Ford EcoSport India review, test drive

Autocar India
First Published: 10:28 IST(7/5/2013)
Last Updated: 11:50 IST(21/5/2013)
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The India-spec EcoSport is finally here. It has three engine options on offer and also, an auto'box-equipped variant.
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It has easily been the most anticipated new launch of 2013, and after an unduly long 18-month gestation period the India-spec Ford EcoSport is finally here.  One reason for the delay is that Ford has been pursuing a very aggressive localisation programme for the car, and as a result of this, the ‘Indian’ EcoSport we’re driving today is almost 70 percent locally made.  So has it been worth the long wait?

We, and indeed the world, got our first glimpse of the car in concept form at the 2012 Auto Expo in January last year, and as we’ve seen from countless pictures since, the production car has stayed almost 100 percent true to the concept. In the metal, however, what is immediately apparent is the mini-SUV’s actual size on the road. It’s less than four metres long, and if not for its 200mm of ground clearance, it wouldn’t be much taller than most premium hatchbacks either. The clearance also allows the EcoSport to wade through 550mm of water, which should be useful during the monsoons. But Ford has done well with the detailing to give it the appearance of a ‘proper’ SUV. For starters, there’s the almost mandatory tailgate-mounted spare wheel, which also frees up boot space (of which there is still precious little; just 346 litres). There is rugged-looking black cladding on the bottom of the bumpers and beneath the doors, roof rails at the top of the car, and very prominent wheel arches. The the chunky flanks seem to dwarf the 16-inch wheels, and 17-inchers would have been more in keeping with the EcoSport’s aggressive stance. According to Ford insiders, larger wheels will be offered as an option at a later stage. At the rear, the wraparound windscreen adds to the tightly skinned look, and the angular tail-lamps look handsome too.

The most prominent detail, however, is the massive grille, which dominates the front fascia and gives it the bluff face of an off-roader.  An impressive stat is the car’s drag coefficient, which at 0.371, is not too bad for an SUV profile. While some might find the overall look a bit too aggressive and slightly overdone, remember, a similar styling concept worked wonders for the Mahindra XUV500. And we have no doubt that it will work well for the EcoSport too.

Move to the inside and you can instantly tell that the dashboard design resembles the Fiesta’s quite closely, with a similar angular dashboard layout and familiar controls. While the build and plastic quality of the top half of the two-tone dashboard is decent for this class of car (it seems a small notch above the Fiesta), there are quite a few panel gaps and the lower half of the dashboard feels a little  sub-par. It’s not as bad as the Renault Duster, another SUV to get an ‘Indianised’ interior, but it is lacking that quality feel all the same. Compared to the cars like the Fabia and Polo, the EcoSport’s cabin quality simply doesn’t come close.

By hatchback standards, the EcoSport’s cabin is quite spacious but as an SUV, the interiors lack the size and space you associate with this body style. The cabin is a little narrow, but head and legroom are decent both at the front and the back, and as mentioned earlier, boot space is not sufficient, but the rear seats fold forward with a 60:40 split (in all but the base Ambiente trim) for a total of 705 litres, which gives a bit more versatility. They also have a reclining backrest with three preset positions, and the small parcel shelf on higher variants will keep your luggage out of plain sight. The front seats are comfortable, with a high seating position, and the rear seats are quite flat but the cushioning and under thigh support is superb. In fact, the high-set rear seat is really comfortable, particularly if you don’t have a tall driver or passenger in front of you.

However, because of the rising shoulder line and small windows, like the Fiesta, the rear seats don’t feel as bright and airy as the Duster’s, and the black interiors in the EcoSport don’t help either.  

The EcoSport is very generously equipped, with even the base Ambiente variant getting tilt and telescopic steering, a music player with Aux-in and Bluetooth, electric wing mirrors, remote locking, a multi-function display, and 16-inch wheels. However, the top end Titanium version (with the option pack) we are driving  is really loaded. It gets 16-inch wheels, and adds ABS, steering-mounted audio controls on a leather-wrapped wheel, driver-seat height adjustment, climate control, a cooled glovebox, front fog lamps, rear parking sensors, push-button start, leather seats, keyless entry, Ford’s voice-operated Sync system, and front, side and curtain airbags as well.  

However, when it comes to safety and security the EcoSport really pushes the envelope with its Emergency Assist, which could be a life-saver in the case of an accident. This clever system, available on Sync-equipped variants, uses the driver’s paired phone to to send an emergency voice message to emergency operators (by dialling 108) when an airbag is deployed or the fuel pump is shut off.  It also sends the car’s GPS co-ordinates to the emergency operator to make finding you easier.

The main talking point of the EcoSport is Ford’s internationally acclaimed 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged, direct-injection EcoBoost petrol engine which makes its Indian debut in the EcoSport.  And although diesel is the fuel of choice for SUV buyers in India, Ford really wants to focus on this new motor – and so it is the only one available  for the media drive. The two engines from the Fiesta will also return in the EcoSport – the 110bhp 1.5 petrol and 90bhp 1.5 diesel – and the former will also get the option of the Fiesta’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and will get a hill-start assistance system with a three-second hold.

Fire up the engine and it’s hard to believe it’s a three-cylinder unit. It’s remarkably quiet at idle with barely any vibration. The engine is mated to the tried-and-tested IB5 five-speed manual gearbox which has a pretty slick and accurate shift. Engage first gear and the EcoSport pulls away smartly. It works well on part-throttle and, for the better part, it’s hard to believe this is a 1.0-litre motor. It feels more like a 1.5, especially in the mid-range. However, the winding roads around Goa revealed this small motor’s Achilles heel – lag from the fixed-geometry turbo. Floor the throttle at low revs and it feels noticeably sluggish until you cross the 1800rpm mark. Also, at high revs, a noticeable thrum creeps into cabin, which can be first felt through the pedals and gear lever, but it’s not too intrusive. 

 

Fords are known to be great driver’s cars and the EcoSport more than lives up to this reputation. The steering is just phenomenal and and comes with Ford’s ‘Pull Drift Compensation’, which corrects the steering when it detects a pull caused by crosswinds or a crowned road surface. It’s light, yet full of feel and delightfully quick, which makes you want to throw this car around every corner. The brilliant suspension allows you to do just that. Ford has painstakingly tuned the suspension to strike a finely judged balance between ride and handling. The result is a car that feels surefooted at speed on any surface and yet pliant enough isolate you from road shocks. Playing no small role are the 205/60-R16 tyres, which offer superb grip and a cushy secondary ride. Be in no doubt, the EcoSport sets a new ride and handling benchmark for a car below Rs. 10 lakh.

We didn’t get the chance to test the fuel consumption of the EcoSport but in the Indian Driving Cycle, the EcoSport gives a very impressive 18.9kpl. To put this into perspective, that’s more efficient than even the frugal Honda Brio, which gives 18.4kpl in the same cycle.

On the basis of its looks alone, the EcoSport is set to be a runaway success. This a car that tugs at the heart strings even before you drive it and once you’ve gotten behind the wheel, you’re completely smitten by the way it drives and its easy to overlooks its shortcomings like a slightly below par cabin and small boot.

With three engines offer and an automatic variant too, Ford has an EcoSport at many price points. The key question is what will the base model start at. Ford wants to really kill the market with the EcoSport and our guess is a starting price of Rs. 6.5 lakh going up to Rs. 12 lakh for the top-end Titanium with the option pack. Get your cheque books ready! 


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