Ford's baby SUV, the EcoSport, has undergone a significant makeover for 2018.
There are the usual cosmetic changes that smarten up the appearance, refinements to interior layout and extra standard equipment.
The entry-level Ambiente ($22,790 plus on-road costs) gets a new 1.5-litre, three-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine which produces a respectable 90kW and 150Nm of torque – 8kW and 10Nm more than the four-cylinder engine it replaces.
The mid-spec Trend ($24,490) no longer has the four-cylinder option and along with the flagship Titanium model ($28,990) is now powered exclusively by the 92kW/170Nm, turbo-charged three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine from the previous model.
The real game changer, however, is the introduction of a conventional six-speed automatic transmission as standard across the range, displacing both the extremely troublesome dual-clutch automatic and the unloved five-speed manual.
Because this is not an all-new model, the five-star ANCAP safety rating from the 2013 model is carried over, however advanced features such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist are not available on the EcoSport, which in today’s safety-conscious market is disappointing.
Styling changes have made the 2018 EcoSport even more similar to its larger sibling the Escape, inside and out. EcoSport is quite a compact wagon with a relatively versatile cabin layout.
Softer-touch trim materials create a higher-quality feel than the previous model, while the redesigned centre console and dash layout, with fewer buttons and an upgraded SYNC 3 infotainment system, add to the driving ease.
New seats, which in our Titanium test car were leather-accented, provided good support and comfort up front, while the flip-and-fold rear-seat set-up operates easily with the push of a button.
There is plenty of storage for odds and ends thanks to more than 20 compartments throughout the cabin, including a handy tray beneath the front passenger seat and a height-adjustable boot floor.
Full-size spare for now
A full-size spare wheel is mounted on the rear door, giving EcoSport an old-style SUV look, but it will be awkward for some people to lift on and off, while it also makes the big tailgate door heavy to open and close.
Vehicles arriving in late 2018 will lose this spare wheel, with EcoSport instead carrying only a puncture repair kit. We are not sure which is the lesser of two evils here. Ford says a spare wheel can’t even be an option as the new tailgate won’t be made to accommodate one.
Ford’s technically sophisticated 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is an impressive unit given its tiny capacity, but in the previous model it was only available with a five-speed manual transmission, which is not what buyers in this category want.
Now it’s coupled to a conventional six-speed automatic, the package is a much better proposition. It is not an overly powerful or torquey engine but the broad spread of peak torque, which is maintained from a low 1500rpm through to 4500rpm, gives it plenty of performance flexibility.
The transmission changes up early and holds higher gears longer for better fuel economy, but paddle-shifters on the Titanium model make it easy for enthusiastic drivers to take some control.