Ford EcoSport review, test drive

Autocar India
First Published: 11:58 IST(30/7/2013)
Last Updated: 16:53 IST(31/7/2013)
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Ford has launched the EcoSport all guns blazing and that means 10 variants with three engine options – two petrols (a 1.0-litre and a 1.5-litre) and of course, a diesel. There’s also a twin-clutch automatic option, but only with the 1.5 petrol.
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We’ve got with us the two versions that will undoubtedly be the most popular ones – the now almost mythical 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, which Ford has been pushing hard, and the 1.5-litre diesel – an engine we know from the Ford Fiesta. With the EcoSport in showrooms now, the time is ripe for a full test – on the roads we know, through the same crazy traffic we face every morning and on the highways we regularly cruise down. 

Design

At just a millimetre under the four-metre mark, the EcoSport has taken full advantage of the ‘small car’ regulations, which give huge cost benefits to cars of sub-four-metre length. But as a result, it’s a small footprint, and the EcoSport needs all the help it can get to give it that all-important SUV look. It achieves this largely through the massive and completely oversized octagonal grille that contrasts with slim headlamps. Then there’s the high bonnet and beltline, the black plastic cladding that runs along the lower part of the body, and the tailgate-mounted spare wheel – all nods to the gods of SUVs. That said, the high waistline and tall sides do make the 16-inch wheels on the EcoSport look a tad undersized. The 15-inch ones that come on the lower trim variants would look even more puny.

The overall shape comes across as tightly skinned, futuristic and, when viewed from the front, very ‘in your face’. There are nice details, like the wraparound rear screen and the tailgate handle hidden in the tail-light.

The EcoSport is based on Ford’s B2E Fiesta platform. The suspension layout is straightforward, with independent MacPherson struts in the front and a non-independent torsion beam rear axle. The steering is electrically assisted and here’s the clever bit about it – it’s equipped with Pull-Drift Compensation and Active Nibble Control. The former adjusts the power steering to help compensate for the pulling and drifting that crowned roads, off-camber surfaces and crosswinds can cause. Ford says the latter senses and eliminates the shimmy felt at the steering wheel if a wheel is out of balance or if a brake rotor is warped.

Other interesting bits include the special attention paid to improving refinement – in addition to the sound-deadening materials in the doors, roof and body, there’s a double-sealing system for the doors, improved glass sealing and an acoustic headliner inside the cabin to help absorb ambient noise.

Ford is also keen to point out the EcoSport’s ‘off-roading’ abilities. As such, it has 200mm of ground clearance, an approach angle of 25 degrees and a departure angle of 35 degrees. They also claim it can wade through 550mm of water.

All in all, the EcoSport with the EcoBoost engine weighs in at 1259kg – comparable to a large hatch. 

Interiors

The Titanium Optional edition has keyless entry, so with the key in your pocket, all you need do is press a button on the chunky door handle to open the door. The high stance makes getting in and out really easy and once you settle into the front buckets, you’ll find they have plenty of bolstering, but they do feel a bit narrow because of extra side support. The long seat travel and a steering that adjusts for rake and reach means you won’t have a problem getting comfortable.

The dashboard cowl is high and the dash itself is deep, so the base of the windscreen meets it far ahead of where you sit. But what really compromises visibility is the fat A-pillar which creates a blind spot big enough to hide a motorcycle. It doesn’t end there. The thick rear pillars and tiny screen limit rear visibility too (the protruding spare wheel doesn’t help). The good thing is that the high driving position lets you see far further ahead than in a lower car.

Cabin quality is a bit disappointing thanks to the hard grey plastics that abound and some ill-fitting panels. The ‘chest-out’ centre console with its myriad buttons laid out in a fan shape is a bit daunting to use, whilst the info screen is  small, catches reflections and has outdated graphics. That apart, the Fiesta-based dashboard is a properly stylish, modern design and we particularly liked the blue needles on the dials and the small-diameter, sculpted steering wheel. There are plenty of storage spaces – there’s a nice rubberised cubbyhole ahead of the gearlever to keep your cellphone, another one next to the handbrake and big door pockets. Strangely, Ford has not included a single grab handle (the ones usually found above the doors), so if the driver decides to attack a few corners, there’s nothing for the passengers to hold onto.

At the rear, you’ll find no issue with the legroom on offer and headroom is decent as well. What you might not like is the seriously narrow cabin. The EcoSport’s 127cm of shoulder room is dwarfed by most large hatchbacks and this seriously limits its ability to seat three abreast. Also marking the rear seat down are the small windows, which cut out light and visibility.

Saving graces come in the form of the nicely supportive seats and the adjustable seat back angle. The boot, at 362 litres, is decent by hatchback standards and the inside of the tailgate is cleverly scooped out to accommodate bags that are placed horizontally. The seats split and fold to give you some flexibility, and with both down, you get a useful 705 litres.

The Titanium Optional variant is particularly well equipped. In addition to the keyless entry and go, there’s climate control, driver’s seat height adjust, rear parking sensors and Microsoft’s SYNC interface. It also comes loaded with safety kit that includes ABS and no less than six airbags. Special mention must be made of the air-conditioning, which is the best we’ve seen for a long time. The air-con unit, which has a variable compressor and a high-capacity condenser, cooled the cabin rapidly, even in the sweltering peak summer heat. 

Performance

The EcoBoost engine has some fantastic bits about it. It’s a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, direct-injection, turbo-petrol making 123bhp – exceptional for its size.

Push the engine start button and it’s impressive how quietly and smoothly this three-cylinder engine idles. Ford’s clever solution of carefully unbalancing the engine’s front pulley and rear flywheel to counteract the vibes from the naturally unbalanced three-cylinder motor seems to have paid off. The clutch is light, the gearshift is snicky, and the engine makes its peak torque of 17.3kgm from 2000rpm. What this means is that there is a hint of lag, after which this pint-sized engine really gets into its stride. The plateau-like torque curve gives this engine strong mid-range performance and flows into a top end that’s uncharacteristically strong, especially over the last 1000rpm of its rev band. Part-throttle response is quite good, and the EcoSport is quite effortless to drive if you’re not in a hurry. Still, it’s not perfect, and you will realise this in traffic, where you sometimes need to downshift to get the most out of it. This small-displacement engine simply doesn’t have the snappy responses of a similarly powered naturally aspirated motor, like the Honda City’s 1.5-litre i-VTEC unit. If you want to accelerate quickly from low speeds, like when you come off a speed breaker or want to make that amber light, you need to shift a gear down.

Still, the EcoBoost is quite a hoot to drive and outright performance is seriously good. The meaty mid-range makes light work of highway driving, and we were astonished how quickly the EcoSport hit serious three-digit speeds. The dash to 100kph comes up in a decent 12.5 seconds but it’s really the way the EcoBoost feels in the real world that makes it special.

Also, when it’s really revving, it makes a three-cylinder thrum much like a smoother and quieter version of Suzuki’s K10 triple. Note that this sound is more sporty than annoying.

The diesel is a more conventional 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor plucked from the Fiesta. While it may make just 90bhp, it’s the torque that makes all the difference here. The 20.8kgm gives it adequate grunt and you rarely find it underpowered. The motor is quite responsive and tractable too, but there’s a wee bit of turbo lag below 2,000rpm and the tall gearing blunts responsiveness to some extent. Power delivery is largely linear and there’s no sudden surge when the turbo kicks in, which makes the EcoSport easy to drive in traffic.

Flat out, the diesel hits 100kph in 13.7sec, which is again quite impressive, but it’s the long-legged cruising ability that makes the EcoSport diesel a good long-distance companion.

Both the EcoBoost and diesel EcoSports use Ford’s tried and tested IB5 gearbox, which may not be the most precise unit around, but it’s got a smooth and easy shift. 

Handling

Fords have always been entertaining to drive and the EcoSport is no exception. It starts with the steering, which is light and yet full of feel and connectedness to the road. It’s incredibly direct with little slack, and is in fact, one of the best electric steering systems we have experienced in this price bracket. Add to this a noticeable lack of pitching and rolling and lots of grip, and you have a car that makes driving hard really enjoyable. In the EcoBoost version, the ride is remarkably pliant, allowing only the sharper bumps to thud through. The suspension is really silent, thanks in part to the hydraulic bump stops and Ford’s additional sound insulation that keeps noise levels in the cabin down to impressive levels.

The diesel is sprung rather stiffly to compensate for the weight of the heavier engine. This results in sharp edges and bigger bumps thumping through uncomfortably. The front suspension just doesn’t seem to have enough travel to isolate passengers. Also on the diesel, there’s a bit more pitching, especially at the rear, as you go over long-wave undulations. This isn’t particularly uncomfortable, but it reminds you that the EcoSport, with its small wheelbase, doesn’t tackle rough roads like a full size SUV. 

In the city, the EcoSport isn’t as easy to drive as its size suggests. This is mainly down to the limited visibility from the driver’s seat. You really have to teach yourself to use the combination of parking sensors and mirrors to reverse. However, the EcoSport’s compact dimensions are an absolute boon when you have to park. 

Efficiency

With an engine that has the same displacement as the Alto K10’s and makes more power than a Honda City’s, the EcoBoost engine’s fuel economy is impressive. We got 11.8kpl in the city and 17kpl on the highway. The diesel is even more efficient. The 13.3kpl city and 18.6kpl highway figures are both quite impressive. 

Verdict

Ford has thrown everything at the EcoSport to make it a truly remarkable package. In fact, it’s got almost everything – the strong, in-your-face styling is sure to appeal to Indian tastes, the engines are extremely competent and the ride and handling are really well sorted. Like most Fords, the EcoSport is a joy to drive, which is a large part of its appeal. It may not be so strong on the practical side with its shortage of cabin space and small boot, but the compact dimensions make it city friendly and easy to park. Ford has also packed the EcoSport to the gills with equipment, with several first-in-class features. And to top off what is a well-rounded SUV, Ford has launched it at a clever price. There’s no doubt Ford has produced a winner.

Technical Specs

Fact File


Engine
Fuel                        Petrol / Diesel
Installation              Front, transverse
Type                      4 cyls, 999cc / 4 cyls 1498cc turbo diesel
Bore/stroke            71.9/ 82, 73.5/88.3
Compression ratio 10.0, 16.0:1
Valve gear              4 valves per cyl DOHC / 2 valves per cyl SOHC
Power                   123bhp at 6000rpm, 90 bhp at 3750rpm
Torque                    17.33kgm at 1400-4500rpm, 20.8 at 2000-2750rpm
Power to weight      97.69 / 69.76bhp per tonne
Torque to weight     13.76/16.12kgm per tonne
Transmission
Type                      Front wheel drive
Gearbox                 5-speed maunal
Dimensions
Length                    3999mm
Width                     1765mm
Height                     1708mm
Wheel base             2520mm
Boot volume             362 litres
Ground clearance      200mm
Chassis & Body
Construction            Five-door, Monocoque SUV
Weight                     1259/ 1290kg
Wheels                        16-inch
Tyres                         205/60R16
Spare                        Full size
Suspension
Front                         Independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Rear                          Semi-independent, stabiliser bar
Steering
Type                            Rack and pinion
Type of power assist    Electric
Turning circle                10.6m
Brakes
Front                       Ventilated discs
Rear drums
Anti-lock                       Yes
Performance
0-20       1.60/ 1.33
0-40       3.32/3.18
0-60       5.79/5.88
0-80       8.71/9.47
0-100     12.54/13.72
0-120      17.01/20.96
0-140      24.07/- 


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