Drive the Berg: Ford EcoSport Review

Before even trying the new Ford EcoSport I suggested it might have been built “with a picture of #CountryRunner framed on the wall in Ford’s design studio.” Having taken this nuggety SUV down to the Berg, through hill and dale and back to Joburg, nothing has changed. 
#CountryRunner

All along I knew there would be one major test for the EcoSport. My two nights at Greenfire Lodge rested upon its ability to get me up and down the ‘4×4 only’ track that leads from the manicured resorts below all the way to one of the most remote lodges in the Northern Drakensberg. The little Ford is not a 4×4 and I had the nifty 1l engine! Oh, and it had been raining, so the winding track was muddy. AND I arrived at 19:30 on the Friday night. It was do or die.

Ford-EcoSport-Dam

But what a pleasure! The zippy motor produces far more power than you might imagine. While clearly in the ‘urban SUV’ category, sporting road tyres, the EcoSport is more than handy on the dirt. I slid the wheels occasionally, usually where mud sat on top of a section of concrete, but other than that I danced up the mountainside – and had good fund doing so. Stopping for several gates concerned me initially, but getting going again was a breeze. The 200mm of ground clearance was quite sufficient and the ride was far from uncomfortable.

On the way up to  Greenfire Lodge on the '4x4 only' track.
On the way up to Greenfire Lodge on the ‘4×4 only’ track.

Of course, being an urban SUV, the other part of this vehicle’s job is dashing about in town and on the highway. It does it well. I achieved 7.1l/100km on the N3, blasting the aircon (and my inspirational rock ballads that fuel my trail running). The cruise control was a dream and the Bluetooth sync between my phone and the car’s audio system was totally free of the hassles one usually has with these.

The 1l engine is not going to blow you away. It might, however, leave you pleasantly surprised. Treat it well, and it gladly cruises at 120km/h and overtakes handily when required. Drag races are out of the question, though.

The open road...
The open road…

Another test for the EcoSport came on the potholed embarrassment that is the R74. A petty dispute between provincial authorities and contractors has left this important artery in disrepair. What should be a scenic link between Harrismith and the Northern Berg, skating along the pretty Sterkfontein Dam, is now a sad, gravely mess.

I had gone past Harrismith to Van Reenen to visit the Green Lantern, but backtracked in order to see this mess for myself. Indeed, it is just under 20km of potholes and paused construction. Whatever vehicle you drive, you’ll need to vary between a crawl and about 40km/h or risk slashing tyres on holes and rocks. What a pity. But again, the EcoSport was solid.

Bad-Road
The R74 – or what’s left of it. Proceed with caution.

What about any concerns? My only real grievance was the reflective silver plastic on the central control panel. It seemed to catch the sunlight, which irritated my eyes. Umm, that’s about it, though…

So, a handsome car that does the trick on the road and is more than capable off it. Models range in price from about 207 000 to 262 000, which I think is fair. Unless you need serious off-road capacity, you won’t gain much from the extra money you’d spend on a deluxe 4×4.

Read more about the Ford EcoSport: http://www.ford.co.za/suvs/ecosport

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