It's that time of the year where you start feeling irritable, where the smallest thing sets you off and it feels like all you do is work, eat and sleep. A seemingly neverending cycle that has you longing for a Friday so that you can down tools and catch your breath. It's common this time of year. September and October are trying months. You've been at it for months now and the festive season is on the horizon, just out of reach. Add to that the proverbial nightmare that has been 2020 and you have a recipe for complete Chernobyl-level burn-out.
I won't lie, I've been feeling it myself. So you can imagine my elation when Ford suggested that in order to get the most out of their latest EcoSport offering, that I take it on a long drive, far away, where the signal is limited.
Related:Is the Ford EcoSport a good SUV for families?
The model in question is the Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto, a new model to the lineup that combines a self-shifting gearbox and an affordable crossover package. You didn't have to tell me twice and before I could take delivery of the vehicle, the Mrs had packed a bag and sent the fur-babies off to their Grandmother. I guess she needs the break as well.
Loading up the EcoSport for the weekend through the large, swing tailgate, I had a chance to look over this new model, one that brings the EcoSport range to a total of seven derivatives. I wasn't expecting any fanfare and indeed, the EcoSport that sat in my drive was the same design that we've been accustomed to for the last 8-year. Hard to believe that it's been with us for so long, but that's testimony to the successful initial design - it still looks relevant today.
As an Ambiente model, you're getting an entry-level trim; so there's no colour-coding of the door handles and the mirror caps are finished off in a bare black. You also won't find any chrome garnishes, not on the grille nor the window frames. That's reserved for Titanium models.
The Ambiente model also has to do without alloy wheels. In their place, plastic wheel covers that do a fine job of dressing up the exterior. This only causes concern when you look at the rear of the EcoSport as it has a decklid-mounted spare wheel, that never rotates. I complete and total giveaway to anyone following you that tells them that you're in an entry-level model. I can see a good few spare wheel covers being sold as a result.
Not to knock the steel wheels though, as these have repeatedly shown us that they can take a hammering, especially when the tarmac ends. As my trip was to take me out to the Drakensburg and off the beaten path, I was quite happy to be rolling on 'steelies'.
Interior & Space
I'm a little old-school in my approach to road trips. Despite the fact that manufacturer fleet cars are well-taken care of, I prefer to go over the engine vitals and make sure that everything is as it should be, you know, water, oil, washer fluid and the likes. I'll even check the tyre pressures like a good boy. It was in doing this, upon pulling the bonnet release catch, that a plastic interior trim piece came off in my hand. Admittedly, it was just the fuse panel cover, but it was enough for me to stop in my tracks and take a closer look at the interior.
Sadly, the build quality was not great. Unsightly gaps between panels by the transmission tunnel and exposed flashing from the plastic moulding process left me less than impressed at the overall fit and finish of the interior. Move over Mustang, your seat has been taken.
Cloth seats and plastic panels are the order of the day, but I reminded myself that this is the entry-level model and that in order to to keep the model affordable, certain concessions have to be made. I was impressed by the overall boot space that comfortably swallowed our bags all the food and drink that one convinces themselves they need for a weekend on a farm in the sticks.
Rear legroom, admittedly, isn't the greatest either and if you have a young family, the tykes will manage just fine. Teens and adults will feel the pinch, particularly on a long journey but then you can cast your eyes towards the likes of a Kuga or Everest (if you're starting a soccer team).
Comfort & Convenience
The long stretch of N3 was only punctured by the odd toll gate and slow-moving truck. One sorely missed omission in the EcoSport Ambiente is cruise control. You will get it on Trend and Titanium models but not in the Ambiente. You also won't get a touchscreen SYNC infotainment system and there are no luxuries named CarPlay - much to the Mrs' disgust, as she was determined to subject me to four hours of Johnny Cash. Instead, I paired my phone to the Bluetooth functionality of the simple head-unit and made her listen to NOFX - on repeat. A simple enough task as the Ambiente model does come with a multifunction steering wheel, replete with audio controls.
You won't get automatic headlights nor auto wipers, but this is a non-event for someone, like myself, who is not scared of lifting their hand to toggle a switch. The multifunction display ahead of the driver is simple and provides you with all the information you would want on a long road trip without over complicating things. It even includes a digital speed readout for those who couldn't be bothered to look at the needle sweep of the speedometer.
Over the pockmarked roads that branch off of the N3, the EcoSport simply glided. Its large profile tyres and suspension doing an admirable job of absorbing the undulations and ruts, leaving me only to concentrate on my speed and direction of travel.
I'll list the automatic gearbox here as a convenience item because that's exactly what it has made the EcoSport - convenient. The 6-speed automatic is a welcomed addition to this segment of the market and makes the EcoSport rather unique in offering an automatic at this price-point. My initial impressions of this gearbox were not favourable after pulling onto the highway and hearing it hold the low gear for far too long. This eventually settled and only reared its head once again on our trip. It seemed to only present itself under rather peculiar circumstances.
While there is no gear selection option, you can select the low-gear mode and it will hold the gears a little longer and allow you to climb a more severe incline when presented. It also features a descent control, activated by pushing the button on the side of the gear selector.
The EcoSport Ambiente is fitted with a 1.5-litre, naturally aspirated 3-cylinder that hums away merrily. It produces 91 kW and 150 Nm torque. More than adequate for the daily grind but don't expect to tow much with that torque output.
On the highways, I often wished there was a little more underfoot, especially when looking to overtake the aforementioned slow-moving trucks, but this was a reminder for me not to be in a rush - I was headed away from the bustle of the city in an easy-driving compact SUV.
I wasn't expecting the EcoSport to get anywhere near the figures that Ford quoted me. The spec-sheet said that I should expect to use an average of 6.9 l/100km on the combined cycle and when I finally arrived at picturesque Delmore Guest Farm, the reading was exactly that - 6.9. Admittedly, that was with a rather large dose of highway driving but this means that you can expect low 7s for your daily commute if you're cautious enough.
I briefly considered pushing my luck and venturing back to the Big Smoke on the fuel that was left in the tank, but I was in the mood to explore so I topped it up and forgot about it. Perfect.
Related:Suzuki Vitara vs Honda HR-V vs Ford EcoSport: which one has the lowest running costs?
I mentioned how the EcoSport Ambiente Auto is a stand-out model in the segment with no real rivals earlier. Well, add another checkmark in the Pros column because the EcoSport also leads the way in safety. You will get no fewer than 6 airbags in the Ambiente model. No other offering in the segment and price range can compete there.
The standard fare of ABS and EBD is there and annoyingly, you even get a traction control system and a stability control system. Great for the dusty and dirty paths of Bergville, but a little intrusive when you're trying to embrace your inner Colin McRae with power slides and lift-off oversteer manoeuvres. I can therefore confirm that it does work, rather well I might add. I couldn't be bothered to switch them off, and neither should you.
With a 4-year/120 000km comprehensive warranty, 4-year/60 000km service plan, and a three-year unlimited distance roadside assistance service, the Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto will only set you back a mereR306 700.
I alluded to it earlier and it bears repeating; the Ambiente Auto doesn't have any rivals. Not at this price, and certainly not with an automatic gearbox. You could consider the Renault Duster or the Haval H2. The Suzuki Vitara and Honda BR-V are similarly priced but none of the offer an automatic option for the price. In fact, your nearest automatic rival is the Hyundai Venue 1.0T Motion Auto at a price of R319 500.
There's a lot to pick at with the Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto but perhaps most of my gripes are of a personal preference nature. The price is appealing, as is the warranty and convenience of the model, but unless I really had to have an Auto, I would look at some of the competition.
However, when one considers what is out there at that price range and the unique proposition that the automatic gearbox offers, it's easy to see why the Ambiente Auto is already a sales success.
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