ROAD TEST: Ford EcoSport 1.5 TDCi Trend
From having absolutely no crossover presence before last year, Ford is dealing out some impressive round-house-kicks on the sales charts with its new Kuga and EcoSport.
In fact, Ford has been selling more than 500 EcoSports a month since launch, even moving 827 of them in September. But before we pat the EcoSport on the back, let's consider that there isn't too much competition in this segment, which we suspect many South Africans are keen to enter - especially since the bigger RAV4/Kuga-class mud-pluggers cost in the region of R300 000 upwards.
The EcoSport is a rather typical modern day 4x2 crossover. It's got a pretty reasonable ground clearance of 200mm, meaning it'll gobble up rough dirt roads without much hassle, but it's not a proper bundu basher.
It sits on the Ford Fiesta's platform, although designers have made a concerted effort to squeeze as much interior space into the package as possible and to make it look like a proper SUV. Unfortunately those two goals work against each other
Looking at the EcoSport's edgy lines, I imagine that the original design proposal was aggressively chunky; yet after squeezing the design over a compact hatch platform, it's ended up looking too slab-sided.
SPACE TO STRETCH
The upside is that there is stretching space inside. Headroom is generous for all occupants and there's enough rear legroom to keep a normally-built adult or teen in your good books, although it'll be a squeeze if you go three-up in the back. At the very back, there's more boot space than you'd find in a small hatch, at 362 litres to be precise.
Recently I waxed lyrical about how classy the Ford Kuga felt inside, but sadly the EcoSport does not follow suit here. It doesn't have the soft-touch textures that you'll find in most other Ford products, although the overall look is still not too bad. It's average at best. There were a few quality issues though, like the jammed seatbelt reel in a colleague's test car and the flimsy plastic cover on a section of the centre console, which came loose in my car.
Perhaps this is all par for the course. Consider that the admittedly-brilliant Kuga costs between R303 300 and R425 200. The EcoSport, built in India as an affordable crossover contender, will set you back between R199 900 and R249 000. That's a heck of a saving in my book.
Yet I still can't, for the life of me, figure out why they chose to leave the one-touch functionality off the front electric windows of the Trend model that I tested. Given how much convenience this adds, I can't see it being too much of a cost factor at this price level as we're not exactly talking about a bargain-bin Figo here.
What you do get is air conditioning, a four-speaker audio system with steering controls, Sync system with Bluetooth functionality and voice control, six airbags, ABS brakes and 16-inch alloy wheels. Find another R20 000 and you can have even more mod cons, and the likes of leather seats, in the Titanium model.
EcoSport buyers can choose between three engines - a normally aspirated 1.5 petrol (82kW), 1-litre turbopetrol (92kW) and the 66kW/205Nm turbodiesel featured here.
This 1.5-litre diesel is not the most refined on the block as it is a bit laggy on pull off and a tad gruff in the acoustics department, but it still delivers good-enough performance and economy. Ford claims a combined consumption figure of 4.6 l/100km, but in the real world you're looking closer to the seven mark. I wouldn't overlook the 1.0T petrol if I was looking for the best deal in the range.
The EcoSport's chassis is set-up to offer a comfortable ride quality and road holding is neat enough, although you can clearly feel its tall centre of gravity in fast cornering.
Although it is still a tad rough around the edges inside, the Ford Kuga still feels more refined and sophisticated than the Renault Duster, although let's not knock the Duster here as it offers a bigger and more rugged package with decent off-road credentials.
It really boils down to what you expect from a crossover; if you're looking for urban chic with more practicality than a Juke, then the EcoSport is still your best choice in this segment and it's a decent all-rounder at the price. But we'll speak again when more rivals enter its sandpit, namely the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, new Kia Soul and Opel Mokka.
Ford EcoSport 1.5 TDCi Trend
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.5-litre turbodiesel
Power: 66kW @ 3750rpm
Torque: 205Nm @ 2000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 14.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 160km/h
Consumption (claimed): 4.6 l/100km
Warranty: 4-year/120 000km
Service plan: 4-year/60 000km
Price: R229 000
Daihatsu Terios 1.5 (77kW/140Nm) - R234 995
Kia Soul 1.6 (95kW/157Nm) - R212 995
Nissan Juke 1.5 dCi Acenta+ (81kW/260Nm) - R267 800
Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Dynamique (80kW/240Nm) - R219 900
VW CrossPolo 1.6 TDI Comfortline (77kW/250Nm) - R250 500