the back, it still looks relatively fresh and up-to-date.
All in all, I liked how Ford made the 2018 EcoSport have a more mature look than before.
For the longest time, the EcoSport was only available with SYNC 1. While it was cutting-edge at the time of its release, it was quickly left behind when other automakers started introducing more high-tech, touchscreen-based systems for their crossovers. Not to be outdone by the competition, Ford decided now was the time to put SYNC 3 in the 2018 EcoSport.
Like its stablemates, it now has a more advanced multimedia system that supports Apple CarPlay, as well as Android Auto. High-end models will even come standard with navigation which is always a big . Going through the menus was a breeze and operating certain functions can be done with just a few presses thanks to a tablet-inspired interface. It even gets other extras like a reverse camera, Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, Bluetooth telephony, USB, Applink and voice control.
Running the numbers
So after poking around the car inside and out, it was time to take it out for a drive. While on the road, I took some time to think about the new engine. Now, fans of the EcoSport that have clamored for a more powerful engine can now rejoice. Yes you read that right, the 2018 EcoSport is now available with the award-winning 1.0-liter EcoBoost. First launched for the Fiesta back in 2014, the turbocharged inline-three promises to deliver fuel efficiency and added performance when needed.
The figures? It makes 125 PS at 6000 rpm along with 170 Nm of torque from 1500 rpm - 4500 rpm. The result was a joyful drive on the open road. The pull from the tiny engine was impressive as it can overtake other cars with ease. Turbo lag from the small engine was minimal but we did notice that the engine does lose a bit of steam at the top-end of the rev range. Climbing up steep inclines also proved to be a cinch for the 1.0-liter EcoBoost. Even with three people in tow with lots of luggage, the engine performed admirably and did not disappoint.
But for those that prefer a normally-aspirated engine, there’s also the new 1.5-liter motor. While it’s the same size as the old engine, this new one only comes with three cylinders but produces more power. It produces 123 PS at 6500 rpm and 150 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. Even without a turbo, the new 1.5-liter motor delivered respectable performance. What it lacks in grunt, the new three-cylinder made up for it in refinement and smoothness.
So yes, the new engines are impressive, but it's now time to answer the most important question: How does it shift?
No more clunks
I am happy to report that the biggest flaw of the EcoSport has been eliminated. Gone are the clunks, jerks and hiccups of the old dual-clutch thanks to a good ol' traditional six-speed automatic transmission. With it, the EcoSport now seamlessly goes through the gears with no delay, or drama.
Thanks to the new engines, as well as the new transmission, it totally changed the performance dynamics of the EcoSport. Because of this, the engine and transmission worked in harmony whereas before, the transmission felt like it had a mind of its own.
This also translated into improved fuel economy. With the transmission no longer tripping on its own gears, the EcoBoost-equipped EcoSport was capable of averaging between 15.0 – 16.0 km/l. City driving, on the other hand, netted an average fuel consumption of 8.0 – 9.0 km/l. Still paired to the same transmission, the 1.5-liter Ti-VCT was able to rack up 13.0 – 14.0 km/l of fuel on the open road. Around town and city roads, the 1.5-liter engine was able to return about 8.0 km/l at best.
Do note that these figures involved a fair amount of overtaking, a full load of luggage and a couple of passengers. With a 52-liter fuel tank, the EcoSport can cover hundreds of kilometers before needing a refill.
However, it's not all perfect. I was quite disappointed when I learned it did not have manual gear select. It's a rather strange omission as the pre-facelift version (which came with a dual-clutch) had a manual mode available. Granted, most people might just leave it in 'D', but I like the option of choosing what gear I would like, especially on downhill roads. At least you can still set the transmission to Low (L) if needed.
There is an option to have the EcoSport with a five-speed manual. However, that transmission is only available in the entry-level 1.5L Ambiente and Trend. Hopefully the EcoSport will have manual select again in a future update.
...And the rest will follow
With a smoother and more powerful powertrain, a quieter and more refined riding experience was made possible in the 2018 EcoSport.
With it, noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) was kept to a minimum in the EcoSport. Both the 1.0-liter and 1.5-liter engines were finely-tuned, resulting in no vibrations creeping into the cabin. Also, there was little wind noise which made the EcoSport more comfortable and relaxing for both the driver and passengers.
So has Ford made a better EcoSport?
Without a doubt they have. Ford did their homework right and came up with a better product. Without the clunky dual-clutch messing up the performance of the EcoSport, I finally got to appreciate what Ford's smallest crossover has to offer.
Combined with new technologies, a fresher-looking exterior and more powerful engines under the hood, the 2018 EcoSport surely colored me impressed. It's still that practical, tech-laden and high-riding crossover we all know and love, but made even better than ever. Heck, I wouldn't mind daily driving an EcoSport now thanks to the many improvements that Ford did.
So long PowerShift, we will not miss you.