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Out of India: Ford EcoSport

2013-05-13 08:01

URBAN SUV FOR THE MASSES: The EcoSport has many endearing qualities such as its radical design and performance. Will it be able to take on well established rivals like Nissan’s Qashqai and Daihatsu's Terios? Image: SERGIO DAVIDS

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Author: SERGIO DAVIDS

 

“In India nothing is as it should be. There are irrelevant stop signs, bizarre markings, non-existent road signs and rules of the road are more a case of extending a courtesy. You have to be more aware of the road.”

Not something you want to hear from Ford’s safety briefing spokesman ahead of a test drive in Goa, south-west India. Daunting to say the least, considering it was my first visit to the country. I’d seen the chaos on India’s roads in movies and humorous YouTube clips but often thought, “It can’t really be like that, can it?”

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I can now confirm that the chaos of India’s roads is very real, exhilarating and terrifyingly fun. Two-lane roads often accommodate up to six lines of vehicles, indicators are ignored and replaced by spirited hooting. In fact trucks won’t even acknowledge indicators and warn drivers with variations of the phrase “Please blow horn” etched at the rear.

Ford chose Goa’s white beaches and winding roads for the launch of its next vehicle the urban SUV market – the latest EcoSport, the second generation since its introduction in 2003.

Wheels24 test drove the then new SUV ahead of its South African launch in August 2013. The new version will be launched in South Africa with three engine choices (1.0 EcoBoost and 1.5 petrol and diesel) with three spec levels – Ambiente, Trend and Titanium.

CAR-LIKE SUV, SUV-LIKE CAR?

I’ll be honest, browsing through images ahead of its launch, I was a bit dubious about the car as it seemed disproportionate in terms of design. Now that I’ve seen it the metal, I’m still undecided about its design; this high-riding Ford is a study in contrasts – a rugged soft-roader mixed with quirky elements.

It borrows the Fiesta’s grille but adds chromed slats divided into three sections, giving it a weird grin. The huge grille gives it the rugged face of an off-roader which some might find a bit too assertive and slightly overdone.

On the bonnet is another  interesting design element: wind deflectors which sweep up towards the windscreen.

The sides are where the car shines as it borrows the assertive styling of the Kuga. You’ll also spot thick plastic cladding along its flanks, their function to shield the metal from debris during spirited drives. The chunky flanks appear to dwarf the 16” alloys and perhaps they should’ve gone with 17” rims instead.

It’s a stunning vehicle... provided you’re looking at it in profile.

The rear doesn’t detract much from the typical rugged designs of contempory SUV's with its rear-mounted spare, lateral-swing hatch and straight lines. The hatch release has been neatly integrated into a rear light with the handle forming part of the light structure. It's a really great touch.

Its design is unconventional and, depending on the angle, it certainly stands out from the crowd. Despite its quirks I think it's quite endearing.

Ehab Kaoud, Ford's chief designer, said: “Compact capable and contemporary, we wanted it to give off a  presence of strength. The car needs to look different enough to grab you but remain recognisable as a Ford. The EcoSport is beautiful but functional.”

It's 4.2m long, two metres wide and 1.6m high with a wheelbase of 2.5m.

1.0 ECOBOOST DOES IT AGAIN

I'd experienced the one-litre engine in the Fiesta but I had my doubts about whether it would hold up considering the extra weight (1243kg) of the EcoSport chassis. It did: revvy, excellent response, quiet... it’s still hard to believe it’s a three-cylinder as it feels more like a 1.5 and puts 92kW/170Nm at your disposal.

Drive is through a five-speed manual. Fuel consumption is given at 5.3 litres/100km though SA fuel cycle tests have yet to be confirmed. It's behind the wheel that the EcoSport will win the hearts and minds of those who are still undecided whether they should purchase it. The engine performed brilliantly from pull-away to mid-range revs.

There’s a noticeable amount of play on the steering-wheel yet the EcoSport proved nimble and agile through corners. Along the winding mountain passes of Goa the engine was sluggish until 1800rpm mark due to turbolag.

The suspension soaks up undulations, shifting is a breeze and the car makes you want to chuck it around corners with confidence.  Overall you won’t be disappointed with the engine.

Its ground clearance of 200mm will ensure you can conquer light brush, speed bumps and the occasional pothole. Complimenting this is breakover and approach angles of 25 degrees and a departure angle of 35 degrees.

The model has a 4x4-rivalling ability to wade through 550mm of water which should come in handy considering India’s monsoon season and Cape Town’s propensity for flooding during winter.

With those figures it doesn’t seem like it would be a stretch to build a 4x4 variant. In fact the previous version had an off-roader in its line-up.
 
Trevor Worthington, vehicle programs director, Ford Asia Pacific and Africa, said: “For this size of market there’s a not a big demand for 4x4, at least in this class. It’s not needed and as such we have no plans to offer it in 4x4.

The EcoSport’s turning circle of 10.65m makes navigating the chaos of Goa’s streets that much more tolerable and enables to you perform parking manoeuvres with ease.

INSIDE

The EcoSport is generously equipped, with the base Ambiente receiving tilt and telescopic steering, Aux and Bluetooth connectivity, power side mirrors, central locking and 16” rims.

The titatnium model I tested adds ABS, leather steering wheel with audio controls, driver-seat height adjustment, climate control, a cooled glove box, fog lights, rear parking sensors, push-button start, leather seats and keyless entry.

By hatchback standards, the cabin is quite spacious but as an SUV it’s lacking the roominess you would normally associate with this type of vehicle. Boot space is rated at 362 liters and can be bolstered with the rear seats folded (60:40 split) for a total of 705 litres, which provides more versatility.

Worthington said: EcoSport is for the urban market. It must fit in the urban environment and meet the lifestyles of city customers. It’s a high-tech, high-riding, compact and efficient package.

“Our view is it creates its own segment. It will draw customers out of other segments.”

The interior of the EcoSport has familiar styling as the chunky steering wheel and the centre console appears to have been borrowed from the new Fiesta launched in SA earlier in 2013.

INTERIOR CONTRASTS

Despite borrowing Fiesta design elements, it doesn’t have that premium feel to it, in fact it’s more akin to the Figo in terms of fit and finishes. The test vehicle I drove exhibited a few rattles and squeaks by the end of our drive.

Like the outside, the interior sports contrasts; the top half of the centre console has the premium look and feel of a Fiesta but the lower half of the dashboard feels a little sub-par compared to its well-established rivals.

To be fair, the EcoSport is an honest attempt at building a urban SUV for automotive markets such as Brazil and India. The model should prove a huge success given that its price tag makes owning an SUV that much more attainable.

The car will comfortably seat five though the boot may leave you propping holiday kit on your rear passenger’s laps.

As seen in the Focus and Fietsa, Ford’s Sync is available on the EcoSport. The system allows customers to make phone calls, read text messages and play audio using voice commands.

Sync recognises up to 150 voice commands and copes with variations in accents and vocabulary. Seriously, try your most stereotypically South African accent (e.g middle-aged English speaking Afrikaan’s guy from the North West) and you’ll find the system will be able to cope.

OVERALL

The ecoSport takes on the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Daihatsu Terios and Suzuki SX4. Launched in India, Ford has aimed this model at 30 somethings who are married with kids.

The EcoSport has much going for it in terms of design, focused engine, tech and features. The model tugs at your heart strings with its dare-to-be-different design and handling dynamics which may make you overlook its shortcomings in the interior.

Its versatility and performance makes it a really attractive proposition for buyers though it remains to be seen whether SA customer’s will pay a premium when they could opt for a Fiesta or Focus.

It’s not a Mini-Kuga nor as one Wheels24 reader put it “a Fiesta on steroids” but a vehicle that’s hoping to grab its own identity.

Pricing at launch ranges from R215 000 - R 260 000 to be confirmed closer to launch in August 2013.

MORE FROM FORD

If the Fiesta is hot tamale, fans can look forward to the fiery habanero - the ST version headed for South Africa later in May 2013. The model is powered by a 132kW 1.6 EcoBoost petrol engine that can haul from 0-100km in 6.9sec and reach 220km/h.

Check back on our new models section later in May 2013 when we report on Ford’s latest ST-badged hot hatch!

Ford EcoSport SA model line-up:
1.5 Ti-VCT Ambiente (Petrol)
1.0 EcoBoost Trend (Petrol)
1.5 TDCi Trend (Diesel)
1.5 TDCi Titanium (Diesel)
1.0 EcoBoost Titanium  (Petrol)
1.5 Ti-VCT Titanium PowerShift (Petrol)




 


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