The mini SUV segment is big business in South Africa. According to Ford South Africa, the segment grew from 4 percent in 2015 to 10 percent market share in 2020 and, it’s likely only going to grow in popularity from here. With the adventurous spirit of young professionals in South Africa and the country’s extensive gravel road network favouring cars with bigger tyres and extra ground clearance, owning a mini SUV is quickly becoming a must. What’s more, recent sales data analysed by Ford SA shows that more and more drivers are choosing vehicles with automatic transmissions. Long story short, compact SUVs with automatic transmissions are in… and shifting gears is out.
Luckily for compact SUV lovers, Ford is committed to giving the people what they want. Introducing the Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto. Ford says its pint-sized adventure-loving SUV is the ideal all-rounder offering value for money and the ideal car for those who love a little adventure. Designed with an active lifestyle in mind, the Ford EcoSport Ambiente Auto no doubt beats out the traditional sedan and family hatchback for space, practicality and visual appeal.
And, it gets a big plus on the affordability front too. In fact, according to Atloli Lesela, brand manager for passenger cars at FMCSA Fords entry-level EcoSport model “offers the best value for money automatic in the entry-level mini utility segment.”
Go almost anywhere
Millennials love compact SUVs because of the segment’s ability to seamlessly blend everyday practicality with a go almost anywhere attitude. These bite-sized vehicles offering adventure seekers the freedom to enjoy weekends away, tackling South Africa’s small-town gravel roads with ease, while also blending in seamlessly with the everyday lives and needs of young families and young professionals.
Add an automatic transmission into the mix and you’ve got the perfect combination. Along with the many other benefits of automatic transmissions, they enable drivers to enjoy the very latest driver-assist technology, making everything, from long cross-country drives to parking, to inner-city stop-start traffic, easier and more comfortable.
South African’s love of SUVs and their compact counterparts isn’t difficult to understand. The country’s extensive gravel road network can be especially punishing on a car’s suspension and tyres and SUVs and crossovers can mitigate this harshness. The EcoSport does this through slightly longer suspension and bigger 205/60 16-inch tyres, fitted to the Ambiente models. And, in the event of a puncture, the boot-mounted full-size spare wheel on the EcoSport is easy to access. The EcoSport Ambiente’s ground clearance of 206mm also adds peace of mind, reducing the chance of the car’s underside from hitting bigger stones that could damage vulnerable parts of the engine and drivetrain.
The Ford EcoSport’s six-speed automatic transmission makes the SUV perfectly capable of handling urban commuting and winding country roads, although I did wish there was a little more underfoot when overtaking and changing lanes. On long a drive from Cape Town to Hermanus it handled the formidable Sir Lowry’s Pass with aplomb, thanks to the ‘low-gear’ mode. This mode helps to hold the gears a little longer, allowing you to climb a more severe incline or get a little oomph when overtaking slow-moving trucks on the highway or long road. The auto gearbox also features a handy hill descent control, activated by pushing the button on the side of the gear selector, which makes tackling steep declines much more manageable.
Most of the time the EcoSport handles and drives like a dream but every now and then, when I needed to overtake or speed up quickly, the gearbox struggled to make up its mind about which gear to select. The constantly-shifting nature of the autobox takes a little bit of time to get used to but for inner-city driving can also work kind of well.
It’s nippy between traffic lights and beyond fun to drive below 120km/h. While the autobox could do with a bit of refinement for the hills in South Africa, I also had to remind myself that this isn’t a car made for speed queens and daredevils. It’s an easy-driving compact SUV designed for leisurely weekend drives with the family and daily urban commuting.
Safety and comfort: features you’ll love
Of course, the Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto also boats a long list of additional features that make this compact SUV a pleasure to drive. On the safety front; the EcoSport provides a superb level of occupant protection thanks to the inclusion of six airbags (dual front, side and curtain airbags). Furthermore, to help the driver maintain control in emergency situations, active driving safety features such as ABS brakes, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control (TC) are fitted as standard across the range.
The EcoSport Ambiente also comes fitted with a multimedia system using Ford’s SYNC with Bluetooth and Voice Control, as well as two USB ports, six speakers and a 4.2-inch screen. The system is easy to use and syncing your phone takes mere seconds. The Ambiente model also comes with a multifunction steering wheel, fitted with audio controls.
The interior is a little bare-bones, but it’s more than equipped for an entry-level model at just over the R300,000 mark. The car does feel rather spacious inside though and is ideal for a small family or couple who love to travel. I was very impressed by the large boot space which will comfortably swallow your luggage for a weekend away or your grocery bags after a weekly grocery shopping trip.
Should you buy one?
The Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente Auto is an exceptional entry-level vehicle. At a starting price of R303,400, it is one of the most affordable ways for you to jump into a compact SUV in South Africa right now. Ford’s value proposition of this nippy little SUV is its exceptional value for money, and we can’t fault it there. It’s ideally suited to active types and families where the convenience of an automatic makes it perfect for busy city driving, while also delivering comfortable and hassle-free open-road cruising ability.
If however, you like a little more refinement and luxury I’d recommend investing a bit more and springing for the 1.0T Trend Auto model at R346,100. At this price point you’ll get a little more bells and whistles, like a more sophisticated version of the SYNC infotainment system with a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen, Cruise Control with an adaptive speed limiter, Ford’s Collision Mitigation System, and the addition of a driver’s knee airbag.
All EcoSports come with a 4-year/120 000km warranty and the Ambiente Auto comes with a 4-year/60 000km Service Plan.
After years of working as an Editor and writer for popular websites like Joburg’s Darling, Cape Town’s Darling and Joburg.co.za, Crystal left her sanity and an established career in lifestyle journalism behind to follow her dream of creating a website for the intellectual and discerning woman. Today she spends her time chasing the thrill of being the first to know about ‘the next big thing’. She’ll try anything once and has been known to put her body, hair and health on the line – all in the name of research.