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There is no segment quite like the compact SUV segment. There are so many contenders that it is hard to keep up. The Ford Ecosport, while charming and great value for money, has some stiff competition. The Volkswagen T-Cross, Hyundai Venue, Mazda CX-3, and Haval H2, to name but a few of my favourites. What does one do to stand out among such a tough crowd? You offer an entry-level auto, that’s what.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONVENIENCE

Nothing can make a traffic jam worse than having to push in your clutch every five seconds. The smell of burning clutch fills the air and all you think is, “Damn, I wish my car was an automatic.” Ford popped out of the genie bottle and granted you your wish in the form of the Ford EcoSport Ambiente automatic. It is an entry-level model and therefore an affordable option.

ENTRY-LEVEL BUT NOT

It might be the most budget-friendly Ecosport, barring the manual option, but that doesn’t mean you are left with nothing but an automatic transmission. It still boasts a 4.2-inch SYNC system, not the larger 6.5-inch one you’re used to in the Trend or Titanium models unfortunately, but it still has Bluetooth with voice control and six speakers. There are also two USB ports, a multifunction steering wheel and air conditioning. From a safety point of view, the Ecosport really stands out as one of the safest options in the segment, with six airbags as standard on the Ambiente as well as ABS brakes, and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control (TC).

The only real negative for what is considered a family car, is that it is on the small side. Especially the boot. My husband and I went away in it for a weekend and so only required a bag each and a cooler box, this filled the boot up. Any more of you and you will be needing some of the rear bench space. I would consider it only for small families or those who don’t have the added paraphernalia that comes with children. Just look at the picture of the boot in this post, it shows that it is only really big enough for a picnic.

BUT HOW IS THIS AUTO, REALLY?

I was expecting to hate it. I am not always a fan of such small engines paired to automatic transmissions. They tend to struggle a bit and the strain on the engine can be heard throughout the cabin. This six-speed ‘box is mated to a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine producing 91 kW and 150 Nm of torque. It might not have the turbo that the 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine offers, but if driven consciously (which should always be the case I might add), you really can make this engine and transmission work for you. It is great for city driving, but even on the highway, it is pleasantly surprising in its performance offering. With any overtaking manoeuvre, you need to plan well, but this might just require that extra bit of caution. The ride is superb and overall it feels like a very refined vehicle.

What’s even better is that with its higher ground clearance, you are able to take it on to the dirt and have a little bit of fun. I drove it in to Titiesbaai up the West Coast and ended up on a bit of soft sand (unplanned), but the Ecosport didn’t bat an eye as I popped it in to “L” and was able to easily make it back on to the gravel. This will certainly be a perk for families who enjoy the ‘wild’ outdoors. Fuel consumption is claimed at 6.9l/100 km and, again, if you drive it mindfully, you will be able to achieve a number close to this.

IS IT RECOMMENDED?

I would say yes, if you are in the market for a budget-friendly auto. However, if you want the added performance of a turbo and the spec levels that one might require nowadays, then consider the Trend or Titanium models. But if it is space you are after, you have an absolute buffet of rivals to choose from.

PRICING

All EcoSport models come standard with Ford Protect which includes a four-year/60 000km service plan, three-year unlimited distance roadside assistance and four-year/120 000km comprehensive warranty.

EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente 5MT: R288 300
EcoSport 1.5 TDCi Ambiente 5MT: R298 800
EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente 6AT: R306 700
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Trend 6MT: R329 000
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Trend 6AT: R344 100
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium 6MT: R367 900
EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium 6AT: R381 700

About the Author: Juliet McGuire
Motoring journalist. Presenter. YouTuber. Podcaster. Voice artist. And everything in between.