Words: Amit Chhangani
Images: Yatharth Singh Chauhan and Ford India
Products, and their packaging – that’s what drives consumerism in the modern, aware, well informed times we live in. You may have been making 20 different models of electronic bricks with a screen to make or receive calls since ages, but that wouldn’t make you any different from the 100 other guys doing the same thing. Now bring all the models and their features together into one neat, classy-looking, well thought out, well-controlled package, put a half eaten apple as a logo on the box, and lo! You own the world’s most valuable corporation.
A bottle of Dalmore Trinitas 64 would cost you upwards of Rs 80,00,000 (no errors with the zeros used there). There is no dearth of liquor with that age at a quarter of the price, but in the Trinitas’ case, it’s the brand, the heritage, the marketing and the inimitable personality of Richard Patinson coming together to lend that bottle its value. It’s a great, desirable package for connoisseurs. They are just not looking for taste or vintage value, they are looking for a complete package – and the Trinitas, as exhibited by its price and success is a great package in their eyes.
Packaging makes all the difference. The adage holds all the more true in case of automobiles where a whole array of factors have to come together to make a machine stand out among a crop of fiercely competitive models from international brands. In that context, the Ecosport, which is Ford’s take on the fast expanding compact urban SUV segment in India, shoulders the challenge to tick all the boxes on the demanding Indian customer’s wish-list. So is the Ford Ecosport really the package that we’ve expected it to be ever since it made its first appearance at the 2012 Auto Expo? We just used our scalpel to look under the skin. Read on…
Engine and gearbox
Boost is the secret of the Ecosport’s energy! The 1.0 liter Ecoboost engine is quite simply a technological marvel. While Ford products in other countries have seen bigger iterations of the Ecoboost power plants, this is the first time ever that a product is getting the Ecoboost technology in India. The new engine boasts the highest power per liter for any Ford production engine, ever. The engine also boasts one of the highest specific outputs for any production engine around the world.
With 125PS of peak power available at 6000 revs and an even more impressive an170Nm of torque between an expansive 1400 – 4500 rpm rev band, the output specs of the engine are nothing short of phenomenal. Matching the power of a naturally aspirated 1.6 liter petrol, and outclassing it as regards torque, the 1.0 liter Ecoboost engine belies its size.
But it’s not just the power of the engine that amazes you. The modern mill is also amazingly refined for a three cylinder unit. Typically, three-pot engines would make a lot of song and dance about creating power. With an inherent imbalance in the piston movement with two pistons traveling together, leaving the third one alone, the engine is left pitching from side to side. To counter this, most car companies add a counter balancer shaft, which adds to the weight of the engine, doesn’t always work as well it should and in turn reduces fuel efficiency.
The guys at Ford worked out an ingenious trick to counter the vices that come free with a three cylinder engine – they deliberately imbalanced the engine at critical points to create a neutral sum total. In addition, the unique engine mount system reduces overall vibration when idling or pulling away from low revs. Also, the 1.0 Ecoboost has a belt-in-oil drive system and a specially designed Clutch and flywheel to minimize vibrations and noise for a quieter driving experience.
Those of you, who think we are being overly deferential to the engine, need to know that the Ecoboost line of power plants won the 2012 International Engine of The Year with the largest winning margin in the award’s history. It’s just too amazing a unit for its size to not get smitten with – simply shatters all the perceptions you have in your head about performance from smaller capacity units, especially those working on three cylinders.
So how well does all that technology translate onto the road? Push the Engine start / Stop button and the Ecosport shakes up a wee bit as it comes to life. The three cylinder unit takes a moment settling down into a quiet, refined purr. There really are no vibes or unnerving sounds inside the cabin, on the steering wheel or at the floorboard as the engine idles. You can feel a mild pulsation on the clutch pedal, but that’s more or less about it.
Move the shifter stick towards the first gear position, and it slots in with a slick, reassuring action typical of Ford cars. First impressions about the gearbox are decidedly positive. The moderately weighted clutch is easy to depress and release with the right amount of travel. No slipping or re-learning modulation to operate this one even at the first instance.
First gear obviously has enough grunt to crawl at super slow speeds, even at 1000-1200 rpm. Second gear is unusually tall though, taking to us to a speedo indicated 100km/h – enough proof it’s not a close ratio box. It seems like fuel efficiency has been on Ford’s mind while tuning this, something which is always going to work for you as long as you’re in India. An ARAI certified fuel efficiency of 18.9 kmpl substantiates Ford’s focus on frugality.
Pottering around in Goa during peak office hours helped us understand the nature of the Ecoboost engine better. Being a turbocharged unit, there sure is a little bit of lag. However, some other reports which suggest that there is no juice whatsoever below 1800 rpm can be thrown straight to the bin in our humble opinion. Ambling around in the city through the stop-go slow moving traffic, the Ecoboost engine requires you to be upwards of 1400 rpm to pull with some level of comfort. It’s not an overly confident, torque-laden pull, but strong enough to keep you moving around without any hiccups. The sense of power keeps getting stronger as you climb up the rev range.
At 1800 revs the turbo feels properly spooled up and you get a nice meaty kick to wake up the driver in you. However, to say that the engine is dead below that mark would be a grave injustice to the capabilities of this wonderful little powerplant. Sure, you have to work the stick a little bit through stop-go traffic, but it’s nothing which we would consider bothersome or unacceptable.
Once out of the city and onto the beautiful, mildly sinusoidal Goa roads, the engine comes into its element. Above 1800 rpm, this engine oozes character and feels quite unlike anything we have ever driven. The higher than usual torque kicks in as the rev needle swings past 1800-2000 rpm, mid range is meaty, thanks to the turbo and the Ecosport accelerates purposefully without any reluctance all the way to 6500 rpm where the limiter cuts in.
The quiet engine begins getting sonorous as the needle climbs up the tacho. There is a wee bit of audible thrum in weaker revs, but the sound become increasingly likeable with the increasing revs. Post 3000 rpm, a subdued, immensely likeable burble hits your ears, urging you to press the pedal and take the revs above 4000 rpm where the engine sounds intoxicating singing its melody of a muffled thee-pot burble, making you fall all the more in love with the way this car drives. You would not realize how quickly you would hit the limiter thereon, so enthusiastic is the nature of the Ecosport’s powerplant.
In all honesty we weren’t quite able to check out the top speed of the Ecosport on the slim, snaky Goa roads, with a route planned for us. However, 130 showed up on the speedo without much effort, with a few fellow journos reporting 150 clicks with more juice to go. With an open piece of tar available, the Ecosport would be able to do 180km/h without trouble.
To sum it up, the 1.0 Ecoboost is a fabulous engine which loves being revved and is capable of bringing a wide grin on the enthusiasts’ face despite its diminutive size. It’s got a wee bit of turbo lag, and feels mildly weak at the bottom of the rev range. It isn’t a deal breaker though as the car has ample torque to keep you trundling around at low speeds. Low speed in-city drivability is well within acceptable limits if not absolutely astonishing. The engine revels in the upper band of the rev-range though with the turbo kicking in after 2000 rpm. A meaty mid-range and no reluctance to rev to the limit will make this engine a drivers’ favorite in the mainstream segment.
We don’t have any complaints about the 5-speed manual transmission either which is favorably light, precise and smooth to operate.
Here we have a few infographics on the Ecoboost engine to help you understand its working better. Click to expand
Driving Dynamics and ride quality
Riding on McPherson strut front suspension and a Multi-link independent rear set-up with 205/60R16 MRF rubber strapped on, the Ecosport quite simply dazzles you with its fine balance of ride and handling. The Ecosport is extremely European in the way it rides. It’s rather stiffly sprung, but at the same time very well damped, so it absorbs wavy undulations at speed with aplomb and rides flat and planted.
There is a very palpable sense of weight about the vehicle when you drive, and even with its compact size the Ecosport feels unshakeable on the move. The Ecosport belies its compact size in the way it feels from inside the cabin. There is an unmistakable solidity about it, again, very European. It feels well engineered and takes disguised dips in the road which would send a softly sprung car into a tizzy at speed in its stride without a whimper.
On the flip side, the setup doesn’t work too well while dealing with sharper bumps at low speeds. The ride, especially at the backseats tends to get bouncy as you direct the Ecosport onto broken pieces of tar with leading edges and prominent potholes. Riding fast over such surfaces with disdain is still better with the well damped suspension helping the car skim through. However, that’s not how the owners of the car are going to drive over bad roads, and the ride is decidedly bouncy on sharper bumps at crawling speed.
Most varieties of road imperfections are taken care of brilliantly with no shocks being sent into the cabin, only the more prominent and abrupt edges manage to unsettle this compact. Only once, while dealing with one of the rather extreme raised ridges on the road, we heard a thud inside the cabin. 200mm of generous ground clearance means that you never have to worry about the size of the obstacles ahead too.
What absolutely delighted us about the Ecosport was its engaging, un-SUV-ish handling. We were, in the beginning a little unnerved on witnessing a much lighter than usual steering on the Ecosport. True, it’s an Electric Power Steering, which more often than not is supposed to be lighter than the electrohydraulic units. However, the steering on the new Fiesta is electric too, and still much better weighted. The uncharacteristically (for Ford) steering seems to have been incorporated based on feedback from a majority of Indian customers, who consider feather light steering wheels as a feature.
Our apprehensions, however, were dispelled as soon as we let the Ecosport stretch its legs around some inviting corners. Lighter than usual the Ecosport’s steering may be, but it’s still delightfully precise and weighs up reasonably well with speed. The palms of your hand feel well connected with the road via the three spoke wheel. Easy to chuck around with no sense of nerviness, the Ecosport stays true to Ford’s superior driving DNA.
The stiff, well damped suspension, along with a rigid monocoque construction goes a long way in preventing the Ecosport from yawing around in the corners. For a vehicle with 200mm of ground clearance and belonging to the unwieldy, ill-mannered breed of SUVs, the Ecosport dazzles with its composed body behavior and ease of control at the steering wheel. Body roll is extremely well contained, and the Ecosport refuses to budge from the chosen line even under high levels of stress imposed by an enthusiastic driver. Even if the tyres lose traction, and quick steering corrections are dialed in, the balanced nature of the vehicle helps it stay composed unlike some other cars which would bob around all over the road on being made to change direction under stress.
To put things in perspective, we would like to quickly compare the ride quality and handling ability of the Ecosport with the Duster, which is going to be its key competitor upon its launch. The Duster’s typically French, all-conquering ride quality across all speeds and surfaces is still unmatched this side of Rs 20 lakh.
The Ecosport on the other hand shows tremendous composure at speed, but gets a little strained on dealing with the bigger bumps at slower speeds. However, when it comes to handling and driving pleasure, the Ecosport sets new standards. The Duster’s steering has the tendency to fight back with you as you try to push it hard around corners. It doesn’t like being forced into bends, and urges you to back off on the limit. The Ecosport on the other hand invites you to test its limits, engages you as you push it hard and urges you to go faster as you gather more and more confidence in its capabilities.
We do have a few grouses as well. The steering, though very communicative and engaging while working hard around corners, has a bit of dead feel in its central position while driving in a straight line. Also, we found the MRF rubber on our test car wailing away while braking from moderate speeds. We cannot be sure about the grip levels on the GoodYear tyre on the other test vehicles, but the MRF tyres appeared slightly inadequate to us. However, to the Ecosport’s credit, even with the tyres breaking traction and wailing away to glory, the car felt perfectly balanced and well within control. Deliberate, controllable drifts on the Ecosport are easy, especially if you don’t have grippy rubber gluing you with the road.
Braking is sharp and there is ample feedback at the brake pedal. No qualms there.
Overall, the Ecosport is a delightful little handling package which would entice motoring lovers. The ride quality is exceptional at speeds, even on undulating roads. Sharp bumps at slow speeds are a bit of a bother, but well within the boundaries of manageable.
Design and appearance
The philosophy behind the Ecosport’s design was to create a globally appealing product with a strong focus on India and other emerging markets. Chief designer Ehab Kaoud from South America relied on customer surveys and research to form the template for the chunky Ecosport. Opinions from across the world came together with some disagreements but way more concurrence. With this raw data in his hand, Ehab tried his best to furnish a design which tried to comply with the tastes and requirements of most of the markets. Of course, you cannot please everyone, but the effort was to find the best tradeoff, where the product had an appeal and character of its own, conformed to Ford’s Kinetic Design ethos, and offered the right tradeoff to not offend any sensibilities.
The artistic result of all that data crunching was a well thought out concept, which transformed into a final product almost without any changes made. The Ecosport is one of those vehicles which seem to have appeared straight out of a designer’s sketch book. It boasts character by the shipload and doesn’t believe in mellowing down to comply with the hard realities of the big bad world around us. A lot of thought and research has gone behind the Ecosport, but we’re glad to announce the car in its production form retains the unconventional charm that made us wait in anticipation for so long.
The first time you look at the Ecosport, the overwhelming thought clouding your mind is that of its diminutive size. When Ford call the Ecosport a compact SUV, they mean it. The Ecosport is much smaller than it perceived image you have created in your mind having looked at thousands of its pictures on the Internet. A sub-4 meter length is clearly evident and the first impression you get is that of a beefed up, muscular hatchback. Once you have corrected the size perception of the Ecosport within your mind-space, you start appreciating the level of detailing, the aggressive face and the butch looks of the machine.
The highlight of the Ecosport’s design is its belligerent, devil-may-care attitude. The front fascia is extremely aggressive with that massive octagonal Ford grille and that humongous bumper. The bonnet, if you look closely comprises of a whole bunch of complex surfaces. On the flanks, you have a sharp wraparound ridge which starts from the lower portion of the A-pillar and fades away following the upper line of the headlamps. Another strong central ridge originates from the A pillar merging into the bonnet’s flat surface halfway towards the grille. Finally there is a third, milder crease on the inner side, extending all the way to the inner line of the headlamps. All those prominently defined creases lend the highly placed bonnet of the Ecosport a very chiseled, muscular and tight look.
Right under the bonnet, you have two slim wraparound headlamps with a tapering roundish end on the outside, and angled cuts on the inside. They flank the bonnet lip of the car, which is characterized by chrome lining housing the Ford emblem in the center.
Below the bonnet lip is what essentially defines the visual character of the Ecosport. The enormous bumper looks even more imposing on the relatively small overall size of the Ecosport. The radiator grill is gigantic enough to match the massive bumper. It’s characterized by a generous dash of chrome lined sections dividing it into three almost equal parts horizontally. A complex design in itself, the bumper carries over the creases and character lines from the bonnet, so as to make the entire front come together as a single, cohesive design. The overly flared wheel arches are a part of the bumper itself, and help lend the Ecosport’s face some more brawn. Fog lamps are not flush with the bonnet and protrude out from their black trapezoidal housings as long, chrome drenched barrels.
The business at the front doesn’t end here. The complex design means there is another black cladding below that colossal body colored part. The black plastic portion is meant to lend a genuine off-roading demeanor to the compact SUV, and is quite a complex surface itself. Formed predominantly of three surfaces, the under-bumper bit offers you a glimpse of the radiator grille if you look closely. It has a waterfall design with the lower portion set slightly inside the outer upper surface. On the flanks you have a wavy section giving the under-cladding a wraparound look.
Simple and dominating the front of the Ecosport may look, but the visible cohesive simplicity is the sum total of a whole bunch of complex design elements doing their bit to convey a thought – that of brawn and aggression.
The design of the Ecosport is relatively simpler in profile. Up front the wrap-around headlamp makes itself visible in profile as well. The upper edge of the profile is defined by the prominent central crease on the flanks of the bonnet, the raked A-pillar, the silver roof rails and finally the rear roof spoiler. In the middle you have an upswept shoulder line with rising rear window sills to lend the Ecosport a dynamic stance.
The strong belt-line crease that elevates towards the rear adds further to the dynamic, forward biased stance. Wraparound rear windscreen reminds you of some of the bigger cars such as the Toyota Fortuner and the M-Class, latter, more so – and that could never be a bad thing for an SUV. Finally, at the bottom, the well defined, chiseled surface on the door, with wraparound black cladding under the door sills gives the Ecosport a proper, rugged SUV look.
This brings us towards the rear, where things, again, are much simpler as compared with the front. The centrally mounted spare wheel defines the SUV character of the Ecosport at the far end. A hinged, sideways opening tailgate with triangular tail-lamps mildly recessed within its surface, with a part of them above the car’s haunches completes the illumination assembly at the rear. One neat touch here is the incorporation of the tail-gate handle in the tail-lamp cluster itself. The reverse parking light on the right has been replaced with door handle, lending great symmetry to the tail-gate surface.
The spare wheel’s top end is positioned below the transparent section of the rear windscreen – there’s no obstructing the rear view with wheel here. Behind the lower portion of the stepney you have a horizontal wraparound ridge, below which you have the black colored wraparound plastic cladding. There is no body colored bumper at the back.
So how does all of it add up together?
Well, the Ecosport manages to fuse two traits which traditionally have been considered diametrically opposite. It looks muscular, while also looking sporty. The design, in places, looks busy when you examine the elements closely and in isolation, but together, the Ecosport is defined by a sense of purpose and cohesiveness which is a rarity to be seen in cars from lower segments. We love the Ecosport for its design. It’s full of character, and unlike some other designs which appeal to you initially and slowly fade away, the Ecosport keeps growing on to you.
The Ecosport may be meant for the staple segment, but it’s got its own unique flavor and exclusivity. The compact Ford SUV may be equated to daal, something essential to an Indian’s diet. However, this one’s zinged with a liberal dash of spicy tadka. It’s meant for everyday consumption, and yet it’s a delicacy. Call it Daal Makhni, or Daal Maharaja, if you will. It’ll tantalize your senses, but you’d not get bored of it even if you had it every day.
Cabin quality, space and comfort
While visually similar to that of the Fiesta’s, the cabin of the Ecosport has been designed to suit the tastes and requirements of the Indian customers better. As many as nine slots for cups / cans are distributed across the cabin to make sure the occupants never run out of space to slot the odd bottle in. There are additional storage spaces such as a sunglasses holder and a retractable tray under the front passenger’s seat.
The driving position is high-set and provides a commanding, typically SUV-ish view of the road ahead. The thick A-pillar housing a small quarter-glass in SX4 fashion creates a blind spot to the right of the driver though. Steering is tilt-telescopic adjustable across the variants, and along with a height adjustable seat makes finding the right driving position pretty easy to discover. Front seats are comfortable with fore-aft, seat height and Lumbar adjustment. Both the front seats are well bolstered offering great lateral support to slim to medium built occupants. Hefty occupants may find their body and limbs spilling out of the bolstering though.
The quality of plastic used on the dashboard is average. There is a hard feel to the surfaces on the dash and on the door panels and some panel gaps are also visible in places. The Ecosport, in all probability will be priced very aggressively and some of the cost cutting measures can be seen and felt looking at the surfaces within the cabin. Comparing with the key competitor Duster, the interior of the Ecosport is still better laid out and richer looking. However, Duster is most definitely not the benchmark for the segment and we have seen plusher looking interiors in this segment and below.
Since we drove the top of the line Titanium variant only, we wouldn’t be able to comment about the quality and comfort feel of the lower spec variants. However, the all-black seat and dash colour (with just a hint of grey) and the contrasting red stitch pattern offer the interior of the Ecosport a sporty character.
Front driver seat gets an armrest. The gear knob is placed a little away from the natural position of the hand, and may require taller drivers to extend their hand a bit to reach out since the seats for them would be pushed further back.
The vertical shaped AC vents are good functionally, allowing the air to cover a larger part of the occupants’ body. Talking of the A/C we must mention here that we were absolutely blown by the effectiveness of the Ecosport’s cooling unit. With the temperature nudging 40 degrees, and the car being parked in the sun, we were amazed to see the A/C bringing the cabin temperature down almost instantaneously. Within minutes we had to increase the desired temperature and reduce the blower speed, as the air on my hand on steering was almost making it freeze. The A/C on the Ecosport has to be one of the most efficient across segments. No separate blower though for the back bench, but with its compact size and the phenomenal effectiveness of its cooling unit, we don’t think the Ecosport requires one.
There are plenty of spaces within the cabin to store stuff like cellphones and wallets. Even the top portion of the dashboard has been mildly scooped out to make sure that the stuff lying there doesn’t slide back. The glove box compartment has two sections. Being a cooled unit, it has been provisioned with an extra level to store cola cans as well.
The center console is full of buttons of all shapes and sizes, and may turn out a little intimidating for people not very well versed with technology. We have seen simpler, more intuitive layouts on modern cars and that’s one area where the Ecosport could probably have done better. It’s all a matter of getting used to in the end though, and it shouldn’t take the owners more than a few hours to get used to the most of the functions. The buttons on the center console are of average quality. They feel plasticky but have been put together solidly. The quality of buttons for power windows is much better.
The back bench is set higher than the front. It’s a flat bench with no pronounced recesses. We had our apprehensions when we first looked at the seats, but as we sat in the car, were amazed by the amount of comfort on offer. The reclined backrests for the backseats seem to have just the right angle. There is ample thigh support and you feel surprisingly comfortable in the back bench.
Shoulder space comes at a premium though and the Ecosport is meant only to seat four in comfort. Putting a third grown adult in the backseat would be quite a squeeze. There isn’t any dearth of leg and head-room though. Even with a six footer driving in front, I had enough knee room with a little space to spare. There isn’t a pull down central arm-rest with cup-holders here though. The rear window sill is higher than on most cars and somewhat reduces the viewing area from the back bench. A dark interior theme, along with a high shoulder line means that some of the customers may find the backseat cramped, while it actually is not.
Incidentally there aren’t any grab handles to hold onto. We were told that the feature is omitted only in the top of the line Titanium variant where the curtain airbags reside under that surface where generally you find your grab handles. The feature is available in all the lower variants of the car.
On longer drives, the well damped, poised feel of the car makes the backseat very comfortable. On well paved to average roads, the Ecosport offers comfort levels of a much bigger car on the backseat.
The boot on the Ecosport, with all seats in place offers 346 liters of space. This is comparable to the boot space of the new Dzire and is sufficient to store two medium sized suitcases with a couple of haversacks placed on top of them. With the 60:40 split seats dropped down, you have a massive 705 liters of storage space. The loading lip of the boot is placed fairly low for easy loading and unloading.
A quick note should be made about the audio system as well. The USB / CD and Aux-in enabled audio unit, even with its dummy front tweeters sounds exceptionally good for the segment. The bass is deep and the quality of sound is good enough to prevent the audiophiles in you from spending any extra money on an aftermarket system.
The Ecosport, on the inside offers a lot of storage space, well bolstered front seats, a fantastic A/C, comfortable backseats with good leg and headroom for two, a neat sounding audio system and a composed ride. What goes against is not-so-great quality of plastics, panels gaps and a center console layout which may appear confusing to some.
Overall, the Ecosport features an extremely functional and well put together cabin which turns out remarkably comfortable from the inside. It may not appear overly enticing in the first look, but trust us, coupled with the driving feel of the Ecosport and the comfort it offers, it keeps getting more and more inviting as you use it. We managed to fall in love with the cabin for its practicality in half a day flat!
A special note on SYNC
We tried using the SYNC voice controlled command system. It’s the latest generation version of the Microsoft developed voice command system previously seen on the Fiesta. With a little bit of fiddling initially we managed to set the system up without much trouble, and to our surprise, it comprehended commands in Indian accent without any problem.
It’s important to learn the format in which SYNC follows commands. Some of our colleagues termed the system a fail when they were not saying the commands properly. And honestly it doesn’t take much to learn the system. For e.g. if you want to play a specific song, just saying ‘play xyz’ won’t work. You have to specify whether you want the system to play an artist, album or track. So if you want to play the album Taylor Swift, you have to say ‘Play Album Taylor Swift’, saying ‘Play Taylor Swift’ won’t work. Ditto for tracks or artists!
While not a game changing feature, the system spells convenience for sure, allowing you to make or receive calls without taking your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. The SYNC in essence is a very useful and forgiving feature, which doesn’t require you to work on your accent at all.
A Special Note on SYNC Emergency Assistance
The Ecosport also features an emergency assist system, based on SYNC which is capable of calling emergency services in case on an accident. The system recognizes an emergency if the airbags are deployed, or the fuel supply is cut. If paired with a Bluetooth device, the system will audibly call the emergency number along with the GPS coordinated of the vehicle and prompt the people involved to communicate. The service in free for the lifetime of the vehicle.
The emergency contact number in case of India is 108. We tried calling the number several times, and no one picked. Here’s an infographic describing how the system works.