Get ready for the EcoSport

Get ready for the EcoSport

As we touched down in Goa, there was an undoubted sense of excitement. Yes, every time a new car rolls in I still get pretty excited -- for myself of course -- but also for the market. India's roads may be clogged, but there is still a massive hunger for the world's best automobiles. The Ford EcoSport and perhaps only the Honda Amaze will be the two vehicles to satisfy that hunger big time this year!

The EcoSport was first shown to us as a concept in January 2012, and has teased us ever since making appearances at global motor shows, and indeed launching in Brazil and China too. But now it's finally ready for India. The car is just that -- a car -- which looks like an SUV. This is built on the Ford B platform which also spawns the Fiesta in India. The EcoSport is also sub-4 metres long, meaning it gains the excise benefit offered to small cars and hence will likely be aggressively priced when it formally launches in mid-June.

The EcoSport will be available with three engines options -- the 1-litre ecoboost petrol, 1.5-litre Ti-VCT petrol, and the 1.5-litre TDCi diesel. The 1.5 Ti-VCT will have the option of a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (same as the one in the Fiesta) while the rest of the variants will sport a five-speed manual.

While the two 1.5-litre engines are familiar to us from the Fiesta sedan, the real gem to focus on is the all-new 1-litre ecoboost. This is a new small three-cylinder engine from Ford that's created big waves worldwide. The idea is to offer a smaller displacement engine, with bigger engine output. So the ecoboost's performance is akin to that of a conventional 1.6-litre engine thanks to some smart new innovations and, of course, a turbocharger. The car is only offered in front wheel drive, and no 4X4 option is envisaged -- even in other global markets.

This is the variant I drove in Goa, when we were invited to be the first few to test the car. First impression? The car is very agile, active and fun. The 1-litre engine is not inadequate as many had feared it would be, offering an impressive 122 BHP and a magnificent 170 Nm of torque. Low-end and mid-range torque is very satisfying in fact, making city driveability very convenient and pleasant. Frequent gear changes are also unnecessary, and the manual gearbox in fact is very smooth and easy to use.

Ford claims a mileage of 18.9 kmpl, but the car's on-board real-time mileage calculator in its trip computer screen showed me anything between 7.8 and 11.9 at best. I will discount this somewhat as a reading issue, coupled with really bad Goa traffic I had to contend with, but having said that the claimed mileage on this and other variants will need to be tested once we have the car for longer.

The car can seat five fairly comfortably. The top-end has six airbags, and leather seats, but there are no rear AC vents. The AC, though, is powerful, not too noisy and is pretty effective too, keeping us comfy in Goa's sweltering over 40 degrees and 86 per cent humidity. The top variants also sport Ford's Sync system, co-developed with Microsoft. It's essentially an infotainment system that integrates your phone with the car, allowing you access your phonebook, text messages and music, all through voice commands. Of course, voice commands are also available for non-phone related features. This allows for the driver to keep her/his hands on the wheel at all times, and not get distracted.

The system also uses a GPS interface to send out an alert in case of an accident. The emergency response feature is activated only if the accident involves airbag deployment or the auto fuel pump cut-off kicks in. In this case Sync will prompt the driver and give a 10-second window in which to make the call. If the driver does not choose to cancel this call, or is incapacitated to do so, Sync will call 108 (India's national emergency number) through the user's paired Bluetooth phone and automatically read out the vehicle's GPS coordinates so emergency services can send help. All this happens on speaker, so the driver can also speak once the system has passed on the basic location information. How effective this is remains to be seen, depending on the alacrity and capability of the emergency services themselves in various states, but as a feature it is a first, and a pretty cool one.

Ford is hoping for a big volumes success with the EcoSport and so I do expect aggressive pricing that will challenge not just the likes of the Renault Duster and Maruti Suzuki Ertiga, but also the premium hatches and compact sedans like the Hyundai i20, Volkswagen Polo, Honda Amaze, and the Hyundai Verna. Ford does plan to export the EcoSport to Europe later this year, from its Indian manufacturing base, so expect big volumes when it comes to the production. High local content will help Ford's pricing, though the localisation will carry on through this year. Expect more from us on the other variants and, of course, the pricing as we get closer to the launch in June.