Ford India has had a tough innings in India. Apart from the Ford Figo, and the Ford Ikon before that, there has been no car which wears the Blue Oval badge which seems to have caught the Indian car buyer’s fancy. All that could change though with this, the new Ford EcoSport urban SUV. We get behind the wheel to bring you this comprehensive test drive report.
It was a year and a half ago that Ford first showed the new EcoSport urban SUV in India, at the Auto Expo in New Delhi in January 2012. Compact SUVs are a niche segment in India, but one that is growing significantly. With the new EcoSport, Ford will be taking this segment head-on.
Design & Engineering
The new Ford EcoSport has classic SUV proportions. It has a high stance, big wheels, a big gaping grille and the spare wheel is mounted on the tail gate. Ford hasn’t missed a trick in giving the EcoSport the visual appeal that the customer desires. And while the EcoSport is unmistakably a Ford, it doesn’t look like anything else on the road. The huge chrome grille was a bit much for my taste, but everyone’s opinion is subjective. Ask Ford’s Chief Designer Ehab Kaoud about the EcoSport, and he is undoubtedly very proud of what they’ve achieved with this car. “We don’t create twins, we create siblings and cousins” is how he describes the new EcoSport, referring to this car’s unique looks.
The EcoSport is based on Ford’s global B-platform, which we’ve already sampled in the form of the new Ford Fiesta. Light weight boron steel was also used in the construction of the EcoSport, just like in the Fiesta. The EcoSport does have a slightly longer wheelbase though, measuring 2,520 mm vis-à-vis 2,489 mm which the Fiesta sports. In length though, the new EcoSport measures exactly 3,999 mm, crucially dipping below the 4 metre mark. This means that the EcoSport will qualify for an excise benefit for two of its three powertrain options.
Powering the EcoSport will be three different engine options, which include the 1.5-litre DV5 diesel and 1.5-litre Ti-VCT petrol engines borrowed from the new Fiesta, as also Ford’s new pride and joy – the 1.0-litre GTDI EcoBoost engine. All three engines come mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, although a 6-speed dual clutch automatic is available as an option on the 1.5-litre Ti-VCT petrol.
Ford has specified four different trim levels for the new EcoSport, designated Ambiente, Trend, Titanium and Titanium O (for ‘Option’). In total, the new Ford EcoSport will be available in a total of 10 different variants, allowing for a lot of choice.
Interiors & Comfort
The interiors of the Ford EcoSport feel very similar to the Fiesta’s, and that’s because the two products share a lot of similarities. The basic shape and layout of the dashboard will be familiar to those who own or have driven the new Fiesta. The key difference is in the shape of the air vents for the AC, but the layout is identical, with the single-colour screen for the infotainment system sitting at the top, the cluster of buttons in the middle and the climate control panel at the botton of the centre stack. This is a very fussy and busy layout, with too many buttons and too much clutter. I didn’t like the centre console on the Fiesta, and I don’t like it here either, especially since Ford has traditionally supplied a very functional and user-friendly interface.
The new EcoSport comes equipped with SYNC, which is basically a voice-activated command system, which it has developed in conjunction with Microsoft. It is an improvement over the voice controls of the Fiesta, which required you to learn a specific set of commands in a specific sequence. In the EcoSport, keyword prompts are displayed on the screen. The hardware has also evolved to recognise different accents, and this we did test successfully. You can pair multiple Bluetooth devices, such as your phone or music player, to the car. You also have the option of synching your phonebook if you choose, and then you can place outgoing calls using the voice activated system. It takes a little getting used to the SYNC, which is true of any new technology, but the pay-off in convenience is something that you will grow to appreciate.
Ford EcoSport has comfortable rear seats. Three different backrest angles are possible at the rear. Underseat storage and height-adjustable driver's seat add to practicality.
Like we mentioned earlier, the EcoSport has a slightly longer wheelbase than the Fiesta sedan. Different packaging of the interiors means that Ford has successfully liberated a little more rear legroom. Even with a six-foot driver or front passenger, it is possible for a smilar-sized adult to be accommodated behind. The EcoSport’s Achilles heel will be cabin width, however. Three adults seated side-by-side is nearly impossible, and the EcoSport is firmly a four-seater. We tested the top-of-the-line Titanium O variant, which had leatherite seat upholstery, but these looked and felt like an after-market job. We feel conventional fabric upholstery might be a better option.
Nine beverage holders are useful. Front glovebox is cooled. SYNC system has voice control activated by button on steering wheel.
Both front and rear seats are well bolstered and quite supportive though, and there is little fatigue, which is a good thing on long road trips. The air-conditioning worked well in the Goa heat too, although it wasn’t at its hottest.
Ford recognises that utility is part of the story for anybody seeking to buy an SUV, even a compact urban SUV, and the EcoSport features seats which flip and fold in multiple configurations, providing a lot of versatility.
Ford EcoSport has more than 600 litres of luggage space with rear seat folded.
Performance & Handling
Ford has always made cars which are fun to drive, and the new EcoSport isn’t any different. We only drove the 1.0-litre EcoBoost, because that was the only engine option available for the test drive, but we’re certain that with the other engine options too the EcoSport should retain its basic character.
High ground clearance aids go-anywhere capability, but this is not a four-wheel drive SUV, so caution is advised.
One key aspect of this car’s engineering is its suspension. It may retain the conventional compact car layout with McPherson struts at the front and a multi-link rear, but as they say, god is in the details. Ford’s engineers have spent a lot of time and effort in fine-tuning the chassis, and this pays off on the road. The EcoSport also boasts of hydraulic mounts for the engine and hydraulic bumps stops for the suspension, and these succeed in filtering out a lot of vibrations and harshness, both from the road and from the engine compartment.
Ford’s pull-drift compensation system, which alters the assistance from the electric power steering, helps to deal with uneven road surfaces and also provides some assistance during enthusiastic cornering. The steering effort is quite light though, which means driving in traffic and parking is very easy. When driving quickly, the power assistance reduces, which makes the EcoSport more involving to drive.
The five-speed manual gearbox the EcoSport comes equipped with has light throws, with a positive shift action through the gate. However, shifts felt nowhere near as taut as they do on the Fiesta Classic, for example, and the short gear lever doesn’t fall as easily to hand either. Again, these are minor quibbles, but for someone who loves driving and is used to a certain ‘Ford feel’ wishes the same were available across the range.
The EcoBoost engine really makes a point though. Downsizing IS the future, so don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Designated GTDI for ‘Gasoline Turbocharged Direct Injection’ the new three-cylinder EcoBoost has two very important technologies: turbocharging and direct injection. Turbocharging improves the power output by force-feeding more air into the combustion chamber. Traditionally, however, turbocharged engines have always been low-compression engines, with poor power delivery characteristics. Direct injection provides a work around for this, and the Ford EcoBoost has a relatively high 10:1 compression ratio, which is almost the same as many naturally aspirated engines.
So does the EcoBoost engine deliver the best of both worlds? You need only to glance at the dyno figures to understand what the EcoBoost motor is capable of. Ford claims it puts out 125 PS of power and 170 Nm of torque, comparable to a 1.6-litre engine, although it displaces just 999 cc. More importantly, the Ford EcoSport equipped with this engine has been ARAI certified at 18.9 km/l, which is 3.3 km/l more than Ford’s own Ti-VCT equipped EcoSport.
On the road, the EcoSport drives with a consistency which is very re-assuring. The EcoBoost engine builds boost smoothly, with nominal turbo lag. Peak torque comes in at a low 1,400 rpm, so unless you’re the type who abhors shifting gears and likes to lug around in a higher gear, the EcoBoost engine responds very well. If there is a point to note with the EcoBoost engine, it is this; even though peak torque stays flat between 1,400 – 4,500 rpm, there is no surge in power as the revs rise. The rate of acceleration feels the same at any point within this rev band. It takes a short time to get used to, but you don’t get either the wallop of torque that a regular diesel engine provides nor the zip at higher rpm from a petrol motor. Drive around this though and make allowances for this engine’s character, and you’ll begin to enjoy other aspects of this car.
The handling in traditional Ford fashion is secure, predictable and sure-footed. Steering feel is lovely, feedback from the road is consistent, the suspension is well judged and the brakes are strong. Yes, you do feel some body-roll in the EcoSport, but with a car which stands tall at 1,708 mm this is to be expected. If anything, it is the nascent grip level which encourages you to corner faster, before you really begin to feel the body-roll.
The Indian consumer apportions a lot of weightage on fuel economy. On this front, Ford has a lot going for it. The EcoSport is available with three different engines, as we mentioned earlier. The ARAI-certified figures for these three engines is as follows:
1.5-litre Ti-VCT Petrol: 15.6 km/l
1.5-litre DV5 Diesel: 22.7 km/l
1.0-litre GTDI Petrol: 18.9 km/l
Real world figures obviously will be less, but these figures serve as a strong enough indicator of what the new EcoSport is capable of, especially the new 1.0-litre EcoBoost.
The new Ford EcoSport comes with a host of safety features, including Emergency Assist, which will be offered in India for the first time. Emergency Assist will place an emergency call to the national emergency number, which is 108, in the event of an accident. Dialling 108 alerts the police, fire department and ambulance services. The system is activated only when the airbags or the fuel cut-off is triggered in a collision. The call is placed through the synched mobile phone.
Other than Emergency Assist, the new EcoSport also has ABS with EBD and two front airbags as standard. Side curtain airbags and thorax airbags are available on the higher variants. Additionally, the automatic variant of the EcoSport will also have electronic stability control or ESP.
The new EcoSport, when it is launched next month, will mark a moment of truth for Ford. This is the car which has the potential to revitalise the company’s fortunes in India. Comparisons with the Renault Duster are inevitable, and indeed when questioned, Ford’s senior product planners admitted that the Duster and the Maruti SX4 were two products that they had benchmarked the new EcoSport against. The EcoSport no doubt has a smaller footprint than the Duster (Ford calls this ‘right-sized’) but then the trade-off is a smaller cabin. The narrow cabin means there is little elbow room on offer, and this may be a turn-off for some buyers. The small boot and no jump seats (a dealer option on the Duster) further limit its appeal.
I’m not too convinced about SYNC either. The system takes a while getting used to, and while it is a nice-to-have sort of feature, I don’t see how it can be a differentiator for Ford.
Significantly, India will form the production hub for the new EcoSport, and Ford will export it from India to numerous other countries, including markets in Europe and Africa. This has allowed Ford to pursue an aggressive localisation programme. Given the large volume, including exports, this has helped to drive down costs. A lot will depend on the price, obviously. It will also be interesting to see how Ford positions the petrol variants. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost qualifies for an excise rebate, but it is a more expensive engine to produce compared to the larger 1.5-litre motor.
The new Ford EcoSport will be available in 4 distinct trim levels with three different powertrain options, and will be available in a total of 10 different variants. If Ford can launch the new EcoSport at Rs 6.49 lakh for the base petrol version, then it may be on to something. The Fiesta didn’t sell the way it was expected to, and that was largely down to the pricing. Launching at a higher price and then discounting to get sales is a poor strategy. For Ford, getting the pricing right with the EcoSport will be very crucial.