- FIRST DRIVE FORD ECOSPORT
THE first SUV model to be powered by a 1.0-litre engine will be launched by Ford this spring.
It is the new EcoSport compact crossover, a car that has already proved a smash hit in Brazil where it has been produced for a decade.
The newcomer, which is based on Britain’s favourite car the Fiesta, will slot into the Ford line-up below the Kuga and will be built for the European market in India.
With a host of well-established rivals already offering buyers a variety of style, size and engine choice, the EcoSport is going to have its work cut out.
But the big guns at Ford believe they have a product capable of securing a lion’s share of the market.
For starters, the rugged looking EcoSport boasts more head and legroom than successful small SUVs from the likes of Vauxhall, Chevrolet, Nissan, Suzuki and French pair Renault and Peugeot.
And given that this area of the automotive scene is expanding furiously – sales have quadrupled since 2010 and are up 150 per cent this year – there’s plenty of scope for optimism.
To the point that Ford also intends to introduce, though at a later date, the larger, more premium, Edge model from the US in the brand’s quest to sell a million SUVs in Europe over the next six years.
Chunky in its build with a short bonnet and large front grille, the EcoSport provides a high seating position for the driver, space for three in rear and, love it or loathe it, has a tailgate-mounted spare wheel.
Power comes via a pair of petrol engines – the 125PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost named International Engine of the Year 2012 and a 1.5-litre unit producing 110PS – plus a 1.5-litre diesel with 90PS.
As a car geared mainly for town, city and weekend getaway use, there is no four-wheel drive option.
That said there’s decent towing ability – up to 750kg braked – a wading depth of 550mms and approach and departure angles sufficient for at least gentle off-road conditions.
The test drive exercise, which included an extended stint of urban driving before moving to sweeping rural roads via a motorway,revealed the EcoSport to be a car UK motorists will enjoy driving.
The EcoBoost engine is strong and frugal – capable of returning an average 53.3mpg – just don’t expect any fancy acceleration figures.
This car, which costs £15,995 in the sole Titanium trim grade, is the quickest of the trio with its 0-62 in 12.7 seconds and 112mph top speed. It is also slightly more frugal than the £500 more expensive diesel.
Kicking off the line-up is the 1.5-litre petrol model at £14,995, though this variant wasn’t available for testing.
Inside, the EcoSport is trademark Ford fare – everything sensibly placed and accessible – and while these test cars were pre-production models there was nonetheless a cheap, brittle feel to the dash and fascia.
Regards kit there’s Ford SYNC, which is voice-activated to let users answer phone calls and play music via Bluetooth or USB, and includes Emergency Assistance to directly connect passengers to local emergency services after an accident.
And as a first in Europe, the AppLink system will offer drivers voice control of mobile apps on the move, including music streaming service Spotify.
First cars will arrive in April in the shape of the 120 limited edition Panther Black Titanium models made available exclusively via Facebook as part of Ford’s aim to appeal to a younger, more connected, generation of buyers.
The main body of cars, all with five-speed manual transmission though PowerShift automatic is available for an extra £500 on 1.5-litre petrol models, will arrive in May.