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Despite the motor industry’s seemingly never-ending proclivity towards downsizing, people still can’t seem to get their fill of SUVs and crossovers. While the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai ix35 dominate the market, there exists below them a small range of compact, even more affordable vehicles such as the Suzuki Jimny, Nissan Juke and Daihatsu Terios. Despite claiming that the EcoSport is a niche product, Ford is evidently keen to capitalise on the small number of players in this sub-segment, especially in emerging markets such as Brazil, Asia and to a lesser degree, Africa.
Looks good in the metal
This new SUV is based on Ford’s small car platform, which underpins the Fiesta and is built at Ford’s plant in Chennai, India. Having seen images of the EcoSport ahead of the international launch in Goa, India, I couldn’t help but think that it appeared ungainly. The design seemed bottom-heavy and the ratio of metal to trim/glass somehow wasn’t right.
Having seen the car in the metal, I am glad to say that the EcoSport design appears far more pleasing to the eye. The familiar Ford face has taken a slightly new slant and shrunk down to the EcoSport’s dimensions, creating a recognisable but fresh look. The EcoSport’s plastic lower body cladding lends the diminutive SUV an air of ruggedness while rising character lines running up the flanks create the impression of forward motion.
The rear view is arguably the EcoSport’s most flattering. There are neatly detailed lamps, the right unit housing a hidden door handle and the spare wheel is slung out back, adding to the off-road look. Lazy parkers will be happy to know that there is 210 mm of ground clearance making it ideal for climbing kerbs whenever you can’t find an empty space.
Anyone that has ever driven or sat in current generation Fiesta will immediately recognise the facia treatment. From the instrument cluster to the HVAC controls, if these items aren’t sourced directly from the Fiesta’s parts cupboard they are pretty darned close. The slush-moulded facia has a tactile feel and the quality levels are decent. There are other areas that aren’t quite as convincing; namely a lack of roof-mounted grab handles (particularly to models with curtain airbags) and a roof lining that is quite soft and seemingly easy to move.
For such a compact vehicle, occupant space is impressive. The driver’s chair is height adjustable, and the steering wheel offers both reach and rake adjustment. I asked a counterpart taller than myself to perform the sit-behind-yourself test and his 1,75 metre frame occupied the rear seat with knee room to spare.
Ford claims boot volume of 360 dm3, which isn’t vast but compares favourably with rivals such as the Nissan Juke, while dropping the split-folding rear seats frees up 705 dm3 of utility space.
A full array of equipment
The usual range of Ford trim levels will be offered when the EcoSport is launched later. The only variant we experienced on the launch was a Titanium-spec example sporting such features as automatic air-conditioning, keyless entry and go, leather upholstery, six airbags, ABS with EBA, reverse parking sensors and Ford’s patented SYNC infotainment system.
Three engine options, two transmissions, but no 4×4
As this model is closely related to the Fiesta its engine line-up broadly mirrors that of the compact hatch. First up is a naturally aspirated 1,5-litre petrol, which can be optioned with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.The only diesel version is a 1,5-litre turbocharged unit. It develops a maximum of 67 kW of power and 204 N.m of torque. On the ride-and-drive event we sampled Ford’s award-winning 1,0-litre EcoBoost motor. The threee-cylinder unit is force-fed and develops 91 kW and 170 N.m at a low 1 400 r/min. These two engines can only be coupled with the five-speed manual transmission.
Despite the SUV moniker, which Ford insists on using instead of the “softer” crossover option with power directed solely to the front wheels. While Brazil will receive a four-wheel drive variant, such a model will not be offered on the local market.
Being an Indian-built model, Ford decided to host the introduction and ride event in Goa. Now, I am not sure if any of you have ever driven in India but it is real nerve-wracking experience. Speeds are low and drivers take the biggest risks; easing into junctions, merging into lanes and, worst of all, overtaking at the most inopportune moments.
As it was developed for Third World conditions the suspension tuning leans towards the softer side, which is not a bad thing for a car of this ilk. An independent arrangement up front copes with the larger bumps easily. The torsion beam rear set-up provides good primary ride quality but can be upset by potholes and scarred tar.
While the 1,0-litre EcoBoost motor performs admirably in the Fiesta, in this larger/heavier package you have to stay on top of matters to make the best of the available power. When trying to negotiate slow-moving trucks, a myriad motorcycles and the ubiquitous cows one really has to wind that small engine up. I can’t help but think that the turbodiesel, with 30 N.m more torque would prove a more favourable choice.
Ford representatives let slip that pricing will fall in the R215-R260 000 bracket. The market for small SUVs certainly exists and Ford is clever to capitalise on it. Keenly priced and capable, the EcoBoost will likely to appeal to those who are otherwise unable to buy into an SUV of any sort. I expect them to sell like hot bajias.
The full South African 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)
Model: Ford EcoSport 1,0 EcoBoost
Engine: 1,0-litre, inline four, turbocharged
Power: 91 kW at 5 250 r/min
Torque: 170 N.m @ 1 400-3 500 r/min
Fuel consumption: 5,4 L/100 km
CO2: 126 g/km