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Ford looks to make another comeback by riding on the anticipated success of the Eco Sport, its eye-catching compact SUV.
Once upon a time Ford was an also-ran in India. And then a humble compact car, the Figo, changed it all. After a decade and a half of trying hard, the Figo's entry in 2010 finally helped Ford get into the thick of things in the fast-growing Indian car market. More importantly, it helped the company step out of the fringes as far as customer acceptance was concerned.
And it was the Figo's success that gave the company's global headquarters confidence in India. This was evident from Ford's announcement that it would double investments here to $2 billion while looking at launching 8 models by 2016. But Ford failed to capitalise on this new start. It followed up the Figo with a debacle - its next-generation Fiesta turned out to be a significant misstep for the company as the global bestseller was woefully overpriced here.
A chastened Ford India is now tilting at the Indian market again with the Eco Sport, the company's newly developed compact SUV. Besides, it debuts in the hot-selling compact SUV segment in India, where demand has literally gone through the roof. The success of models like the Duster (which catapulted France's Renault from the fringes in India to becoming one of the most visible newbies in town) is a pointer to the kind of success Ford is eyeing.
TOI-Crest drove the Eco Sport in and around Goa to find out whether the hype and anticipation's really worth it. . .
If it's looks alone that sell, then the Eco Sport seems to have it all. The car, which is under four metres in length (to take advantage of lower excise duties) comes across as chic and very stylish. The highmounted trapezoidal grille;roof rails;jaunty tailgate-mounted spare tyre; and a black plastic runner beneath the bumpers and the gates mark the Eco Sport as an urban, compact SUV. What's also immediately noticeable is its high ground clearance of 200 mm, which should keep you insulated from bad roads, especially when travelling out of the city.
Ford has chosen to retain the Fiesta's distinctive layout for the Eco Sport's dashboard. The air-conditioning vents, steering wheel and control keys are all similar to those on the Fiesta sedan. However, in this class, the overall interiors and quality of materials do not disappoint but rather come across as something which is a shade below plush. This is a big plus point over the not-so-exciting interiors of the Renault Duster.
The Eco Sport's seating is quite comfortable. The driver's seating position gives you a clear view of the road but the thick A-pillars sometimes cause a hindrance and lead to blind spots at certain angles. And while the front seat comfort is ample, the rear seat, when packed to capacity, is cramped, which may take the fun out of family outings. Also missing are grab handles which may be a problem on uneven or winding roads.
Ford has thrown in ample pockets to keep your stuff. There are a total of 20 storage spaces in the interior to keep small items in, including one below the front seat to tuck away stuff that you do not want exposed to outsiders. But while the space for knick knacks is sufficient, the Eco Sport disappoints in terms of space it provides for luggage. Boot space in the vehicle is just 346 litres. However, should you decide to fold the rear seats, the boot space can be expanded to 705 litres. The rear seats can be split 60:40 and there are other permutations and combinations to suit your requirements.
This is a big focus area for Ford and for customers, especially with the new "Eco Boost" engine. Three engine options are on offer on the Eco Sport - two in petrol, including the much-touted 1-litre 3-cylinder Eco Boost, and one in diesel. The second petrol option is the 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine already doing duty on the Fiesta. This bigger petrol engine churns out a maximum power of 112PS at 6300 rpm and has a torque of 140Nm at 4400 rpm. This is also the engine wherein Ford will offer the automatic option.
But it's the 1-litre Eco Boost which the company's excited about. Despite its compact size (tiny enough to fit on a sheet of A4 paper, say engineers), it is able to produce a peak power output of 125PS at 6000 rpm and 170 Nm of peak torque from 1400 to 4500 rpm. The small engine combines direct fuel injection, turbo-charging and variable valve timing to gain higher fuel efficiency while churning out the power and performance of larger engines.
We got to test the 1-litre Eco Boost variant, and the engine did not disappoint. Despite there being three cylinders, it is pretty quiet and does not show much vibration. Also, it does pack the power one associates with bigger engines. But the engine gives you a problem when at low rpm you try and go for full throttle - especially in the hills and when overtaking, situations that require immediate power. With the diesel engine, which is expected to be the one in demand, Ford is offering the 1. 5-litre engine that is already being used in the Fiesta. The engine offers a maximum power of 91PS at 3750 rpm and a peak torque of 204 Nm at 2000-2750 rpm. This engine is real responsive and is fun to drive. It offers quick power delivery and appears peppy, traits that are likely to make it a hot-seller.
While we have not checked these independently, Ford claims a mileage of 22. 7 kmpl on the diesel variant while the Eco Boost 1-litre petrol has a fuel efficiency of 18. 9 kmpl. The manual version of the 1. 5-litre petrol offers 15. 8 kmpl while the automatic version 15. 6 kmpl.
Price is crucial but Ford is keeping it close to its chest. The Eco Sport's biggest rival, the Renault Duster, has a starting price of Rs 7. 99 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) for the entry petrol variant, Rs 8. 73 lakh for the 85PS diesel version and Rs 10. 75 lakh for the 110 PS diesel. Having learnt much from the Fiesta debacle, and because of the lower excise duty on the Eco Sport, the market expects Ford to price this SUV aggressively - at just around or a little upwards of Rs 6 lakh for the petrol and Rs 7 lakh for the diesel variants. The petrol variant, however, is likely to be priced at a premium and perhaps close to the price of the diesel variant.
The Eco Sport is certainly a "buy" for those looking for a chic, urban SUV. It's clearly futuristic in design and heavy on features. However, for those of you who want to take on bad roads and engage in heavy off-roading, it may not be your best bet. And yes, if you travel frequently with the entire family in tow, you may be better advised to give the vehicle a miss as this is one area where the Eco Sport unfortunately falls short. And needless to say, for careful and picky Indian customers, the pricing is crucial. Which roughly translates to: it's only a great buy if priced lower than the competition.
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