Thursday September 7, 2017
By Richard Bosselman
MAJOR improvements that could conceivably help Ford’s smallest sports utility here shake off its lame duck image here have been released, but there’s no word on when Kiwis will enjoy them.
Ford is using next week’s Frankfurt motor show to put the spotlight onto a refreshed version of the EcoSport, a Fiesta-based crossover that has struggled to achieve traction since coming on sale here almost four years ago, achieving fewer than 400 sales per annum over the past three years.
Implementation of a fresh Ford family look, improved connectivity, more powerful and more economical engines and perhaps the option of all-wheel-drive would seem to address the most significant flaws affecting the current car, whose poor drivetrain, second-rate finish, outdated infotainment and design awkwardness – highlighted by the spare’s awkward external location on the back door – were exposed in early media evaluations and have undoubtedly kept it in the sales doldrums.
The changes have been glacial in coming – Ford actually made some suspension and design improvements to the car two years ago, but those updates were never delivered to NZ-spec product – but still timely, nonetheless, with baby crossovers now enjoying significant success.
However, Ford’s wee offering has so far never come close to threatening the big guns of the sector – the Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda’s CX-3 – and has been left behind by newcomers such as the Honda HR-V and Subaru XV. The oldest car in the sector, Holden’s Trax, has also outsold it.
Also, Ford will be aware that more competitors are coming: Frankfurt also debuts the Hyundai Kona which will be in New Zealand within two months, and the NZ-cited Kia Stonic, Citroen C3 Aircross and Seat Arona.
Interestingly, while Ford internationally has signalled another change – a switch of production from India to Rumania – reports still cite that the Chennai factory will continue to service Australasia.
This raises conjecture that the full extent of the revisions going to Europe and the UK might not reach our country; notably, we might not see the new turbodiesel that features in the Romanian-made car and also could eschew all-wheel-drive, an option not provisioned until now.
All that is known at the moment is that the exterior and interior revamp is locked in.
The revamped nose gets the same trapezoidal grille and sharper headlamps, with LED daylight running lights, meted the recently updated Escape mid-sized SUV and upcoming Edge large SUV that will replace the Territory in the first half of 2018.
The rear end has also been tidied up with a revised rear bumper and re-designed tail-lights. And the spare wheel now tucks into a compartment under the floor.
One of the biggest changes is the dash. At long last it gets the latest 8.0-inch touchscreen with Ford’s SYNC3 connectivity including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A digital display is also included in the instrument binnacle.
A rear-view camera, automatic headlights and rain-sensitive wipers are also now implemented and safety has been improved with blind spot warning and new side airbags that provide more body protection.
The European version adopts an advanced all-wheel-drive system and a new 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel engine. However, Australian media reckon the car coming to this part of the world will likely stick with front-wheel drive and a pair of petrol powerplants. One of these might be a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine – codenamed Dragon – that replaces the ageing Duratech 82kW/140Nm 1.5-litre petrol engine in the sub-continent.
In that market, this engine will be paired with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.
The alternative petrol engine – the acclaimed 92kW/170Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost – is currently offered only with a five-speed manual gearbox. However, an automatic transmission is now available overseas and there’s thought it might also drop into the Australasian market.
Effort to return attention to the model might also see thought given to treating Kiwi customers to a racy bodykit that Ford of Europe uses on a new variant, the ST-Line. This also provides black trim on items such as the roof, grille and mirrors, and 17-inch dark-finished alloy wheels.
Ford says the EcoSport is now more comfortable to drive and more refined to sit in, with improved driving dynamics.