Ford Ecosport: Look out, it's all go in Goa

By Liz Dobson

Ford chooses an interesting spot to introduce its zippy EcoSport

The back view is very 90s, but the EcoSport dodges the traffic nicely.
The back view is very 90s, but the EcoSport dodges the traffic nicely.

As I drive into a junction in a busy street in Goa, India, a bus is heading towards my front passenger door, a locally made tiny hatchback sneaks into the gap on my left, and from the right comes a swarm of scooters.

It's hesitate and be engulfed in the pandemonium. Instead, I let the hatchback through and put my foot down on the accelerator to avoid the bus while letting the faster of the scooters sneak ahead.

It is chaos - yet controlled chaos in which cattle always have right of way, locals prefer to overtake on blind corners and your driving is ruled by how often, and how loud, you honk your horn.

I'm only five minutes into the drive and my hands are shaking from the adrenalin rush, but I have to admire Ford for picking Goa as the location for the international launch of its new sub-compact SUV, the EcoSport.

Built on the Fiesta platform the vehicle has been favoured in Brazil where it has been built for 10 years.

But this year the Eco-Sport moves out of South America and will go on sale in 100 countries.

To handle that increase, production starts soon at Ford's US$142 million plant near Chennai, India, so the locally made product gets a local launch too - on the coast of Goa, to where 150 journalists have been flown in over 11 days to try the vehicle that will be at the forefront of what Ford hopes with be a successful line.

Crossover/SUVs will soon be the biggest-selling vehicle type in New Zealand, and the EcoSport will be joining the recently released Ford Goa roads, E9Kuga and Territory, although not until next April.

It will go on sale in Australia this year, with a price tag expected to be not much over A$20,000, but Ford NZ hesitated in selecting the EcoSport so other Asia-Pacific markets nipped in ahead in the production queue.

Details of pricing, specifications and model selections (though a high-end Titanium version will definitely be among the fleet) will be known closer to the EcoSport's New Zealand launch.

And while Aussies will have a choice of the Goa-driven EcoSport paired with Ford's manual 1-litre EcoBoost engine or the 1.5-litre auto, Ford New Zealand has opted for the 1.5-litre, 82 kW/140Nm engine with twin independent variable camshaft timing.

Although the 1-litre EcoBoost was international engine of the year last year, there are no plans to introduce an automatic version to the EcoSport, so Ford NZ has sensibly picked the only auto available.

But it will be interesting to see what competitors will be on sale in New Zealand by the time the EcoSport arrives.

Nissan's Juke now occupies the mini-crossover category though Kiwis will probably see Holden's Trax and Peugeot's 2008 this year. But Toyota NZ will be lamenting its recent decision to stop distribution of the Daihatsu Terios.

In looks, the EcoSport will be nearer the Peugeot 2008 than the eclectic Juke, as it has inherited Kuga's prominent front grille - a large bonnet that sweeps into sculpted bodylines, giving it a strong road presence.

But on the negative side is the EcoSport's side-hinged tailgate with the spare tyre bolted on it - a very 1990s look - which opens to the left, so if you parallel park you have to move near the road to remove items from the boot.

Ford Asia Pacific's SUV boss, Trevor Worthington, defended the side-hinged, spare tyre look.

"We talked to customers all over the world and they were looking for something different," he said. "The tailgate delivers the appearance of an SUV."

The EcoSport gives those customers the high driving position they also wanted, and its 4m length gives room for five adult passengers, and large boot space - 70.5cm of room with the seats reclined.

While the EcoSport is created on Ford's global B-platform, it gains SUV credibility with 20cm ground clearance and the ability to drive through 55cm of water.

But that didn't happen during the drive programme, which thankfully was not during Goa's monsoon season.

Instead, the 130km seaside drive route took us through "urban", motorway and country driving (see page 9) at speeds of up to 100km/h on India-spec tyres that squealed when moving from low speed.

Only the 1-litre EcoBoost manual was available in the Goa test drive fleet, so the Kiwi consumer test was road handling, suspension and Ford's push for a quiet cabin.

Sound-deadening materials have been added in the doors, roof and body, the doors are double-sealed and glass sealing has been improved.

The result was impressive, though the real test will be on New Zealand's bitumen roads that are woeful compared with Goa's roads.

The EcoSport was tested when cornering at speed - oversteering at one tight squeeze - but the ride was firm and its suspension coped with the unexpected speed bumps.

Inside, the EcoSport has the Kuga's clean looks across the dash. There are nine cup holders, and space in the doors for a 1.5-litre water bottle, plus room in the glovebox for six cans, cooled by the air-conditioning system.

The EcoSport has Ford's SYNC voice-activated system, so you can ask it to dial phone numbers, change radio channels or select tunes from your playlist.

Australia gets Emergency Assist - as seen in the Kuga - but Ford NZ is still negotiating with our Government to gain it. It's a simple system that enables the vehicle to "call" emergency services in the event of an accident and give its GPS position.

But Emergency Assist didn't help negotiate the chaotic roads of Goa - that was down to the EcoBoost's dominant road presence and the engine power that helped cut ahead of buses heading for the passenger door.

- NZ Herald

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