2022 Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto (2023)

Will give a full impression after a week or so of driving. For now, here is why I decided to buy this car, as well as a comparison between the EcoSport and the Suzuki Brezza...

Firstly, there is no solid financial argument for buying any car, even though we try to rationalise it - it all comes down to personal circumstances and preferences. Anyway, for me it boiled down to finding an alternative to dailying my Cayman on congested and poorly maintained roads. I also travel at night from work, which is not ideal in a low sports car on potholed roads, especially when street lights don't work.

My family car (V60) is not for my daily use and has its own purpose for family and spouse duties. However, with the Volvo being out of maintenance plan and possibly having unexpected maintenance items as the mileage clocks up, my new daily may need to step up to be an occasional family car (so, safety is important) that can also tackle interprovincial travel and gravel roads. This means my original plan of getting a hatchback (Starlet, Baleno, etc) would not work - I need a small cross over instead. This also meant a small bump on my initial runabout budget.

So, with that context I narrowed my search criteria to:
- A new or demo car with warranty and service plan (no real need for maintenance plan at this end of the market). OEM Warranty cover is important, given that I am running naked on my Volvo and that already has the rainy day fund to itself.
- Has over 190mm ground clearance to deal with gravel roads (not real bundu bashing)
- Has decent safety kit (airbags and ESP and good crash ratings)
- Automatic, given the traffic to contend with. But, not a CVT (bloody irritating to drive) and not an AMT or DCT (reliability is not great). Traditional torque converter auto is needed.
- No turbo.
- Decent passenger space for a small, but relatively tall, family. Copious luggage space not a priority.
- High profile tyres. Preferably on steel wheels to keep pothole damage repairs low.
- Can tackle bends at decent speed and not fall over. Also stable at highway speed. This is a must if the car is to be used for the occasional long distance drive. Also, not sound too strained at 120kph.
- Comfortable driving position for 1.8m driver - which means having a seat that can adjust up/down/recline/slide and steering wheel that adjusts for rake and reach (very difficult to find in the budget cross over segment!)
- Bluetooth calling and music streaming. Android auto would be nice.
- Solid enough switchgear at this price point. Nothing soft touch or fancy, but nothing that will break off easily. Basically, a sturdily made interior that is hard wearing for the daily knocks of life.
- Spare wheel, preferably full sized.
- Be relatively fuel efficient (less than 8 litres per 100km)
- Be over 4m but less than 4.5m long. Basically, a small cross over that can be nimble in traffic and won't take up too much space when parked in the driveway.
- And lastly all the usual basic mod cons: power steering, electric windows, air con, central locking, alarm, ABS, etc. that are all standard on most entry level cars anyway.

With a strict budget in mind, I narrowed down my final list to the base Suzuki Vitara Brezza 1.5 GL Auto and the base Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto (both used but of 2021 or 2022 vintage). Both these have torque converter autos mated to a 1.5 NA motor. These cars more-or-less meet all my requirements above. There are other, arguably better performing cars, in this bracket, but all the others in this segment are turbo charged or have CVTs. The Toyota Urban Cruisier was also considered, but used ones are still priced too high for me.

2022 Suzuki Brezza 1.5 GL vs 2022 Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente:

The Brezza is a solid gravel road car and the seats feel more premium (more padding) than the Ford. Also, it feels slightly wider in the rear so it can accommodate 3 adults with little pain. The Ford is narrower, so the middle passenger may feel squashed - but the Ford seems to have more rear legroom (I can sit behind myself and feel fine). The Ford is 4.135m long, while the Brezza just hits 4m, or just under.

The tech in the Brezza is better - has Android auto, reverse camera, touch screen system. The Ford has a basic audio system with Bluetooth and no Android auto and no reverse camera. But, the Ford has 6 speakers (incl tweeters) while the Brezza has 4 and no tweeters. Both cars have rear PDC with audio warnings and neat PDC graphical displays.

Both have torque converter autos. The Brezza has a an older 4 speed that makes the engine scream at highway speeds. However, it does have a button to kill 4th gear (so max out at 3rd) as well as the option to change down manually into 2nd or low (1st). The Ford has a more modern 6 speed box (replaced the prefacelift's problematic DCT) that does not strain the engine at higher speeds and is more responsive. However, the Ford does not have a manual override function, besides for 1st gear (low). This means that you need to modulate the accelerator to get the gearbox to change up/down and this can be tricky if you are used to paddle shifters or a Tip shift box. I will give feedback later on how this feels on a long trip.

The Ford has the stronger engine on paper and you can also feel it when driving. 91kw/150Nm from a 3 cylinder 1.5 (replaced the older 4 cylinder 1.5) vs 77kw/138Nm from a 4 cylinder 1.5 in the Brezza. However, the Brezza I drove had a nicely calibrated accelerator pedal - with minimal input, the car moves more eagerly from standstill than the Ford which has a less hair trigger response. As the revs and speed picks up, the Ford responds better and, while vocal, does not scream due to its 2 extra gears.

On gravel, both feel similar, but the Brezza feels slightly more comfortable (noting that both these cars have steel wheels - Brezza has 215/60 R16 and the Ford 205/50 R16), which could be due to the Brezza having a bit more sidewall rubber. On tarmac, the Ford feels like a hatchback - i.e. drives with very little body roll (feels more planted) and the steering feels more responsive to inputs. Bottom line - the Ford feels like a grown up hatch back on the road. Both cars have torsion beam rear suspensions and rear brake drums, but the Ford feels like a more premium handling car - granted, I need to evaluate it over a longer drive. On inclines, the Brezza needed a manual shift down to keep momentum on the test drive, while the Ford just needed a a sharper prod of the accelerator and it responded with sufficient urge.

The interior quality of the Brezza appears slightly better (i.e. does not look that cheap) vs the Ford. There is no hiding the fact that this Ambiente spec (base) EcoSport is built using the lowest cost materials. Everything looks and feels cheap or plasticky in the Ford - apart from some of the main switchgear (column stalks, light and aircon switches) which feel like semi-quality items. However, both cars feel reassuringly solid in their metal bits - all doors and boot close with a solid thud. The steering wheel in both cars is plastic (polyurethane?) and each has audio and phone controls.

As mentioned earlier, the Brezza has the better quality cloth seats. The Ford seats look and feel like government grey school pants. I am fitting aftermarket leather, which will also uplift the interior overall.

On the safety front, the Brezza has 2 airbags, ABS and no stability/traction control. However, it did manage 4 stars in the Global NCAP (crash test for developing or 3rd world cars), which places less stringent requirements on cars for these markets. The Ford has 6 airbags, ABS and stability/traction control and scored 5 stars in an Australian NCAP test. The Ford, like the Brezza, is made in India, and neither have been tested by the European NCAP. I feel that stability control is important in a tall riding vehicle (especially in cross winds) and the Ford takes the win here for me.

The list prices of both cars shows that the EcoSport is significantly more expensive than the Brezza. However, the used and demo market reduces that gap significantly. The EcoSport has been discontinued globally and Ford SA has a lot of stock locally. Basically, there is more supply of 2021-2022 EcoSports than Brezzas and Ford is pushing sales of local stock - it is not clear what will replace the EcoSport, but it seems that they want to clear all that stock soon. I called up Eagle Ford, who have sold me a Ford Focus and Mazda CX5 in 2011 and 2016, respectively, and haggled a bit to get a decent discount on a nearly new (happened to be a neat workshop courtesy) car with under 4,000km. Sweetening the deal, as always with Eagle Ford/Mazda, is 3 years' unlimited car washes from date of sale.

I am not blind to the fact that the EcoSport has had a patchy reliability record since its initial introduction in 2013. I did my research and it seems that the main issues (being primarily DCT gearbox and 1.0 EcoBoost engine related) will not impact my car. There are other issues that impacted the older 4-cylinder 1.5 NA cars but hopefully these have been sorted out with the last facelift. Anyway, the warranty (4 years/120,000km) is there to give me some peace of mind. Another concern is the theft risk on these cars - I am fitting an unusual personalised plate that may mitigate some of that risk, as well as the usual tracking device (which Ford SA has preinstalled in this car).

Besides leather, rubber mats and 35% smash-and-grab tint, I have no plans to make any enhancements to this car. I am happy with the steel wheels and everything else staying as is. Though, I may fit a spare wheel cover (noting that the spare wheel already comes with a neat lock nut as an anti-theft measure).

Anyway, I am looking forward to daily this car and report back on its quirks.

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