The Ford EcoSport has been one of the most awaited vehicles in the past few years in the Indian automotive industry. First shown to the public a few days before the 2012 Auto Expo, this compact SUV generated far more hype than expected, being the most talked about vehicle across automotive portals. So when we got behind the wheel of the EcoSport fitted with a 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine in Goa recently, our main question was – has the over hyped killed the machine or will this be Ford’s next money minting machine in India?
The single main USP of the Ford EcoSport will be the way it looks – smashing! SUVs aren’t supposed to be sexy but this one begs to be called that way. It measures under 4 meters in length in order to qualify for tax benefits meant for small cars and yet, its overall road presence is terrific. It is both muscular and classy – the sculpted body-line, high mounted trapezoidal grille, slim headlamps, all add up the make the EcoSport the freshest and most modern looking vehicle in its price segment and in the process, makes other compact SUVs like the Mahindra Quanto and Renault Duster look dated!
Form also follows function and various design elements actually add up to better aerodynamics. For example, the lines of the headlamps stretch towards the rear, allowing the air to flow around them. Seen side on, the high ground clearance and blacked out lower part imparts sportiness. Ford has also made sure the exterior design is clutter-less. For example again, the tail gate handle was built into the right tail lamp itself. A small black access button on the tail gate handle can be used to unlock the boot.
The Ambiente and Trend versions comes with 15-inch steel wheels while the Titanium and Titanium+ versions come with beautiful sculpted 16-inch alloy wheels. We also love the fact that the spare wheel finds itself on the rear door / tail gate for a proper SUV look. This also frees up space in the boot.
Stylish, robust and dynamic, Ford’s latest offering for India has that ‘can do’ attitude in the way it looks. Color options for India include Mars Red, Kinetic Blue, Sea Grey, Moondust Silver, Panther Black, Diamond White and Chill.
Number wise, the EcoSport measures 3999mm in length, 1765mm in width and 1708mm in height. Interestingly, the front track is narrower at 1519mm as compared to rear at 1524 : this also gives a sportier stance to the EcoSport. It is also noteworthy to add that the EcoSport carries an outstanding drag coefficient of only 0.371 which was possible due to these:
1. A slight rise at the end of the hood eliminates areas of turbulence
2. Front baffle built into the bumper avoids re-circulaton of air and improves airflow under the vehicle
3. Improved sealing between the hood and the front grille
4. The raked A-pillar and titled side mirrors are designed to also reduce wind noise
5. Air deflectors in front of the rear tyres
6. D-Pillar kicker to propel air flow
With limited length to play around with, Ford engineers had to work hard on the cabin to liberate enough space for Indian families. This is a country known to travel with full load of people and in this regard, the EcoSport had to be designed for five adults with enough boot space. I stand 6 feet tall with a fairly large built and with the front seat adjusted for my height, there was just about ample space at the back. My knees didnt really brush the back of the front seat but seating three abreast in this vehicle will be tough. However, for an average Indian height of around 5’9″, the EcoSport feels perfect. The boot space too is fairly decent for a sub 4 meter vehicle but what really impresses you is the overall interior design and feel.
The cabin design is exactly like the Ford Fiesta. It looks racy and modern and as far ergonomics are concerned, the EcoSport is spot on. Everything seems to fall into place properly and nice touches include adjustable steering for both reach and height across the versions. There are ample cubby holes and as many as ten bottle holders around. The color theme however is overly black and that doesnt really impart a sense of space on the inside. However, the silver finish central console along with silver inserts for the steering wheel, air-con surrounds, door lever handle etc look and feel nice. Overall quality is better than both the Mahindra Quanto and the Renault Duster.
The speedometer console again is exactly like the Fiesta’s though the speedometer needle now has a blue backlight. The console also has a standard driver information display that displays average and instantaneous fuel economy, outside temperature among other details. Seats of the EcoSport is pretty nice. We spent around 5 hours driving in Goa and these gave no reason for a complaint at all – we were driving the Titanium+ version that comes with leather seats as standard. However, the top end versions will retail for over Rs 9 lac ex-showroom and hence this is where we feel electric adjustment for driver’s seat should have been offered. Likewise, rear air-con vents are missing and so is a rear arm-rest. That said, nice touches include storage area under the seat and a front driver arm-rest.
For someone graduating up from a hatchback, the EcoSport shall not disappoint in most cases. Compared to say the i20, the EcoSport won’t feel as a spacious vehicle. However, get in the likes of the Swift and the Polo and the EcoSport will amaze you. This product will also probably attract customers who are looking at a sedan in the price range of Rs 6-8 lac and in this regard, frankly, options like the Honda Amaze and Mahindra Verito excel in cabin space. That said, most owners are likely to be young individuals or young married couples and for them, the EcoSport seems as the perfect ‘young’ companion!
Lastly, Ford also claims 20 intelligent storage spaces in the all-new EcoSport – these total more than 21 litres! These include
1. A glove box that can keep upto six beverage can cools
2. A handy strap on the driver’s sun visor for parking or till tickets
3. A sunglasses holder in the overhead console
4. A center console with 2 cup holders and a 12-volt power outlet
5. A drawer under the front passenger seat big enough to safely store a laptop
6. Front door bins that can hold 1.5-litre bottles and 600ml bottles
8. Rear door bins that can hold 600ml bottles
9. Map pockets on the back of the front seats
The EcoSport that we drove came fitted with Ford’s much famed 1.0-litre petrol engine called the EcoBoost. Now EcoBoost is a family of turbocharged, direct injected gasoline engines produced by the Ford Motor Company and co-developed by FEV engineering. Ford currently makes a variety of EcoBoost engines around the world – a V6 3.5-litre, I4 2.0-litre, I4 1.6-litre and the one we see here, the I3 1.0-litre version. This 3-cylinder unit comes in two versions of either 101PS or 125PS and thankfully, India gets the latter.
Now the engine block is cast iron instead of aluminium as the former helps in up to 50% faster warm-up, at the expense of additional weight. The flywheel has been deliberately unbalanced to ensure smooth running, without the use of energy sapping balance shafts – this was necessary to do with typical 3-cylinder vibrations. The internal timing belt is bathed in the engine oil, for long life and greater efficiency. Further, the exhaust manifold is cast into the cylinder head, reducing warm up times and therefore further aiding efficiency.
Number wise, this tiny 999cc engine produces 125PS of power, 11.6% more than the bigger 1499cc 1.5-litre petrol engine. On the torque front, this EcoBoost manages to churn out 170Nm or 21.4% more than the bigger 1.5-litre petrol motor. Mind you, this extra performance doesnt come at the cost of fuel economy with a rated figure of 18.9kmpl!
The top end version comes standard with keyless push button start. Thumb this button and the engine quickly settles into a very smooth idling. Rev it hard in neutral and for safety sake (to protect the engine), it won’t rev over 4000rpm. Slot into first and immediately, you are surprised with the initial pull from the motor. The EcoBoost version of the Titanium+ EcoSport weights in at 1259kilos and yet, the torque flow at low revs between 1500 and 2000rpm is impressive. Drive it like a diesel, upshifting under 2,500rpm and you will be surprised with the city driving performance.
Goan roads arent really empty. Our route took us to South Goa for lunch at The Lalit and enroute, we did manage to test the high rpm manners. With 3 on-board and aircon running full blast, the EcoSport EcoBoost did surprise us. Let the engine spin freely and you will be rewarded with terrific performance with a sporty exhaust note. Don’t expect it to burn rubber easily though as there is no replacement for displacement ever. That said, the positive gear shift action along with oodles of torque available through the rev range will really delight an owner. Most of the EcoSports will be driven with one person on board during office hours and this is where it will further shine, delivering part throttle response well. We also managed to see a regular 13kmpl on the display – pretty nice for a SUV!
The other two engine options include a 1.5-litre petrol (sold in both manual and automatic options) and ofcourse a 1.5-litre diesel. The latter will be the highest selling option we believe and going from our experience in the Fiesta diesel, this engine should complement the EcoSport well with its smooth and torquey nature. However, we shall reserve our judgement till we drive one of these.
Comfort and handling
The EcoSport gets the same EPAS (electronic power-assisted steering) as seen on the Fiesta. This system is known for its pull-drift compensation feature which itself adjusts for minor driving annoyances – for example when driving over crowned road surfaces, in usual cars, one has to correct the steering but this system allows for minimal correction from the driver. Further, it also features what is known as Active Nibble Control that helps reduce vibrations through the steering wheel. Ford claims more than 90 parameters have been tuned for deliver accurate responses at high speeds and low ones. In a nutshell, this is claimed to be a great system to reduce driver fatigue and during our drive, the we found it to be light enough for city use without feeling over-assisted at high speeds.
People might want to compare this with the EPAS of the Fiesta but then again, the EcoSport is a tall vehicle with a higher center of gravity and hence in this case, we found the steering to work beautifully well. You can throw the SUV into corners at high speeds without having to worry about body roll or nil feedback. Talking about suspension, dampers and springs have been tuned for India and the balance between comfort and handling is nearly perfect. We drove over bad roads and undulations but the EcoSport seemed to swallow these pretty well with just a tad of stiffness. However, we drove with 3 on board and hence in this case, it seemed reasonably well as compared to ‘stiff’ reviews on our portals! Again, lot of work has been done to achieve this. The hydraulic rebound stops use hydraulic fluid to dissipate energy when the damper approaches its full extension and this reduces the peak force by 2-3 times thereby providing a smoother ride and also reduces noise while going over bumps. Lastly, the tyres have also been developed specially to attain a good balance between low rolling resistance and grip.
For the common man, all this means that the EcoSport feels like a grown up hatch to drive with comfort of a big sedan. Due to the high seating, visibility is great and this along with low NVH levels, light steering and good suspension can result in less fatigue during prolonged driving.
Steps taken to reduce noise inside the cabin include
1. The EcoSport has been tested in a wind tunnel for noise reduction
2. Sound-deadening materials have been used in doors, roof and the body.
3. To reduce chances of leaks and whistles, a double-sealing system is used for doors. Glass sealing also sees usage of new technologies.
4. Inside, the cabin has acoustic headliner to absorb ambient noise
5. Hydraulic fluid reduces damper noise
6. Special tyres to reduce road noise
Features and trim level
The Ford EcoSport will be available in four trim versions of Ambiente, Trend, Titanium and Titanium+. However, the EcoBoost engine we drove with only be sold in the top two versions. That said, even the base Ambiente, that will available in the 1.5-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel, will come decently equipped with front power windows, aircon, power-steering, audio system, keyless less entry etc.
The 1.5-litre petrol engine in a sub 4m vehicle won’t quality for tax benefits as its over the prescribed 1.2-litre petrol limit. Hence, we expect the EcoSport range to start at around the Rs 6.5 lac mark.
The diesel engine does quality for small car tax benefits which means the diesel range could start at around Rs 7 lac, making it a very good value for money proposition. That said, we know how things went wrong with the new look Fiesta due to its pricing and sincerely hope and wish the same doesnt happen with the EcoSport.
Feature wise, the top end model comes loaded with as many as 6 airbags, keyless entry and start-stop, Microsoft’s SYNC system, voice commands, alloy wheels, ESP, hill-assist among other features. This is one area where the EcoSport simply has no competition!
The EcoSport is a brilliant urban vehicle. However, being India, it will surely be used for various kinds of usage – city, highway, family car and so on. It will in most cases impress both the owners and the occupants. Infact, we do seem to love the EcoSport. It made us wait for over year and a half but in the end, did manage to impress us. Killer looks combined with good comfort and modern technology – what could possibly hold this SUV from becoming a hit? The answer ofcourse is pricing and for that, you and I will have to wait for a few more weeks. Yes, it is frustrating but the wait finally is about to get over….