FORD ECOSPORT REVIEW
Vehicle style: Compact front-wheel-drive SUV
Price: $25,790 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 92kW/170Nm 1.0 turbo petrol 3cyl / 5sp manual
Fuel economy listed: 5.7 l/100km (95-98RON) | tested: 7.4 l/100km
It’s amazing how the Australian motoring landscape has changed. Dominated for decades by big sedans and wagons, then the SUV arrived and knocked them all for six.
Now into 2014, the SUV segment offers dozens of choices in the large, mid-size and compact sub-sections and commands more than 29 percent of the total Australian car market.
Interestingly, it is now the tiny SUV compacts making the most noise in the market. And, of these, the front-wheel-drive (FWD) sub-segment is going gangbusters.
Enter Ford’s new EcoSport, the baby brother to the Territory and Kuga.
It comes in three models, all FWD: Ambiente, Trend and the top-spec Titanium. A 4WD version is not planned for this country.
Despite this, Ford claims the EcoSport can wade through 550mm of water (but with only front-wheel-drive to pull you through, you’d be a brave driver to try it).
For now, the 1.0 litre Titanium can only be had as a manual, with only the 1.5 litre Titanium available in auto form. An automatic Titanium 1.0 litre is expected later in the year.
EcoSport buyers have the choice of two petrol engines – an 82kW/140Nm 1.5litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder unit, and a seriously impressive and innovative one-litre turbo-charged EcoBoost three-cylinder.
As we’ve discovered in earlier drives, it’s the stand-out engine of the two, and the one under test here.
Quality: Ford designers went to a lot of trouble to make the EcoSport’s interior stand out from the crowd and there’s a smart touch in here.
With a nice mix throughout of metal-look trim and textured plastic (the latter is mostly hard to touch which diminishes things a bit), the overall quality is good.
It is bettered by Polo, i30 and the ilk for interior class, but they aren’t high-stepping versatile little wagons.
Comfort: Driver ergonomics are good and all controls fall within easy reach.
Seats are smallish however (for those of us with larger frames), and not really supportive enough.
They can be found wanting on a longer drive.
The multi-function, leather-wrapped steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach but this writer didn’t much like its slightly angular shape. ‘Round’ is much more comfortable in a driver’s hands.
The interior flexibility however is enhanced by the split-fold rear seat backs and a super-efficient air-conditioning system.
Equipment: As you’d expect from the EcoSport’s range-topper, there’s a substantial inventory of standard fruit and buyers can look forward to front-and-rear fog lights, power windows and exterior mirrors, cruise control, roof rails, Bluetooth and Ford’s SYNC voice-control system.
Also standard is a six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, a 3.5-inch multi-function display screen, USB/iPod connectivity and a multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Storage: With the rear seats occupied, there is a useful 346 litres of boot space. Flip the seat backs down and this rises to 705 litres.
In the cabin are 20 storage cubby holes including a cooler in the glovebox and a handy under-seat tray, a sunglasses holder, map pockets behind the front seat backs, front-door pockets that can take a bottle and rear-door pockets shaped for a bottle or coffee cup.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The manual-only EcoSport doesn’t come to the six-speed party - it has five cogs only; a Ford decision that has come in for criticism.
But the little turbo ‘triple’ engine under the EcoSport’s snub nose is a beauty.
With just three willing cylinders and 1.0 litre capacity, it’s nevertheless good for 92kW and a healthy (for such a small engine) 170Nm of torque.
That peak torque is on tap all the way from 1400 to 4500rpm, which really aids driveability and gives the EcoSport a handy turn of speed when called upon. .
And, with such a flat torque curve, we found the car was quite happy with the five ratios it has been dealt.
The gearstick falls nicely to hand and there is no hint of notchiness during changes.
The car’s electrically assisted steering is also weighted pretty right and turn-in is eager and predictable.
Refinement: We punted Ford’s new baby over all kinds of roads, from city tram tracks, to pot-holed country gravel roads, and not-so-good bitumen and freeways.
It’s surprisingly quiet for both road and wind noise. No problems for calm conversation or just enjoying a CD.
The little turbo-charged engine has a pleasant, slightly guttural note, and, as is the case with several three-cylinder engines I’ve driven lately, there’s even a hint of a Porsche flat-six sound.
Suspension: The EcoSport rides on an independent MacPherson-strut coil-spring/anti-roll-bar front-suspension set-up with a semi-independent twist-beam arrangement at the rear.
The tuning errs on the sporty side, but doesn’t detract from the car’s overall on-road refinement.
Braking: Despite having a dinosaur drum-brake set-up on the rear wheels, the new little Ford’s stopping power proved adequate for both country and suburban driving.
There are 278mm x 25mm ventilated discs at the front and nine-inch drums on the rear.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars, with an overall score of 35.14 (out of 37)
Safety Features: The little SUV comes standard with a fair suite of safety kit including seven air bags, ABS brakes with electronic stability control, traction control, emergency brake assist, emergency brake lights and seatbelt pretensioners for the front-seat passengers.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Three years or 100,000km and service intervals are 12 months or 12,000km. Capped-price servicing is available; talk to your Ford dealer for details.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Holden Trax LTZ ($27,990) - The more expensive 103kW/175Nm LTZ Trax is an auto and offers 1370 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded flat, easily besting both the EcoSport (705litres) and the Juke (550litres) in this department.
Looks good too, the Trax, it’s one we like; it drives quite well and the MyLink system is superb. (see Trax reviews)
Nissan Juke ST-S 2WD manual ($28,390) - With a 1.6litre turbo four offering 140kW and 240Nm, the Juke is way more powerful than the EcoSport.
Its love-it-or-hate-it styling may not be for everyone, but it drives surprisingly well. It is a lot thirstier than the EcoSport however. (see Juke reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new EcoSport is a handsome little car ‘in the metal’ with more road presence than most of its competitors.
There’s plenty of built-in practicality and flexibility and the top-spec Titanium comes well-featured for creature comforts and technologies.
Around town, the ‘command’ driving position gives a great view of the road and a 10.6 metre turning circle is just the thing in tight suburban streets.
The car’s stand-out feature is the EcoBoost turbo engine. Its great torque delivery and fuel efficiency will not fail to impress.
In summary, there is a lot of appeal here. The EcoSport is a “must-test” car for anyone in the market for a small SUV... or even a small hatch.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- 2014 Ambiente - 1.5 manual - $20,790
- 2014 Ambiente - 1.5 auto - $22,790
- 2014 Trend - 1.0 manual - $22,290
- 2014 Trend - 1.5 auto - $24,290
- 2014 Titanium - 1.0 manual - $25,790
- 2014 Titanium - 1.5 auto - $27,790