There’s no doubting the immense popularity of the compact SUV segment in India, something that is proven by the Renault Duster’s rapid climb up the sales charts ever since its debut here. But now, there’s a new contender in the form of Ford’s EcoSport. It’s even smaller than the Renault (it’s under four metres long), but Ford clearly thinks it has what it takes to take on the reigning king. Is Ford’s latest offering up to the task then?
The EcoSport, when it’s launched, will be available with three engine options – the petrol and diesel engines from the Fiesta, as well as a brand new 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged, direct-injection petrol motor, called the EcoBoost. We’ve sampled a car powered by the EcoBoost already, so today we’re driving the 89bhp, 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine, and our first impressions are pretty good. This powerplant’s ready responses and instant power delivery at low to medium engine speeds makes it very easy to drive in traffic. The Ford is happy to amble around in third gear, even at speeds as low as 30-40kph, and tap the accelerator and it picks up the pace quite rapidly. What further aids tractability is its five-speed manual gearbox, which is light and has a nice mechanical feel to it.
However, out on the highway is where the EcoSport begins to feel a bit away from its comfort zone. It tends to run out of breath, particularly when you have to execute a high-speed overtaking move.That said, the EcoSport’s refinement is quite impressive. The motor feels composed for the most part and only gets a bit noisier closer to the redline. The Ford managed to set some brisk times in our acceleration test. It took 13.72 seconds to reach 100kph while it reached a top-speed of 168kph.
Out on twisty roads, the EcoSport is as easy to drive as your average hatchback. Straight-line stability is also really good, but it does ‘thunk’ over big bumps. The front suspension certainly feels stiffer than that of the EcoBoost petrol version and, as a result, the Ford doesn’t iron out surface imperfections that well.
Even then, the stiff suspension setup lends it a certain agility and it’s got a well-weighted steering which, aided to its good body control, makes it really entertaining to drive on the twisty stuff.
In terms of the cabin, the EcoSport’s interior is very similar to the Ford Fiesta. The dash has a modern, angular design, dominated by the V-shaped centre console. However, there are a lot of buttons here, and the dashboard’s sharp angle means they can be hard to read on the move. The advantage of this raked dashboard, which stretches far ahead to meet the windscreen, is that it gives a large sense of space. The downside is that it makes it hard to judge where the front of the EcoSport ends.
The front seats offer a lot of leg and head room, and are very snug and supportive. Move to the back though, and the EcoSport gets a bit narrow, which makes sitting three abreast a bit of a squeeze. The overall rear legroom is nothing exceptional, but its seats do have a decent amount of thigh support. This being a tall SUV, the EcoSport unsurprisingly has plenty of headroom too. Where the EcoSport does lose out quite heavily however, is in boot space. Its 3999mm length means that it has a meagre 362-litres of luggage space. In comparison, the EcoSport’s primary competitor, the Duster, has a bigger 475-litres of boot space.
What the EcoSport is, then, is a genuine rival to Renault’s segment-defining compact SUV. It does everything as well as the Duster, but in a more sophisticated, up-to-date and desirable manner. Renault has set the benchmark quite high, but in the EcoSport, Ford has a genuine shot at crippling the Duster’s sales. And that’s without factoring in the price advantage the Ford is likely to have when it is launched this June.