From an Indian market perspective, the excitement and anticipation built around Ford’s compact sports utility vehicle, EcoSport, has been unprecedented. Ever since the EcoSport was showcased at Auto Expo 2012 in New Delhi, Ford has occupied considerable mindset of all consumers looking at the prospect of buying an SUV. Interestingly, the market too has witnessed unexpected surge in the demand foally led by the Mahindra XUV500, and followed by the success of the Renault Duster. This new found fascination for SUVs among Indian vehicle buyers augurs well for manufacturers. Although Ford was expected to bring in the EcoSport much earlier, its scheduled launch mid-June holds tremendous promise not just for the company, but for the Indian industry as a whole.
It isn’t for nothing that Ford is banking so heavily on the EcoSport – calling it a prospective game changer in the Indian and Asian markets. Auto Tech Review was invited by the company recently to test drive the vehicle in the charming environs of Goa. And did we come back impressed? Make no mistakes: packed with the three-cylinder turbo-charged 1 l EcoBoost engine, Ford certainly looks set for the long run with the EcoSport.
DESIGN – CONTEMPORARY & PRACTICAL
From a design perspective, the EcoSport clearly stands out among the growing category of compact SUVs available in the market today with its striking road presence. Ford designers have done very well to leverage the platform’s strength in creating a compact SUV.
The high-mounted trapezoidal grille at the front is typical Ford signature style. The stylish slim headlamps accentuates the front look, and the sleek and oblique tail lamps at the rear along with the rear mounted spare wheel lend it a larger than actual and sharp look. The tailgate handle has been neatly integrated into the tail lamp on the driver’s side. To unlock the boot, one needs to use a small access button on the tailgate handle. The rear door is hinged from the left side, and loading and unloading goods shouldn’t be too difficult.
In addition, roof rails and the wraparound rear glass that merges with the C-pillar and 200 mm of ground clearance, gives the exterior design of the EcoSport a contemporary, sophisticated and practical look. The EcoSport’s capability of wading through 550 mm of water should make it convenient for drivers during monsoons.
More than 50 % of the EcoSport’s body structure is made up of high-strength steel and ultra-high-strength steel, such as boron steel – making the vehicle’s frame strong yet lightweight.
Once inside the vehicle, it’s easy space for five people, although the rear seat may not be very comfortable for three adults. The dashboard and steering wheel doesn’t look too different from the ones in the existing Fiesta. That notwithstanding, they gel well with the overall layout of the EcoSport interiors.
The high driving position offers good visibility of the road ahead. One small aberration here is the rather broad A-pillar, which might make it a tad difficult for a few. The controls and knobs are well-designed, and are placed comfortably for easy access and use. Occupants in the rear seat too get a good view of the vehicle surroundings, thanks to its raised position. The rear 60:40 split bench seat can be folded and flipped forward to increase the boot space.
One important omission in the interiors are the grab handles on the roof for passengers, which made it quite bothersome form occupants, especially on sharp turns and manoeuvres. Ford officials confirmed they weren’t offered in the EcoSport to accommodate side curtain airbags.
ENGINE & PERFORMANCE
A large part of the anticipation for EcoSport is also because of the 1 l EcoBoost engine, which is claimed to be technologically the most advanced member of the Ford EcoBoost engine family. In Ford’s global blueprint for sustainability, the EcoBoost technology is considered to be a key element.
In Goa, Ford India ensured we get to experience this new 999 cc powerplant, as the two other options – 1.5 l petrol and 1.5 l diesel units – are the same as found in the present Fiesta. The 1 l petrol unit combines direct fuel injection, turbocharging and variable valve timing to deliver better engine performance, while consuming less fuel.
As against the traditional mixing with the incoming air in the inlet port, highly pressurised fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber of each cylinder. This results in more precise delivery of fuel for lower emissions, improved volumetric efficiency and avoidance of knock for better performance and fuel efficiency. Ford claims the 1 l unit can help provide up to 20 % better fuel economy without sacrificing power that drivers want. Also, CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 15 %.
The 1 l EcoBoost engine produces a high output of 123 hp at 6,000 rpm and 170 Nm of torque in the range of 1,400-4,500 rpm. The company claims that the three-cylinder engine has the highest power per litre of any Ford production engine. It is small enough to stand on an A4 sized sheet of paper, senior Ford officials said.
For a 1 l three-cylinder unit, the EcoBoost is extremely refined with very little shrill. The engine sound is engaging and wants you to do more. On the road, the engine responds well to throttle inputs but has a bit of turbo lag at lower engine speed, especially under the 1,800 rpm mark. This was evident on the hill roads surrounding Goa but would surely feel better on plains. In urban traffic, the EcoSport is easy to navigate and the five-speed manual transmission is smooth with the gears slotting in nicely, translating into an engaging driving experience.
Traditionally, the three-cylinder engine was intended to be more fuel efficient. However, in a three-cylinder set-up, two cylinders usually travel together, while one travels on its own, causing the engine to pitch from side to side. To control the noise and vibration arising out of the unit, a balancer shaft is normally used, but the added weight and friction of the balancer shaft results in decreased fuel efficiency. The company says every 10 % addition to vehicle weight, results in a subsequent decrease of 17.5 % fuel efficiency.
To counter this situation, Ford intentionally unbalanced the engine to ensure the shaking turned into a less sensitive direction. The clutch and flywheel was designed to minimise vibration and rattle, while the engine structure was designed to offer optimal weight, stiffness, and generate minimal noise. The 1 l EcoBoost engine features a belt-in-oil drive system that helps cut out noise and vibration. Changes were also made to the engine mounting system and engine sound damping that reduced overall vibration and resulted is a quieter engine.
ARAI claimed fuel efficiency of the EcoSport is 18.9 km/l, but our test car returned a moderate 11 km/l plus. An outstanding drag coefficient of 0.371, thanks to the aerodynamic qualities of the EcoSport, helps improve fuel efficiency. Emission ratings are marked at 126 g/km of CO2. The company has registered over 125 patents on this engine.
Meanwhile, the 1.5-litre Ti-VCT petrol engine delivers peak power of 110 hp and 140 Nm of torque, and will be paired with both manual and automatic gearboxes. The diesel unit, also 1.5 l in capacity, generates maximum power of 90 hp, and peak torque of 204 Nm. It must be noted that the 1 l EcoBoost offers 8 % more power than a 1.6 l diesel engine, and a 7 % better torque than a 1.6 l petrol engine.
The EcoSport will be manufactured at Ford India’s Maraimalai Nagar plant, near Chennai. For the time being, the EcoBoost engine will be imported but officials did confirm it will eventually be localised. A host of safety and convenience features adorn the vehicle that will be launched by the time you get to read this review.
Among others, the EcoBoost would offer Ford SYNC, a voice-activated in-car connectivity system powered by Microsoft (read more about this system in our July 2013 issue). It also features Emergency Assistance that helps occupants place a call to the emergency services directly in the event of an accident. From the safety perspective, the EcoSport offers airbags front, side and curtain airbags as well as driver-assist systems such as Hill Launch Assist. Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is available on models with the automatic transmission, and includes the Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS).
The Ford EcoSport surely looks better in flesh than in magazine spreads. It rides well, with precise steering response to boast. The suspension system is sorted to ensure good driving experience over all kinds of road surfaces. Minor turbo lags notwithstanding, the 1 l EcoBoost engine looks set to be a winner. It is versatile, comfortable and practical – ingredients that are sure to connect with its prospective customer base in urban India. While we wait for Ford to announce the prices of the EcoSport, we are convinced it would help the company scale up sales in the Indian market.
Text & Photo: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah