The Ford EcoSport was the vehicle that pretty much created the compact SUV segment in India, when it was launched in 2013. While it has seen a number of special editions and a mild facelift in the past, it is now that Ford India has introduced the new refreshed model of the EcoSport, with the biggest update being the addition of a new petrol power plant. The EcoSport had basked in its exclusivity for a while, before other manufacturers came hard with competing products. With the EcoSport 2017, will Ford be able to drive back the numbers? Let’s find out…
The EcoSport has been one of Ford India’s top performers, having sold over 200,000 units in India alone. India is one of the four manufacturing hubs for the production of the compact SUV, which is sold in over 50 markets across the globe. When launched in India, the Ford EcoSport had localisation content of about 60 %, which has now grown to over 85 %. Efforts are on to take the localisation level to over 90 % in the future, says Ford, confirming that India will continue to remain a major hub in manufacturing the EcoSport, as well as its other models.
During the drive of the refreshed EcoSport, we got to experience both the new three-cylinder petrol engine variant, as well as the existing diesel power plant. All exterior and interior features are identical in both variants, except the powertrains. Ford claims that the refreshed new EcoSport has over 1,600 new parts from its earlier model, but in this feature, we look at the most prominent and key updates to the segment-starter compact SUV.
The biggest highlight of the new Ford EcoSport is the new 1,497 cc, in-line three-cylinder, naturally aspirated, Twin independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT), ‘Dragon’ petrol engine, and the new six-speed automatic transmission. The petrol engine delivers maximum power of 121 hp at 6,500 rpm, along with peak torque of 150 Nm at 4,500 rpm. The engine is said to have been designed to improve performance and efficiency, while reducing size, weight and friction. This engine is offered with a five-speed manual transmission, as well as a new six-speed conventional torque-converter automatic transmission. The manual transmission version is said to offer fuel efficiency of 17 km/l, while the automatic variant claims to offer 14.8 km/l. India is the first country from where Ford is manufacturing and supplying this new Dragon petrol engine.
The new automatic transmission paired with the petrol engine is claimed to offer low NVH levels achieved through high powertrain bending frequency, with grader and softer gear shifts. This transmission also features a sport mode that has been offered with optimised calibration, along with steering-mounted paddle shifters. The Ti-VCT system in the new petrol engine allows each intake and exhaust cam to function independently of each other, as engine operating conditions change. It offers variable independent phasing for intake and exhaust, with improvements to volumetric efficiency at full load, claimed Ford.
The technology also provides for combustion stability at idle rpm and better fuel economy at partial loads. Ti-VCT is also claimed to deliver faster throttle response and enhanced fuel economy. Higher efficiency of this engine is also credited to features including exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head; double-stage variable oil pump operating at lower speeds; offset crankshaft and individual ignition coil-on-plug system.
The other engine option is the existing and proven 1,498 cc, in-line four-cylinder, turbocharged, TDCi diesel unit. This motor delivers 99 hp of power at 3,750 rpm, along with 205 Nm of torque available from 1,750 to 3,250 rpm. The diesel variant will be offered only with the five-speed manual transmission. This diesel engine is claimed to offer a fuel economy figure of 23 km/l.
Exterior looks or styling emerged as one of the most important reason for purchasing a vehicle, as per Ford’s extensive customer research. In keeping with this information, Ford India has made the biggest change to the exterior of the new EcoSport with a completely-redesigned front facia. The compact SUV now features a single bigger trapezoidal grill that is moved right up to the bonnet, with the Ford symbol bang in the middle, making it unmistakeably Ford with a stronger stance. The front also comes with a completely new set of projector headlamps with LED daytime running lights (DRL), along with larger fog lamps that have the indicators integrated into them. The EcoSport also has a new front bumper that is sharper than before, but retains the original design cues of the older model, with the multi-layered material layout. There is also an opening in the lower part of the bumper to fulfil the air requirements of the radiator and intercooler.
When you look at the exterior of the refreshed EcoSport, the only other visible change are the new alloy wheels, which on closer inspection feature a new design and are larger in size than before. The new alloy wheels for the top-end Titanium+ variant alone are 17-inch in diameter, with a simple, yet interesting 10-spoke design. While the alloy wheels will be offered in plain silver colour, Ford could offer the EcoSport at a later stage in limited or special edition versions with dual-tone versions of the wheels. The design of the alloy wheels sure seem to look like ones that would be very smart in a dual finish of black and brushed chrome.
The side profile, as well as the rear view of the new EcoSport, remains unchanged, with the only exception being the new alloy wheels. However, from the side, the larger 17-inch wheels fill out the wheel wells appropriately, continuing to give the country’s first compact SUV a solid stance and appearance. A design feature that also continues to build on the EcoSport’s SUV character is the retention of the spare wheel mounted on the rear door. This feature is sure to go down well with a lot of buyers in this segment, especially since it is the only vehicle in its segment to offer a tailgate-mounted spare wheel.
INTERIOR STYLING & EQUIPMENT
There is quite a bit of change inside the new EcoSport, with the most obvious element being the new layout of the dashboard design that has an all-black colour theme, with very few silver accents. Within the dashboard, the highlight is the new floating 8-inch capacitive touchscreen that will be offered as part of the infotainment system on the Titanium and Titanium+ variants. The automatic climate control switches and AC vents are also completely re-designed, as are the instrument cluster and steering wheel. The EcoSport is also equipped with new seats to offer better comfort and bolstering, as well as new leather upholstery, and is also offered with multi-colour foot well ambient lighting.
The brand-new infotainment system comes with Ford’s SYNC 3 connectivity system that offers hands-free operation with voice control. The new system offers fluid operations with seamless touch integration and simple access to all options within the system. The screen is placed in the line of sight of the driver, with a high regard to ergonomics in terms of the reach for easy access.
The new infotainment system offers an interface that is very similar to that of a smartphone, while supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone connectivity. The system itself does not offer navigation, but that can be accessed via phone integration. This infotainment system can be controlled only through touch, and some users may feel that the absence of a rotary dial control would make it tough to use, when the vehicle is being driven. The music system itself comes with six speakers, as well as audio playback with AM/FM, MP3, Aux-In and USB through two slots. Sound quality from the speakers is very good, with the ability to adjust the area of focus of the sound (front, rear, or towards any particular seat) being a smart touch.
The dashboard is well-appointed, with all the elements offering a good balance between ease-of-use and practicality. The AC vents are now placed more conventionally, thus offering better throw of air around the vehicle, which is especially important since the new EcoSport continues to come without rear AC vents. The company claims its automatic climate control has been designed to cut temperature from 50-25° C in just 15 minutes, and while we didn’t experience 50° C, the climate control seemed to work well.
While all these new elements seem to add to the overall interior look and feel of the EcoSport, the redesigned instrument cluster seems to have become much simpler to look at, in terms of competitors in the segment, as well from that of the previous version. No doubt it is a cluster that offers all the necessary information to the driver about the vehicle in a clear format, but its overall design could have been made more exciting.
The steering wheel in the new EcoSport offers just the right amount of grip at various pressure points for all types of drivers, and its four-way adjustment for reach and angle ensure drivers of all sizes can find their optimal driving position. The steering features various controls for the audio, cruise control and multi-information display on the centre console, which have been placed in a non-obstructive fashion.
The EcoSport continues to offer a number of storage spaces around the car, with a cooled box under the front arm rest. The boot of the vehicle offers 352 l of space, which can be expanded to 1,178 l, with the rear seats folded down. Additionally, a smart feature in the boot is that of a small hidden compartment that can be created by sliding the floorboard into a slot on the back of the rear seat. This compartment can then be used to conceal valuables like laptops or similarly-shaped objects.
The new seats in the EcoSport seem to be on the softer side, with a high level of bolstering in the front to keep the driver and passenger in place at all times. The rear seats offer decent amount space, with under-thigh support being an area of lower rating, especially for taller passengers. The rear seat is best-suited to accommodate two adults only, with the centre seat having disadvantages in the form of the protruding front armrest, as well as harder back due to the enclosed centre armrest. When filled with four passengers, the EcoSport would be a good place to be on journeys short or long.
The new Ford EcoSport continues to be high on safety with standard equipment including dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, engine immobiliser and emergency brake light flashing. The top-end variant will get six airbags, in addition to features like rear-view camera, Traction Control System, Hill-Launch Assist, Cruise Control, Emergency Brake Assist, automatic headlamps and rain-sensing wipers. In terms of safety during a collision, the door panels have been designed to absorb and minimise transferring the effects of outside impact into the cabin. Likewise, the steering column has been designed to absorb majority of the frontal impact, making the cabin a very safe place.
RIDE & HANDLING
We began our drive with the petrol variant of the EcoSport, with the new three-cylinder engine mated to the six-speed automatic transmission. The new engine does sound like a typical three-cylinder unit, but is highly-refined, when compared to other three-cylinder engine in general. Since the engine is naturally-aspirated, it has power and torque to offer in a very linear manner. The automatic transmission is quite supportive of the engine, and works along with it to offer a very smooth drive, when driven in the drive mode with a light foot. There is a very small lag, when the transmission shifts into higher gears, but that is hardly felt when driving in city conditions. It is this state of tune that seems to have helped Ford achieve an overall increase in fuel efficiency and reduction in emissions to the tune of 7 % in the new EcoSport petrol. The smooth ride of the three-cylinder petrol engine can be attributed to technologies like the balancer shaft being supported by hydrodynamic bearings, timing belt-in-oil primary drive system and an acoustic isolation system.
However, this sedate nature of the engine and transmission changes slightly, when the gear stick is pushed into sports mode. The transmission holds gears longer through the rev band to enable a more dynamic drive. However, the lag in upshifting via the paddle shifters increases as the vehicle is pushed further in this mode. Downshifts are much quicker, when the paddle shifter is used, making the drive around Goan ghats – our drive location – a very fun affair, which Ford vehicles are generally known for. The engine does get noisy when it surpasses the 2,500 rpm mark, spilling noise into the cabin. However, in our view this is a sound without harshness or vibrations, making one enjoy the drive and sometimes push the vehicle through a gear a bit longer. There is ample power in the engine to carry the SUV quite easily to triple digit speeds, but power seems to taper off somewhere around the 5,500 rpm mark.
The diesel engine is the same unit carried unchanged from the previous generation EcoSport, and it is one that definitely doesn’t disappoint. The power delivery of this turbocharged power plant is extremely linear, meaning low-speed stop-and-go driving on city roads would not be a hassle. This is further enhanced by the light clutch that doesn’t cause much strain, even when driven in conditions that demand frequent gear changes.
While Ford has not made any official claims to the state of tune of the suspension system, it felt as though the suspension had been softened up a bit. Even though we were driving on 17-inch wheels with 50 profile tyres, the ride never seemed hard or firm, which is generally the case with large diameter wheels with low profile tyres. The tyres were of 205 section width, which in fact provided additional grip, helping in keeping the SUV planted to the road even when being pushed hard around bends. The steering, while feeling light without much feedback of the road, was precise and aided in driving the new EcoSport more enthusiastically. One also has to credit the traction control system in the vehicle for quietly performing its duty, although in a very minimalistic manner, to provide a good level of grip while driving.
The new Ford EcoSport continues to be a true driver’s vehicle. Both the engines offer great driveability, with varied focus on the ultimate driving patterns of owners. The EcoSport is also one of the most feature-filled vehicles in its segment, in terms of technologies concerning powertrains, infotainment and connectivity, as well as safety and convenience. These same factors could, however, lead to the EcoSport being priced at a premium over its competitors. Having said that, if Ford India manages to find the right price for the EcoSport, it sure will grab the customers’ mind space all over again. Ford is expected to launch the new refreshed EcoSport later this month.
TEXT & PHOTO: Naveen Arul