Like a wise man once said, when Goa beckons, only fools say no. Okay, we just made that up, but the land of sun and sand made the perfect venue for us to get behind the wheel of the all-new Ford EcoSport. Curvy roads that could put Kim Kardashian to shame, lush greenery, the smell of the sea, and the chance to try out an edgy new set of wheels... yeah, just another day of toil at GQ. Jealous already? Staying true to the concept, the production EcoSport is a surprise package from the get-go, not least due to what sits under the hood. It's a bold design with lots of character, and makes for a unique stance that lets it stand out from the pack. The One Ford design DNA shows through from the trapezoidal front grille, and those menacing looking wrap-around headlamps are reminiscent of Iron Man's eyes. Raised ridges on the hood, roof rails, and the tailgate-mounted spare, all add to the sporty SUV feel. Then there is the wrap-around rear windscreen, the 16-inch wheels, black cladding below the bumpers and the doors, and a slew of other design traits that impart it a contemporary look and make for an imposing road presence. The tailgate handle, which is integrated as part of the right tail lamp, is an interesting addition as well – a blend of form and function that, in a way, sets the theme for the rest of the vehicle. The EcoSport’s raison d’etre lies in offering a compact, practical car for city driving, with the added aspects of a high driving position, and a styling that only an SUV can provide. As you enter, without using the key we might add, well-appointed interiors in black greet you. Many safety and convenience features are packed in, and include climate control, a cooled glove box, push-button start, rear parking sensors, multi-function display, along with front, side, and curtain airbags. The highlight however, is SYNC, the voice-based connectivity solution that’s making its Indian debut with the EcoSport. Powered by Microsoft, it’s a feature that lets you control music playback and make calls using your smartphone paired over Bluetooth. Emergency Assistance is yet another feature that’s a first – automatically initiating a call to emergency services in the event of a mishap. Thankfully we didn’t need to test the latter, but we did get the chance to play around with SYNC, and, surprise surprise, unlike other voice-activated systems on many cars, this one actually works. True, it did take a few attempts to make it understand Indian names, but we’re sure that with time, you could get past its nuances. And, it works like a charm with music too. Under the hood sits Ford’s first 3-cylinder petrol motor, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost. Boasting a series of innovations and awards to its name, the powertrain combines direct fuel injection, turbocharging and variable valve timing to produce 125hp of power and a peak torque of 170Nm from 1,400-4,500 rpm. Mated to a five-speed manual transmission, it doesn’t really make the car go like a bat out of hell, but packs enough grunt to keep you happy if you use it mainly for city driving and have a twitchy right foot. It’s meant to offer the best of both worlds – power and frugality. The performance is quite surprising for a 1.0-litre motor, and this has to be the most refined three-cylinder engine we’ve ever tried. Engine choice will also include a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol (with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic tranny), and a 1.5-litre TDCi intercooled and turbocharged diesel. The suspension has been smartly tuned to balance ride and handling, and handles bumpy roads quite well. The steering is precise, and features pull drift compensation that detects and corrects the pull caused by heavy crosswinds. As such, the vehicle feels surefooted and generates confidence to throw it around the corners at speed, which is exactly what we did. While the all-important question of pricing remains unanswered, there’s little doubt that Ford has a winner on its hands, and one that could potentially leave rivals biting the dust. When bookings open in June, it’s likely to attract those already in the market for a premium hatchback, but who want something a little more to show for that dosh.
- Deepak Dhingra