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Ford EcoSport busts new niche


It’s easy to be cynical about Ford’s all-new tot-sized SUV, the EcoSport.

In essence it’s nothing more than a pumped-up Fiesta on stilts, which makes me wonder if its existence is strictly necessary in the first place. Is there a demand for a fat Fiesta with a higher driving position?

I’m tempted to say no, but in my gut I know it’d be a lie. South Africa, and the rest of the world for that matter, is obsessed with SUVs, so Ford would be irresponsible not to get as much product into the market as possible.

For proof, we turn to India. Ford India experienced a 48% increase in sales in July compared to the same month in 2012. The reason? The EcoSport was launched there recently and it’s selling faster than any hot cake I’ve ever heard of.

I think my initial negative reaction to this car has to do with the specific market itplays in. At this point, I’m not entirely sure a segment exists for it, as it has no direct competitor. Ford sees the EcoSport going up against the Nissan Juke, Suzuki Jimny, Daihatsu Terios and, strangely, the Citroën DS4. I don’t really see the EcoSport as a direct competitor to any of the above for various reasons. In fact, I think Ford may have just jump-started an entirely new segment.

So, it’s a good thing it stands out in a crowd. The overfed Fiesta styling really works in my humble opinion and I think Ford will sell a bunch of these things based on aesthetic appeal alone.

A stunning body, however, only makes for a good first impression. Luckily the stuff beneath the skin should keep on impressing for long after the customer first falls in love with the EcoSport.

The first and most important thing you need to know is that the EcoSport isn’t as mean as it looks. There’s no four-wheel-drive option, which means the car will be completely flustered by anything more treacherous than a shopping-mall curb.

On the flipside, it is rather nippy and easy to drive around town. The range of petrol and diesel engines are perfectly suited to a city commute and won’t ruin you financially every time you need to fill the car up.

Three engines are currently available: two petrol powertrains and a turbocharged diesel. The petrol range kicks off with Ford’s global 1.5-litre four cylinder, which delivers peak power of 82kW and 138Nm of torque. Ford claims an average fuel consumption of 6.5 litres/100km. This engine is available with a five-speed manual or six-speed Powershift automatic transmission. It’s also the only engine in the range available with a self-shifter.

Topping the petrol range is Ford’s multiple award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine. This powerful and frugal powertrain delivers 92kW and 170Nm of torque and has a claimed fuel consumption figure of 5.7 litres/100km.

The 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine, while not being particularly powerful (66kW/205Nm), does have enough oomph to keep up with traffic in the city and on the highway. If frugality is your thing, it’s definitely the one to go for as Ford claims a figure of 4.6 litres/100km on the combined cycle.

Interior-wise, there are one or two issues, but more on that later. There are a few good things that need mentioning first.

First up is Ford’s marvellous Sync system, which is standard across the range. We’ve written on this system before, but it deserves another mention as it really is one of the best infotainment systems out there. You can play music via cell phone, an auxiliary input or USB port, but the best thing about it is the fact that the lady who lives in the dashboard actually understands a South African accent.

The cabin also has a number of practical storage spaces and a glove box that can keep six cans of beverage cool. The rear seats also fold flat in a 60:40 split, which increases the boot space to 705 litres.

Unfortunately, it’s also the interior that lets the car down a bit. Some models feature wind-down rear windows, which isn’t on for a car that costs R200 000 and up. Some of the finishes are a bit below par and the wind noise is a tad high, especially on the highway. Not deal-breaking stuff, but frustrating nonetheless.

At the price it’s hard to fault the EcoSport. The base model costs just under R200 000, while a top-of-the-range variant is just R50 000 more. If you’re looking for something cheaper than the Juke, less hardcore and way more comfortable than the Jimny and more modern than the Terios, this is the car for you. It currently has no direct competitor, but if it does well, and I think it will, the competition will soon be lining up to get a slice of its business.

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