Photography : R. Gopi Chandran, Ford India, Pradeep Mohan
Disclosure: Ford loves our comprehensive reviews so much that they were kind enough to fly us to Goa, put us up in a very fancy resort and pamper us senseless throughout the two day event.
No number of pictures can prepare you for how compact the EcoSport actually is. Every line and surface on the EcoSport has been penned with the intent of making the compact SUV look menacing, dynamic and of course, much larger than it actually is. Not unlike the bulging wheel arches on the Renault Duster, the Ford EcoSport also has a number of distinct features that ‘grow’ the car visually.
Ehab Kaoud, Chief Designer at Ford North America for Car Exteriors, explained the thought that went into designing this compact SUV. The wheels were pushed as far out to the corners as possible, which has given the vehicle its stance. The cladding that surrounds the entire body works towards the same goal. The front of the EcoSport is defined by the new Ford family look, which we first saw in the EVOS concept. The headlamps are drawn out and as Kaoud put it, seem to be ‘laser cut’. The silhouette is aggressive too, with most lines that start at the front rising upward as they go to the rear. The door handles for the tail gate that is hinged at the side instead of the top, had to be incorporated without intruding into the stunning appearance of the rear. This is where the Ford engineers came up with the idea of integrating the door handles into the tail lamp. The Titanium Optional variant which gets the keyless entry uses a button on this handle, while the handle is itself is immovable.
The ‘kicker’ at the rear is painted black. What we thought was a single wraparound piece of glass before the unveiling at the Auto Expo, is actually three parts. The rear windshield, the wraparound kicker on the D-Pillar and the rear side glass.
Considering the recent advances in powertrains and material engineering, car manufacturers are investing a lot of time and money in fine tuning the aerodynamics of a car to improve fuel efficiency. The less resistance a car has to slicing through air, the less fuel it uses up. Ford spared no expense here and claims a drag coefficient of 0.371 Cd after more than 160 hours in the wind tunnel. The optimization starts with the ridges up front on either sides of the hood which direct air optimally around the car. A front baffle built into the bumper helps avoid recirculation of air and improves airflow under the SUV. There’s better sealing between the hood and the front grille to help the air flow over the hood. The air that moves over the top of the car is deflected off the vehicle by the lip spoiler at the rear. The ‘kicker’ at the D-pillar also works to deflect flowing air away from the car avoiding the formation of vortexes thereby reducing turbulence around the car.
1.0 litre 3 cylinder EcoBoost Engine
‘EcoBoost’ is the brand Ford uses for its range of downsized, turbocharged, gasoline direct injection engines that deliver power and torque of much higher displacement engines while delivering impressive fuel economy figures. Here’s the low down on the 1.0 litre three cylinder EcoBoost engine that powers the EcoSport in India. This engine is intended to offer the performance of 1.6 litre petrol mill, while offering nearly 20% improved fuel efficiency. The engine uses direction injection technology, where the fuel injectors spray the fuel directly into the cylinders unlike in the conventional port injection method where the fuel is injected into the intake port. The low inertia Continental turbocharger is extremely responsive and can spool upto 248,000 rpm. The fast response ensures ‘virtually’ no turbolag.
This isn’t the first time Ford has experimented with Direct Injection. The quest for an engine with diesel like fuel economy and much loved petrol engine characteristics of performance, driverability and less noise led Ford to come up with what was named the PROCO engine, way back in the 70s. The PROCO (Programmed Combustion) engine was a ‘stratified charge’ engine where the fuel is sprayed close to the spark plug so that you have a rich mixture near the spark plug which enables easy initiation of combustion whereas the rest of the cylinder can have a leaner mixture thus improving fuel economy. Unfortunately though, the electronics were not as advanced as they are today and the PROCO engine was abandoned for use in production cars. Until the first EcoBoost engine was showcased in 2007, that is.
The 1.0 litre EcoBoost is an enigma. The engine brings the best of both worlds of petrol and diesel. Trundling around the streets of Goa, you realize there’s enough torque low down like a diesel, and a linear torque curve ensuring minimal shifting while you navigate through the traffic. Find some open roads and let her rip and the tacho needle revs freely all the way upto 6500 rpm reminding you that this is a petrol! The unfamiliar thrumming of the three cylinder mill is slightly unsettling but once you get over it, you realize how sporty the lil’ EcoBoost sounds. The aural symphony we are afraid, might split families/countries/civilizations. Some might like it, others might not. You have been warned, never get into an argument about this with your better half.
The other unsettling thing about this enginef is the lack of engine braking. The low friction components coupled with a turbocharger that works just as well on part loads means this engine has little resistance when you lift off the throttle. She keeps rolling!
This video beautifully explains the tech wizardry that goes into making the engine the masterpiece it is. Watch for the positions of the injector relative to the spark plug, the engine drive belts in oil and the split cooling system that allows for a quick warm up of the engine.
The 1.0 litre three cylinder unit is the first of Ford’s Fox family of engines. Downsizing is here to stay and Ford only knows it too well. The Fox family of engines are three cylinder compact units with a cast iron block and an aluminium head that is machined using Ford’s green MQL (Minimum Quantity Lubrication) machining methods. The Fox family of engines are developed for the European markets, and also the markets in China and India. It is also reported that the 1.0 litre three cylinder engine will also be made available as a naturally aspirated engine developing around 75PS for developing markets like South America. If you have the stomach for the one more speculative report, there’s whispers of a 180hp 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine, that will be powered by a larger turbo.
Instead of a counter rotating balance shaft, Ford engineers have taken an innovative approach and intentionally unbalanced the pulley and flywheel with weights placed precisely to counteract the natural shaking forces present in a three cylinder engine.
The special engine mounts also help reduce vibration.
Cast iron cylinder block?
Cast iron is quicker to warm up and reduces ‘warm-up’ energy required by 50%
Cast iron also absorbs sound energy reducing engine noise
Helps meet strict cost targets
Withstands higher cylinder pressure, especially with the 180hp engine with the bigger turbo being a possibility.
Exhaust Manifold integrated in the head
Lowers exhaust temperature
Optimum fuel to air ratio at high speeds
Lowers manufacturing costs
Split cooling system
During the cold start phase, the cooling system bypasses the cylinder jackets and water flows only around the exhaust manifolds, thereby allowing the cast iron cylinder block to achieve operating temperature faster. Once the engine gets going, the cooling system resumes normal operation, now also cooling the cylinder blocks.
Two stage variable oil pump
The variable displacement oil pump has been designed so that the oil pressure varies based on requirements of the engine at different speeds.
M12 thread spark plugs
While the larger EcoBoost engines use M14 thread Spark plugs, the compact dimensions of the cylinder block as well as the centrally mounted injectors mean Ford has had to use M12 thread spark plugs.
1.2mm cooling slits
The 1.0 litre EcoBoost also features specially machined 1.2mm wide cooling slits between the cylinder to reduce peak temperature. These slits cannot be formed during casting as they are so narrow.
Ride & Handling
As with most Fords the EcoSport handles bad roads very well. The ride isn’t too supple yet the EcoSport can skip over potholes without causing the occupants any unease. Ford has implemented a simple hydraulic rebound stop as opposed to a conventional mechanical stop. What happens is, the tube in the front strut that holds the hydraulic fluid has a reduced diameter towards both ends of suspension travel. When the rebound stop platform in the strut hits the reduced diameter the sudden drop in diameter increases the pressure of the oil above the platform, increasing the damping momentarily and absorbing the force of the impact. In such a situation, the peak force would be at least twice to thrice in a setup using conventional mechanical rebound stop. This has enabled to avoid any compromise on the ride comfort of the SUV at the cost of handling.
While it may be a bit too early to make this declaration we do sincerely believe that the best drivers car priced around 10 Lakhs – the Fiesta – now has a sibling with the same title to its credit. The EcoSport is one of the best handling SUVs in the country. The twisties in Goa will swear to that. Body roll is barely noticeable while the EPAS steering is nothing short of delightful.
Turning radius of the EcoSport is 5.325m, which is still more than that of the Renault Duster at 5.2m .The EcoSport steering also is bestowed with Pull-Drift Compensation and Active Nibble Control. Pull-Drift compensation detects irregularities on the road surface that tend to pull the vehicle off the intended path, and crosswinds and helps the driver compensate for the resulting pulling and drifting the EcoSport may be subject to. Active Nibble Control reduces the vibrations that are transmitted from the road.
All’s not perfect though. The MRFs (the tyres that our EcoSport was shod with) have been greatly optimized for reduced road noise inside the cabin and on occasions we heard the tyres squeal under not so intensive braking.
The brakes on the EcoSport are progressive, with good bite early on. The Titanium variant comes with an arm rest for the driver which is best left in the upright position until you’re out of the city. The arm rest while comfortable, somehow ruins your shifting experience and it is quite easy to pin the blame on the transmission for shifts ending up not slick enough.
We had a complaint with the Fiesta, and we have it with the EcoSport too. This five speed box really needs shorter throws for a much more engaging driving experience. On that note, maybe a six speed transmission would have been a nice addition. Don’t get us wrong, with the five speed box the EcoSport can still manage to do a easy 100-120 kph, beyond which the EcoBoost engine starts to make you feel guilty about enslaving thirty hamsters to turn the cogs inside the engine!
Ford makes no claims of the EcoSport being a hardcore off-roader. The EcoSport is being advertised as an Urban SUV and with ground clearance of 200mm and approach angles of 25 degrees and a departure angle of 35 degrees, and we’d say that’s a valid claim. The EcoSport, Ford claims can also wade through water upto 550mm deep, a relief for those heavy monsoons and badly flooded roads. Ford mentions that while the EcoSport is available as a 4×4, India will not be one of those markets these variants will be sold in.
It’s quiet. Eerily quiet inside. While a lot of work has gone into reducing the vibrations and noise from the three cylinder EcoBoost, Ford has also worked hard to make the cabin as quiet as it can be. Sound-deadening materials in the doors, roof and body minimise the noise making its way into the cabin. A double-sealing system for the doors and new technologies for improved glass sealing further reduce wind noise. Ford also points out that inside the cabin, the EcoSport has an acoustic headliner that helps absorb ambient noise.
While Ford won’t elaborate on what exactly it is, the company says a new compressor technology has been used that reduces the fuel spent when cooling the interiors of the car. Ford claims that if a car left under the sun for a while and temperature inside hovers around 65 °C the air conditioning can reduce it to under 30 °C in under ten minutes.
You would be hard pressed to find flaws with the usability of the interior space of this SUV. There’s around 20 storage spaces including 9 cup holders. While we have spotted the EcoSport with beige interiors it doesn’t seem likely that it will make it to production. The black and grey interior will continue to grace the interiors of the new age Fords. We aren’t big fans of beige unless executed properly, so we quite like the dark interiors of the EcoSport.
Clever engineering and innovative design aside, the EcoSport is still a compact SUV and it shows. You’re going to be often brushing elbows with the driver The knee room is pretty comfortable but three people at the rear becomes a squeeze. The rear seats can be reclined in stages and work best when they are at their most reclined position. This of course means the rear seats do eat up into the boot space.
The boot space, well, is just adequate. The parcel tray is a flap that can be spooled in and out of a roller that can removed. There is 346 litres of space which can be increased to 705 litres by folding down the rear seats. Upwards of the Trend variant,the rear seats can also split 60:40 so you can carry more cargo while also having a passenger at the rear.
The interiors of the EcoSport are swathed in different materials for different variants. On the Ambiente series, the theme was ‘techtronics’ where a fabric with a metallic yarn was used. The metallic yarn gives the cloth more depth and a high-tech look. The colour and trim team named the fabric Patna after the capital of the Indian state of Bihar.
On the Trend series, the buzz word was ‘modular’ with geometric shapes. Part of the seat fabric is a circular knit called Beijin, inspired by China. The insert fabric, called Dali and inspired by India, is specially embossed to give the cloth a three-dimensional feel.
The Titanium variant can be had in either leather or cloth. The leather is Torino leather with contrasting Cabarnet Red stitching. For cloth seats, there’s a motif of “Clay Art”, referencing painted pottery in China and Brazil. A microfiber fabric called ‘Shanghai’ which is extremely comfortable and easy to care for was used. The microfibers are water-repellent and resistant to stains.
The level of detail on the EcoSport is apparent from the pattern on the plastics. Ford calls these ‘Squareflec‘, random peppering of squares to break up the monotony of the pattern.
The audio system is mediocre at best. The system lacks bass, and a subwoofer is definitely in order.
The EcoSport is the first recipient of Ford’s SYNC system in India. SYNC is a set of technologies developed by Ford in partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft misses no opportunity to use the Windows brand name, and calls the innards of this system Windows Embedded Automotive. Right off the bat, we weren’t big fans of SYNC in the EcoSport. While the Voice Control on the Ford Fiesta was average and getting ‘Kate’ to understand our ‘Indian’ accent was a tiresome affair, the system did as much as it advertised. SYNC though, stands for a staggering set of services elsewhere.Ford customers abroad discover features month after month! The SYNC on the EcoSport available in India is too basic for our taste.
Not all is lost though. There are a couple of differences. Windows Embedded Automotive ensures that the data SYNC accesses from your phone cannot be accessed by a third party, say during service at the workshop or when you loan your car to a friend ( would you?). The phone has to be connected for the driver to be able to access the data. Multiple devices can be added and a single device is set as the primary phone.
SYNC can also read out text messages to you and you can respond with any of the 15 preset outgoing messages.
SYNC can also play music from a device through USB or Bluetooth. Voice Commands include Play Artist/Play Album/Play Genre and Play Similar where you allow the system to pick music for you.
Temperature can also be set with voice commands, which was as unsuccessful as with the Fiesta. We also loved SYNC’s ability to display the signal strength, battery charge on the SYNC screen in the dashboard.
In the unfortunate case that an EcoSport is involved in a crash, the system activates Emergency Assist right after an airbag is deployed or the fuel pump is shut off. Emergency Assistance gives you ten seconds to cancel the call to 108 if your crash has not been severe enough to warrant an ambulance. If no action is taken by the occupants, the system understands that the occupants need emergency medical attention and dials 108 through the primary phone connected to SYNC, gives them an automated message with details including GPS coordinates. The system then automatically opens a line to an operator so the occupants can elaborate on their situation. The biggest advantage to this system is that for the first time in India, third parties are dispensed with and the system gets in touch with the emergency services directly through 108. GVK EMRI, a not for profit organization runs the 108 services in various states in India. Ford representatives have met with people from GVK EMRI and also the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Health to discuss Emergency Assistance.
The EcoSport comes with dual airbags and also available as options are side and curtain airbags. ABS+EBD should be available upwards of the Trend variant, while ESP is available only on the Titanium automatic tranmission variant. More than half of the structure of the EcoSport is made of high strength or Ultra High Strength Streel (UHSS) with critical areas being made of Boron steel. The automatic transmission variant also gets the Hill Launch Assist feature which allows a three second cushion for the driver from the time he/she gets off the brakes and gets on the accelerator. This works on inclines regardless of which direction the vehicle is facing. Lastly, upon rapid braking, the indicators start flashing rapidly giving the cars behind a heads up on what’s happening.
Ford has a fictional target customer who embodies the requirements of the product’s actual prospective customers. For the EcoSport, it’s Sameer. A young professional working in a MNC, is married, has a kid and leads a very active lifestyle during the weekends and uses his car in all kinds of city roads and takes frequent out-of-town trips. Sounds just about right. Only question is, does Sameer really want the 1.0 litre EcoBoost? Or is he going to buy the diesel? Or maybe the more easy to drive automatic variant powered by the 1.5 L Ti-VCT? The EcoBoost claims a fuel economy of 18.9 km/L and the instantaneous fuel economy meter hovered in the 15-16 km/L mark in our sprightly driving session, which still isn’t as good as that of the diesel. Yet, with the price of petrol and diesel inching closer and the sporty attitude of the EcoBoost appealing more to the enthusiast, it will be a battle well fought.
No word on pricing yet, although we have some information on the variants. Pricing will be the factor which decides the commercial success of this compact SUV, which can comfortably seat four adults, has enough space in the boot and holds a definite appeal to the driving enthusiast with its taut handling and excellent road manners. Bookings begin in June and deliveries should commence in July. Whew, finally!