EcoSport to the fore

By LEE PANG SENG | 28 March 2014
The B-segment offers huge potential in some developing markets and it was a matter of time before Ford decided that the EcoSport should be expanded beyond its South American frontier.

This model was first introduced in Brazil in 2004, followed by three other South American countries.

Although its popularity waned over the years, due in part to the growing demand for another Ford model, the Escape, Ford decided to revive the EcoSport on a global scale with a prototype model at a European motor show in 2012.

In developing this global urban SUV, Ford engineers put it through more than two million kilometres in over 12,000 test centre simulations and road tests in South America, North American, Asia and Europe; at extreme temperatures from -25° to 50°C; and at altitudes of up to 4,300m.

Its production started at Ford India’s Chennai plant in 2013 for the domestic and European markets and subsequently at its Rayong factory for distribution in South-East Asia, China, Australia and New Zealand.

Sime Darby Auto ConneXion, the Malaysian Ford distributor, had the EcoSport (pronounced as “EchoSport” rather “E-co-Sport”) displayed at the KL International Motor Show 2013.

To give potential buyers an idea of the price, SDAC listed it as between RM95,000 and RM115,000 depending on variants, these being the Trend, Ambiente and top-range Titanium.

Ford organised a regional media drive in Hua Hin, the royal city in Thailand, and the Malaysian media had their first-hand impression of the EcoSport in an environment that Ford believes B-segment SUV owners would likely use this Ford model.

This included drives through tight city lanes, narrow coastal roads, highways and a winding stretch up to a low-lying vineyard, where we had a short off-road stint.

The EcoSport provided for the drive was the Titanium variant powered by a 1.5L Ti-VCT engine: if that sounds familiar, yes, this is the same engine that powers the Fiesta because the EcoSport is based on a similar platform.

Output is similar with the global four-cylinder engine, complete with double overhead camshafts, multi-valve cylinders and variable valve timing, putting out 110PS and 142Nm of torque.

The main difference is that it is a taller vehicle to measure up to its SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) motoring: the suspension system is also similar, but tuned accordingly.

The EcoSport has a ground clearance of 200mm, while the Fiesta’s would probably be about 120 to 130mm.

In addition, the EcoSport can wade through waters up to 550mm deep, or about a third in height of the average Asian.

While it can wade through shallow flood waters, the EcoSport is no four- or all-wheel drive: it is a front-wheel drive like the Fiesta.

There is an all-wheel drive model in Brazil, but for such a system, it must have an independent multi-link suspension.

In keeping cost down, the EcoSport has the same twin-beam torsion rear suspension as the Fiesta while the front is independently sprung with MacPherson struts.

To enjoy the advantage of the higher ground clearance, we were allowed to drive over a kerb of about 170-180mm in height. The EcoSport Titanium came with 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/60 R16 tyres.

Stepping into the EcoSport was almost as good as getting into the Fiesta: the dashboard and instrument panel design was about the same, with that in the EcoSport having shiny chrome panels in the central dash area.

There is the same multi-function display nestled in a centrally located cowl compartment on the dashboard top, with the wing-like control panel dominating the middle section, and the air-conditioner controls underlining the bottom.

The instrument panel comprises two deeply set binnacles for the tachometer and speedometer that is about Fiesta in design as it could be.

Being the Titanium model, the electronically controlled sunroof comes standard with a manually controlled sliding cover to shut out the sun during noon drives.

There is a good spread of interior space, including one for a 1.5L water bottle on the front doors in addition to that for a smaller bottle.

And there are two power plug points: one in front at the base of the gearshift console and the other at the rear to the side (driver side) next to the door.

According to Joao Marco Ramos, Chief Designer, Ford South America, the power plug location at the rear is ideal as the one in front is already in the centre.

We found this a bit odd as it means that only the rear passenger nearest to this plug point will benefit.

Moreover, when the door is opened on a rainy day, some water may fall onto the area. It would also impede movement in and out of the car if something is plugged in.

The rear luggage door is the swing type as a full-size spare wheel is mounted on it: the rear seats are split 60:40 to extend space big enough to accommodate a fair size washing machine.

The EcoSport is obviously a heavier vehicle with its greater dimensional expanse, but we didn’t feel the extra metal on the go.

The 1.5L engine didn’t have to work hard to get going, even during short bursts to 160kph, but the gearing of the six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission was a bit on the high side.

At 100-110kph, the engine was turning at the higher end of 2,000rpm and not the lower end as in some six-speed automatic cars.

As in the Fiesta, the electronically controlled transmission would hold a gear if it sensed that we needed the engine torque when going down an incline or moving in urban traffic.

The SelectShift (S) option is not the best we have seen: there is a button to the side of the gearshift knob.

When selected, we had to make manual gear selection by pressing this side button up or down. For sure, it was not a user-friendly feature, unlike steering paddle shifts (which would obviously cost more) or the push-pull gearshift option.

The ride was good with the EcoSport taking to bumpy stretches and rumble strips well and without harsh jolts. The double door insulation, among other NVH measures to suppress noise intrusion, kept the interior quiet on the move.

Air turbulence around the aerodynamically crafted body was kept to a minimum, again leading to a quiet ride (we were cruising often at 120-130kph on the highways under convoy driving).

There was only one winding stretch but far too few corners to gauge the EcoSport dynamic character fully: for the few fairly tight bends, the EcoSport took them well without much body roll and the electric powered steering gave a pretty neutral account of the directional feedback.

The EcoSport should do well in the Malaysian market if the price is kept reasonably affordable.

It has no rivals other than the Peugeot 2008 as the Toyota Rush has been discontinued here.