– Great ride and handling
– Cabin design and features
– Good fuel economy
– Limited boot space
– Hard cabin plastics
– More drivetrain options needed
Several “developing” car markets are increasingly getting their own unique models, as the number of car buyers are increasing at an exponential rate in countries such as India and China as they progress economically. These cars are generally small, economical and affordable, but carmakers are now designing them with global markets in mind, with the quality to match. The Ford Ecosport is one such model, created for Brazil, India and China, but hoping to find an audience in Europe and even the Middle East.
The Indian-built Ecosport is a very small car. In fact, even including that pseudo-4×4 spare wheel on the tailgate, it is shorter than the Renault Duster whose success it wants to emulate. Calling it a lifted version of the Ford Fiesta wouldn’t be too far off the mark. The styling on the nose is unique, especially with the LED-lined headlights on our Titanium variant, but the overall profile looks awkwardy tall.
The subsequently-tall cabin is very contemporary, with pointy dashboard elements and modern amenities. Several of the panel gaps are generous, but everything still feels solid. Almost the entire interior is made up of textured hard plastics, but thankfully there are well-padded door armrests, with an additional center-armrest for the driver and full leatherette upholstery in our top-spec tester.
It’s fairly spacious inside, with abundant headroom, mildly-bolstered front seats and just enough rear legroom to keep average-sized adults comfortable. The reclining rear bench is not wide enough to fit three without squeezing though. There’s no rear central-armrest, but it does have three cup-holders, four door bottle-holders and a large cooled glovebox to fit several Coke cans. The boot floor is pretty small, but it has some upward volume and the rear seatback split-folds as well. The side-hinged tailgate is annoying though, very light thanks to a strut that only allows it to be fully opened, so you cannot open it partially in a tight parking spot. We did like that a cargo cover is included, and the nifty way the tailgate handle is hidden in one tail-light.
There’s a pile of stylised buttons on the integrated CD/MP3 stereo deck, with a 90s-looking LCD screen on top, but it works well, with an easily-paired Bluetooth phone, USB/AUX ports and above-average sound quality. Our car also came with power windows, front and side-curtain airbags, cruise control, auto headlights, smart keyless entry with starter button, rain-sensing wipers, fog lamps and a very good reverse-parking sensor system with visual indications on the LCD. Our Titanium trim also came with an automatic a/c that’s decent once it’s up to speed, but it takes a good while to get going and there’s no rear vents.
At first glance, the Ecosport is woefully underpowered, with a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder making only 109 hp at 6300 rpm and 142 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. But at a tick over 1200 kg, it is a very light car, and with the help of a well-programmed 6-speed automatic, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 11.6 seconds with a fresh engine in cool January weather. That’s still slow, and you’ll have to rev its nuts off on mountain roads, but it is just as quick as any similarly-engined sub-compact hatchback. And we got a fuel consumption figure of 9.7 litres/100 km, even with the occasional use of the transmission’s “sport” mode.
Tiptronic functions are handled by buttons on the gear-knob, so they aren’t practical for self-shifting in fast driving, but the “sport” mode is smart enough on its own, holding gears rather well into the higher revs. A 5-speed manual is available on the base model, but not the Titanium.
The Ecosport drives almost as tightly as a sub-compact city car too. Ford’s suspension tuning is superb, with controlled body roll on sharp turns that never gets to the point of tipsy, while the 205/60 tyres on the optional 16-inch alloys provide great grip for the small platform. The nicely-weighted electric steering system even offers good feedback. The ABS-assisted stopping power is merely average, partly due to drums in the rear, but the great brake-pedal action means it’s easy to judge how much to press in different situations. In short, it’s pretty darn fun to drive once you get it up to decent speeds, and feel comfortable with the tall driving position as well as the seemingly-undefeatable standard stability control system. No recent Kia or Honda crossover is as entertaining.
The ride quality is fairly good as well, smooth on most road surfaces, while handling harsh speed bumps and such with restrained firmness. Moderate wind and road noises are noticeable at highway speeds, but not loud enough to be annoying, although if you concentrate really hard, you can hear the engine revving away at a high 3000 rpm at 120 kph. Still, even under hard throttle, the engine noise is very bearable. And in the city, it is easy to manoeuvre around tight turns and even easier to park in small spaces.
It needs to be pointed out that the front-wheel-drive Ecosport is not offered with an all-wheel-drive option in the GCC. So there is no question of off-roading, but we would’ve liked it more if it had the extra wet-weather and gravel-trail capabilities that would’ve complemented the extra ground clearance.
We started off not expecting much from this overly-tall sub-compact that’s pretending to be an SUV. But then we came to appreciate its numerous positive attributes, such as its chuckable nature, its responsive controls, its modern amenities and its comfortable everyday driveability, all of which are hard to find in many other similarly-priced cars. Its size, as an SUV, might not be appealing in our market, but it is definitely a step up from more plebeian rental-grade hatchback offerings.
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