I test drove a Ford EcoSport — an Urban SUV that Ford will be launching June — in the picturesque locales of Goa for a day last week. Here is a detailed review of the car based on my drive experiences and briefing from Ford officials.
Ford positions the new EcoSport as an Urban SUV. The name explains a lot about the category in which the vehicle fits into. It has the looks of an SUV and has high ground clearance that can help the driver wade through unfriendly roads. But get behind the wheels and you feel that you are driving a smooth car rather than a rugged utility vehicle. It’s a compact SUV and doesn’t have the typically intimidatingly large size, which makes it even more suitable for urban driving. The 200mm ground clearance may let you drive it off-road, but the vehicle seems to be designed keeping in mind that the buyer will be using it largely in urban conditions. This is perhaps why EcoSport is not available in 4×4 variants, but it can take many roads where you would not dare to take a sedan.
Ford has an an excellent packaging with EcoSport that will easily impress anyone on the first drive. It is a practical vehicle that has everything that an urban buyer may want today – plenty of space, high seating position, sufficient boot space, easy-to-drive powerful engine, loaded features and a price tag that will hopefully keep all these affordable. Ford has a clear winner with EcoSport, provided they get the pricing right.
EcoSport is slated for release in the first fortnight of June. If they can mange to price the top-end model in the order of ten lakhs, we will probably see a lot EcoSport on the Indian roads very soon. With a sub four meter length and an engine capacity less than 1.2 liters, EcoSport meets the norms of a small car and can benefit from lower excise duties, which may help Ford price it competitively.
The look and feel
EcoSport has all the looks of an SUV minus the size. It appears like a slightly shrunk and sleeker form of an SUV, suitable for the narrow roads and limited parking spaces in Indian cities. The first thing you notice are the fairly good ground clearance, high position of the hood and the muscular lines that dominate all sides of the body. Ford engineers claim to have made considerable effort in defining these lines to reduce resistance from wind. A plastic lining around the lower part of the body allows it to take small scratches well without having to go through expensive replacement work. Browse through the photographs below from different angles.
EcoSport is available in a choice of 8 colours. We drove the Mars Red version which stands out clearly in a crowd.
The insides are roomy, but lack the sporty look of the exteriors. The black & silver interior is more functional and lacks the pep that one would like to associate with a vehicle of this kind. While it looses in making a good first impression when you enter, it scores high in features and utility. See more about this in ‘features’ section down the article.
EcoBoost Engine and other variants
We drove the Titanium variant of the EcoSport, which comes with a new 1 liter, three cylinder petrol EcoBoost engine that delivers 125PS power. EcoBoost is a Ford Technology that helped it win the 2012 International Engine of the Year award. Ford claims that the 1 liter EcoBoost engine is capable of delivering a performance equivalent to a 1.6 liter traditional petrol engine. EcoBoost will be available only in higher variants of EcoSport.
Ford claims a fuel economy of 18.9kpl under test conditions.
The other engine options will be a 1.5 liter, four cylinder, petrol version that delivers 112PS and a 1.5 liter diesel engine that gives 91PS power.
Predictably, one would have questions about a tiny 1 liter, three cylinder engine’s ability to deliver sufficient power for a vehicle of the size of EcoSport. But in five minutes behind the wheel, I was completely convinced about its capability and had no doubts about Ford’s claims about delivering a performance equivalent to a 1.6 liter engine. EcoBoost is definitely a technological leap and will probably dominate the petrol engines in the near future.
The Drive and performance
We drove the Titanium variant of the car, which comes with a 1 liter EcoBoost engine and a five speed manual transmission. It drives smoothly, almost giving a sedan feel than that of an SUV. The engine seems to be always ready to listen to the driver and the first thing I felt on releasing the clutch was the eagerness of the vehicle to move ahead.
In the 80km distance that I was behind the wheels of EcoSport, I could test it in nearly all possible road conditions that one can expect in India – city traffic, open highways, coarse but metalled roads and winding roads of the hills. The vehicle performed considerably well in all the conditions. It was easy to manoeuvre in city traffic and I could stay in third gear without shifting in most occasions. It took the winding roads with the effortlessness of a sedan despite its high build. On the highways, I could quickly reach three figure speeds and found it cruising effortlessly at 115km – the maximum speed that I managed to reach in the congested roads of Goa.
The engine and transmission deliver a smooth performance in all speed bands and obediently listens to the driver. The torque delivery is excellent and doesn’t require frequent gear changing. It was so smooth that my co driver Shrindhi occasionally forgot to move up from third gear and stayed put even at 70+ speeds without sensing any protests from the engine. A few other journalists who were on the drive with us also commented that it almost felt as if they were driving an automatic, never having to worry about changing gears in many occasions.
The engine is noise free once you reach a cruising speed even at three figure speeds, though there is a bit of murmur every time you accelerate quickly.
The EcoBoost engine lives up to the hype that Ford has tried to create and leaves little room for complaining.
The driver seat height is adjustable and has a truly commanding position with a good view of the road. In the two hours that I was on the road, I did not feel any kind of fatigue or discomfort. But it is too short a duration to conclude on the comfort levels.
A hill launch assist is a very practical feature in EcoSport. When starting up from a slope, the brakes will have a three second stickiness after they are released. This allows the driver sufficient time to accelerate from start without letting the vehicle roll backwards.
Cabin, interiors and features
The Titanium version comes fully loaded with plenty of useful features. Here is a list of things that immediately catch your attention on the first drive.
- Integrated music system
- Microsoft SYNC (more on this in the next section)
- Powerful air conditioning with a full auto mode
- Driver seat with adjustable height
- Telescopic and titl steering
- Plenty of storage space along all doors and between the front seats
- Chilled glove box
- Electrically adjustable mirrors, all four power windows
- Front and side air bags
- Key less entry and push-button start/stop
- Electronic steering system
- SYNC, audio and phone controls in the steering
- Sonar sensors for reversing, no visual assist.
The front seats are comfortable and will probably be good for long drives, although we could not ascertain it as our drive was not long enough to give a clear verdict on it. We did not find time to test the comfort level of the rear seats. A quick glance suggested that there is plenty of legroom, but a few other journalists on the drive who examined the rear seats suggested that it desired a little more room. The boot space is good, and the best way Ford describes it is that you can fit in a washing machine in the boot without folding the rear seats.
The cabin is very silent and you are well isolated from outside noise and even sound from the tyres and the engine.
The air conditioning is good and cools fairly well. We tried the full-auto mode, but it began with a full blast which made a lot of noise. Perhaps it will come down after the temperature decreases, but it was too intense and noisy for us to wait for that to happen. So we returned to manual mode which worked perfectly well.
The dashboard appears cluttered with too many buttons for managing sync, music and phone. A SYNC button on the dashboard (which is now only on the steering) would have allowed the passenger to use voice commands effortlessly instead of asking the driver to enable SYNC every time. With a big bunch of buttons crowding the dashboard, the EcoSport badly needed a touch screen console. A GPS navigation system is missing as well. Ford says they are trying to keep the costs low, because of which a navigation system is not provided.
SYNC is a feature that allows users to synchronize their phone with the vehicle’s console and control it using voice commands. On connecting the phone via bluetooth, the driver (or anyone) can use voice commands to play music, place/receive a call using the car’s speakers and microphone, read or dictate text messages. It is a convenient feature that offers a full hands free experience.
Initially, we were skeptical about SYNC’s ability to recognize Indian accents. But it performed fairly well and could recognize all our commands. But it required some work when it comes to placing call to a person with a Indian name that may not be very simple. An attempt to call my co-driver (Shrinidhi) was never successful, but it wasn’t hard to call people with simpler names. I happened to receive a call when I was on the passenger seat, when my phone was sync’ed with the system. It was effortless to take the call using the car’s audio system.
There was an initial discomfort in using the SYNC, since we aren’t so used to working with voice commands. Perhaps this is something one will get used to in a short time.
Emergency Assist and other safety aspects
Another important new feature that comes along with SYNC is Ford’s Emergency Assist (EA). In case of an accident, when the car detects that fuel pump is shut off or the air bags have deflated, EA uses the sync’ed phone and automatically places a call to 108 to inform about the accident. The call will inform the operator about the accident and provides GPS co-ordinates of the location of the car. The operator can take these details to get the exact location of the accident and dispatch an ambulance to the spot of accident.
The EA first notifies the occupants that it is about to place a call, and allows a ten second lag in case the occupants do not require an ambulance and would prefer to manually terminate the call. In the event the call is not terminated, the call is placed and the operator is informed of the location of the accident. Subsequently, the call is thrown open to the occupants, in case they would be able to provide any useful additional information to the operator at the other end of the line.
I was initially skeptical about EA’s practical use and if 108 operators are trained to handle an automated call. What if the operators are not well trained to receive an automated call? I was wondering if the operator would ignore it if there is no further manual information coming from the occupants of the car. And would they have systems that can translate GPS co-ordinates into physical addresses? When I raised these concerns to Ford Engineers, and asked if there were end-to-end simulation tests conducted, response was only partly satisfying. While I was told that the operators are capable and can translate GPS co-ordinates, the system was only tested till the point where the call is successfully placed to 108, but not beyond that. Without some mock drills, I wasn’t very sure if the system would really work as intended.
But all doubts were put to rest the next day when we were on the test drive. One of the drivers took a very fast turn at a steep curve, lost control and hit an electric pole at a high speed. The car collided and tumbled, resulting in a serious accident that inflated the airbags. One of the phones of the occupants was sync’ed with the car and EA kicked into action. The occupants of the car were behind the airbags and were not in a position to intervene, except that the driver cried for help. Within five minutes, an ambulance had arrived at the spot! However, thankfully the occupants were completely unhurt and managed to get out without trouble, not really requiring a medical help. Although unfortunate, this was a true test of the Emergency Assist System.
Later, the driver said he must have tried to make the turn at 70 to 80kph. But Ford engineers who assessed the location and damage to the car believe that he must be at a speed close to hundred. The fact that both the occupants of the car came out completely unhurt is also a testimony to safety of the car.
Ecosport is a very practical vehicle and comes with many features that a car-owner in this segment would aspire to have. The engine performance and drive quality with 1 liter EcoBoost engine is commendable. It drives smooth and silent, more like a car than an SUV. A high ground clearance is an added advantage in Indian roads and it comes with some off-roading capabilities. The interiors are slightly dull but not a major reason to complain. The safety features of the car will keep the driver at complete ease. The tag ‘Urban SUV’ fits well for the EcoSport. Ford has a winner in this, provided they get the pricing appealing for the Indian customer.
All photographs and video in the article are courtesy of Ford India