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2017 Ford EcoSport Petrol Automatic First Drive Review

What is it?

Why would I buy it?

Refreshed looks, abundance of features, retains its sporty edge

Why would I avoid it?

It still feels cramped for three-abreast seating at the rear

originally drove in the EcoSport in 2013 to satisfy Indian consumers at a time when the compact SUV/crossover popularity exploded upon the scene. It later went on to get a mild facelift in October 2015, where it received additional features, some tweaks to the exterior design and a retuned 1.5-litre diesel engine. However, segment rivals like the Tata Nexon, Maruti Vitara Brezza and Honda’s WR-V have taken the game forward. And Ford has finally decided to drive in the much awaited facelifted 2017 EcoSport. This iteration gets a refreshed exterior design, updated cabin with more features and the new 1.5L Dragon petrol power plant in both manual and automatic options. While the diesel model will continue to be sold, Ford has decided to pull the plug on the EcoBoost variant.

At first glance, there’s no doubt that it is the front fascia section that grabs your attention - simply because of the aggressive new tone. The elimination of the earlier slim grille below the hood made way for the original hexagonal grille to be pushed further upwards. This, combined with the reshaped bonnet, sharper projector headlamps with LED DRLs, larger fog lamps and the elegant alloy wheel design instantly give it more character. But that's just about it, since the silhouette and the rear section is the same story, and Ford would have done well to tweak the design here too. Let’s delve deeper now.

How is it on the inside?

Slide on to the front seats and the new less curvaceous dash design is obvious. But what catches your undivided attention is the large eight-inch vertically positioned infotainment screen that’s perfectly within reach. It gets the brand's Sync 3 tech which is a smooth and quick unit to begin with. Plus, there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay too, in addition to earlier functions like Emergency Assist. Instrumentation is all-new, and although it appears clean, the dials are a little too small for my liking. Ford also claims that they’ve reworked the air-con to cool the cabin quicker than before.

That said, there’s a new attractive multi-functional steering wheel that holds the controls to the MID (multi-information display). On the whole, while the quality of switchgear looks to have improved, some bits like the tacky hard plastic used on the dash and lower cabin reminds you of the outgoing car. This time around, however, the front arm-rest is wide enough to cater to both front passengers and there’s ambient lighting in the footwells too! And if you were still wondering, there's enough cubby space on the lower centre console and door pads to hold your belongings, cups and bottles too. 

Let’s look at the front seats now. They’re now wider and the cushioning is softer than the earlier EcoSport. While the contours do a good job of keeping you in place during spirited drives, there’s ample thigh support, knee-room and headroom even for tall passengers. Since the rear portion of the front seats have been scooped out, there’s enough legroom at the rear too. What’s great is that the cushioning on the rear seats are also as soft as the ones in the front, and the appropriate contours and backrest angle offer good comfort. There’s loads of thigh support, adequate legroom and headroom here too. However, seating three adults in the rear seats has proven to be a tight fit and the absence of rear air-con vents doesn’t help either. While Ford has retained the same boot size, a valuable addition is the rear seat-base that folds upwards to allow the seat-back to drop flat in the Titanium+ variant.  

A quick look at the features list of the Titanium+ revealed functions such as ABS with EBD, six airbags, rear parking sensors and camera with guides, auto wipers and headlamps, smartphone-based navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also driver’s seat height adjust, front-centre arm rest with storage, rear centre armrest, projector headlamps with LED DRLs and leather upholstery. You additionally get ambient lighting, 17-inch alloys, cruise control with adjustable speed-limiting device and a tyre pressure monitoring system.


How does it drive?

The facelifted 2017 EcoSport will now be available with the Dragon petrol motor (manual and auto), and the 1.5-litre diesel motor (mechanically unchanged). We got behind the wheel of the Dragon 1.5-litre petrol variant with the six-speed torque convertor auto transmission for this review. This naturally aspirated three-cylinder motor with a lightweight aluminium block makes 123bhp and 150Nm of torque. You can read more about the Dragon motor here. In stark comparison to how three-cylinder engines usually sound, this one turns out to be reasonably refined at idle and also on the go, until you step on the gas. Of course, there's no running away from the whine while revving at idle too, but it is considerably toned down in this application. 

Once off the mark in D mode, you will notice that the power delivery is extremely linear all the way to the 6400rpm redline. While the mid-range feels a little flat, the power delivery towards the top-end of the power-band is unmistakably crisper. In D, the system gets the gearbox to upshift and coast as soon as you go off the throttle. That said, its performance is more than adequate but the surge in momentum isn't aggressive at all. Although there is some engine noise when revving it to the limit, it never feels harsh. Since this motor pulls cleanly from low revs without any fuss, we feel that the Dragon auto does a good job of commuting within the city. Besides, aren’t automatics meant to comfort you while riding though city traffic snarls, after all?  

And if you're in the mood for some spirited driving, you just have to slot into S mode. Here, the system gets the power delivery to be sportier and gears are held to offer a more enthusiastic drive. You can also be in full control of shifts thanks to the new paddle shifters. But there’s another reason why we stuck to driving in the S mode. The D mode has a tendency to let the gearbox upshift at the slightest hint of decreased pedal input. This means that it could upshift when you're in the middle of the corner and can be confusing to say the least.

Let's talk about the ride and handling now. Ford revealed that the suspension has been made more compliant by optimizing the suspension bushes. But in our drive, we found the ride barely different from the outgoing car and it continues to be on the stiffer side. There is some up and down movement as the roads get bumpier. But it now has a slightly softer edge to it - something that's hardly noticeable. The stiff setup also means that the tight body manners with well-contained roll keeps the drive as exciting as a Ford should ideally be. 

On the steering front, engineers have also taken customer feedback and toned down the sharpness of the earlier car. It now feels lighter, more linear and progressive off the dead-centre. Despite this, the new EcoSport's steering response is still direct with adequate feedback, and full marks to Ford for pulling this off without dampening the drive experience. When it comes to braking, however, we felt that more feedback from the brakes would have made the whole experience better.

Should I buy one?

What goes in favour of the 2017 Ford EcoSport is the refreshed front nose portion, the Dragon motor with the auto transmission and paddle shifters that makes for both a good city commuter and also some spirited driving. Then, there are the extra features, a more contemporary dash design, larger and comfier front seats with lots of support, headroom and legroom. Plus, the firm suspension continues to offer the original quick-turning manners while still retaining the high speed bump absorption.

On the flip-side though, Ford could have tweaked the rear portion of the car to induce some excitement. Plus, the narrow width of the cabin (due to thick doors), and the hard edged plastic bits on the dash are still downers. On a personal note, I didn’t take much of a liking to the rather bland instrumentation and the Dragon motor’s tendency to give away its three-cylinder manners at times. That said, a slightly more enthusiastic mid-range would have been appropriate, and the D mode upshifts at the slightest accelerator inputs (done in the interest of fuel economy) could have been optimised.

Where does it fit in?

The 2017 Ford EcoSport drives into a segment that’s dominated by the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza, and other rivals such as the Tata Nexon, Renault Duster and the Honda WR-V. However, the Ford EcoSport is the only compact SUV/Crossover that comes with a petrol automatic option.

Pictures: Kapil Angane

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