THIS is a car I have seen from its conceptual phase.
It’s the Ford EcoSport, and Ford first brought this out—at the time with little in the way of mechanical bits, no cabin—at the New Delhi auto show in January 2012. Company chief Alan Mulally and design deity J Mays presented the car. A little over a year later, the Ford boss again unveiled the car on stage at the Bangkok auto show (Ford execs were coy whether it was a running prototype or already a near-production model). I caught both events. Then promptly missed out on the Thailand drive that marked its eventual debut in the region.
Anyway, what I did catch in the EcoSport’s pre-debut presentations were its key points: The first EcoSport was a Latin America-only affair but the new model is designed for worldwide use, especially in emerging markets. It retains the original’s car-based configuration, with the new model underpinned by Ford’s B-segment platform (that beneath the Fiesta). Its USPs are a high driving position, rugged capability, superior fuel economy and convenient features, which Ford said make the EcoSport the “right vehicle for both city streets and mountain roads.” It also has a wading depth of 550 millimeters, perfect in flood-prone places.
After finally landing a stint behind the wheel of this car, let me tell these are no catchy buzzwords or purple marketing prose. Not all, at least.
In top-spec cut, called EcoSport Titanium (see photos), the car is packed with kit belonging in vehicles costing thrice than the Titanium’s P975,000 sticker. Ford’s Sync in-car connectivity system is one of such, which links mobile phones and digital music players to the car’s audio unit via Bluetooth—a task anybody who can post witless Facebook entries can do. The system links via voice commands, too, so placing calls and rifling through playlists and radio stations are hands-free affairs. And again, all quite easy to do.
Driving the EcoSport is equally effortless. Its compact size means it can thread its way through snarled traffic and squeeze into tight parking spots. The car’s high seating position, decidedly not hot hatch-like, helps in pulling in these moves. Also, the car is a lesson in clever packaging. Despite its minimal exterior footprint, its cabin is roomy enough for five people, with a respectably sized cargo bay in the back. A spare tire mounted on the tailgate, and not under the car, as the norm is these days, helps in stretching the cabin’s floor area.
Like in the Fiesta, the materials used in the EcoSport’s cabin feel top-notch, inoffensive to the touch, and consistent in texture, color and panel fit. Mix these with the Sync system and steering wheel audio/phone control buttons and smart key and power start button and, really, the EcoSport gives off a genuine premium-car vibe. The leather wrapping over the furniture isn’t shabby either.
Standard in Titanium spec too are rear parking sensors, dual front airbags, side curtain airbags, ABS, electronic stability, hill-start launch assist, electric power-assist steering and 16-inch alloys. Like I said, most are premium-car stuff here.
On the road the car rides softly enough without being sloppy—no small feat considering the EcoSport’s short wheelbase and lofty stance. Not much tire noise enters the cabin but what does creep inside are sounds spun by the engine. It’s not a pleasant note, this. Whiny, with a metallic whirr, making the engine seem not as refined as it actually is. Good thing the six-speed PowerShift automatic that bolts to it shifts more smoothly and seamlessly as that found on earlier Fiestas, which tended to “hunt” for gears—it can’t decide if it will stay in first or move to second, then get confused when it does decide, for instance—in slow traffic.
The EcoSport’s engine is a four-cylinder, 1.5-liter gasoline mill, fitted with twin independent variable camshaft timing for improved low-end torque and fuel use ( I logged around 11 kilometers to a liter in a five-day period), that makes 106hp and 138Nm. These do not sound much, and they aren’t, but still the ratings are adequate at hauling the car around city streets or on the expressway.
Ford put a lot of thought and poured resources in developing the EcoSport—the big shot presentations that preceded the car’s arrival on showrooms stressed as much. Now, family cars have become all the better because of this.