By TIM O'BRIEN in INDIA
We won't be seeing it till December this year, but Ford's new Fiesta-based EcoSport crossover will be landing in a segment that has all the signs of a gathering boom.
Mini-SUVs, after resting for a decade or so (remember the Feroza, the first Vitara, Terios and original Cruze?) are about to take off.
That's going to have the EcoSport lined up against some pretty tasty opposition when it hits the launch pad in Australia.
But Ford's little warrior will be arriving with some impressive armoury tucked into its belt. Like the 2012 International Engine of the Year under the bonnet: the 92kW/170Nm, 1.0 litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine.
The little engine will be mated to a five-speed manual transmission and offers combined fuel consumption figures as low as 5.3 l/100km. No auto option however is scheduled for the EcoBoost engine, and it's unclear if one will become available.
Those hunting for an auto shifter will need to go with the 82kW/140Nm 1.5 litre petrol four - not an EcoBoost engine - which can be had with Ford's familiar six-speed dual-clutch Powershift auto. Fuel consumption with this combo is listed at 6.4 l/100km.
The 1.5 engine will be mated to a five-speed manual as standard (the Powershift will be optional); it shaves a fraction off fuel consumption figures, returning a listed 6.3 l/100km.
Don't expect a diesel option (a 67kW/204Nm 1.5 diesel is available overseas); Ford Australia believes the outputs and fuel consumption of the EcoBoost engine will satisfy buyers normally drawn to the diesel.
And while it's got a class-leading ride height of 200mm, a class-leading wading depth of 550mm and a 'back-to-the-future' spare wheel hanging off the rear door, the EcoSport has urban customers in its sights.
At its launch to the Australian media in India yesterday, Ford described the EcoSport as a car "created for an urban environment and an urban consumer".
That urban consumer should certainly be happy with storage: the rear seats tumble and fold, and the space it opens up through the wide-swinging rear door is big enough to fit a washing machine in.
In strict figures, there's 362 litres with the rear seats up, growing to 702 litres with the seats folded forward.
On looks and practicality - it's surprisingly roomy inside - it may shake up what the Australian market understands of a compact SUV's capabilities.
The EcoSport's left-hand-drive origins (its development kicked off in Brazil) are evident in the rear door though, swinging to the left - to the kerbside - and perhaps making access a little more awkward in tight parking.
Three trim grades will be offered: the familiar Ambiente, Trend and Titanium.
Across the entire range, the EcoSport will offer Ford's Microsoft-developed Sync connectivity platform that provides voice-activated Bluetooth handsfree calling and audio streaming, along with SMS text messaging and an emergency service alert system that is triggered automatically in an accident.
Safety features across the range will include seven airbags, ABS and electronic stability control (among a host of dynamic and passive features).
Up-spec models will get parking sensors, climate-control, leather trim, larger alloy wheels, automatic wipers and headlights and front foglights.
We don't yet know at exactly what price we'll see it in Australia. A low-$20,000s point is expected with Ford Australia muttering an entry-point of "somewhere around $22,000-plus".
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