By Gordon Hall
This automatic transmission version of Ford’s Ecosport 1.5-litre, petrol powered Ambiente could be described as workmanlike rather than perky, nippy or sporty. It will deliver you to your chosen destination carefully but not hurriedly. Ratios switch in their own time but don’t kick down easily. Choose it if you want the convenience of automatic gear changing but don’t feel any need for rapid performance.
The Made-in-India, Dragon-series motor contains 80% locally sourced components and is claimed to be 7% more fuel efficient than the four-cylinder unit it replaces. Although the engine works nicely enough with the available five-speed manual, this six-speed autobox is an 18-year-old design that’s beginning to show its age.
Interestingly, the only manual override options are a Low gear holding position for towing or steep hills, and a separate Grade Control switch on the gear knob. This holds lower gears a bit longer for climbing or descending. We used it occasionally to add a little zest to its performance.
Despite my concerns about the gearbox, this little SUV has a lot going for it: Six airbags; ABS brakes with EBA and ESC; a practical trip computer; easy-to-use ventilation and music controls; ISOFix mountings; child-proof locks; a boot that can take a trolley-full of groceries if packed creatively and back seats that tumble and fold, 60:40, to reveal utility space up to 1.3 metres long.
Add fabric covered seats that are more comfortable and supportive than those on a slightly costlier competitor I drove that week, chair height adjustment for the driver, adequate knee space in the back and bags of headroom front and rear.
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Other kit includes a manual air conditioner, steel wheels with plastic caps, fully sized spare, powered windows and mirrors, a full set of belts and head restraints, fog lamps at the back and rear-mounted parking sensors. The sound machine is legacy Ford SYNC® with Bluetooth, hands-free phoning, voice control, steering wheel-mounted remotes and two USB ports with iPod functionality.
Fancy stuff like eight-inch colour touchscreen with full connectivity; cruise control; navigation; automatic wipers, aircon and headlamps; keyless starting; tyre pressure monitoring; hill start assist and front fog lights, is reserved for more expensive models.
The car feels solid and has country-cousin ground clearance to deal with humps and potholes, there’s a commanding view outward, it steers and parks easily and has a useful selection of storage spaces and power points. And you see Ecosports everywhere. That must surely be good.
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Summing up, this is a fine little car with all the kit you actually need. I’d choose manual but if you absolutely must have automatic, with the peace of mind offered by an unpressurised engine, give this a try.
*Test unit from Ford SA press fleet
Price: R316 300
Engine: 1496cc, DOHC inline three-cylinder with Ti-VCT
Power: 91kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 150Nm at 4500rpm
Zero to 100km/h: mid-teens (estimated)
Maximum speed: 170km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 8.4l/100km
Tank: 52 litres
Luggage: 333 – 705 litres
Ground clearance: 206mm
Turning circle: 10.6metres
Towing capacity, braked / unbraked: 700/650 kg
Standard tyre size: 205/60R16
Spare: Full size
Warranty: Four years / 120 000km with three years’ roadside assistance
Service plan: Four years / 60 000km, at 15 000km intervals