Review: Ford's new 'urban SUV', the EcoSport

The 'urban SUV' is a thing, doncha know! Here's how Ford's new EcoSport – brand new to the New Zealand market – stacks up.

After test-driving a couple of different cars over the past year or so, I’ve come to rather dislike the ‘start-stop’ function that seems to be an almost ubiquitous feature of new cars these days.

Start-stop is an automatic shutdown feature that’s designed to reduce the amount of time the engine spends idling, in turn reducing fuel consumption and emissions. It’s all very well and good – and it’s a fun party trick to scare your mother with – but the novelty wears off after a while. And some cars seem to be a bit sluggish on the ‘start’ part, so taking off into tight traffic at intersections doesn’t feel that safe.

So when Ford brought out its new EcoSport – an ‘urban SUV’ that’s existed in South America for some time already (that's it, there, looking cheeky on the left) – and invited me to burn it up in one of them, I was delighted to see they’d decided to leave the start-stop function out. Curious, too, for here is a car with ‘Eco’ in its name, surely designed specifically to be as economical as possible?

Ford does indeed have start-stop in some of their vehicles, but they elected to leave it out when designing the EcoSport, says Scott Walton, manager, powertrain integration and program management Asia Pacific (below left). (That’s quite the title for a business card.) Walton’s been working for Ford since 2006 when he joined as a driveline engineer, working on the development of the Ranger, Falcon and Territory, so he’s witnessed start-stop come into its own over the past few years.

He admits it’s becoming quite common in new cars these days.

“I guess it was a question of Ford’s direction here, which was fuel economy,” Walton says. “Start-stop is becoming more of a common function now, but it’s a question of how you want to deliver the overall fuel economy.

“I think in the EcoSport you can see we’ve put in a lot of effort, not just into the powertrain, but you’ve also got the contribution from the engine transmission, the electronic power-assisted steering, the AC compressor and the exterior styling.

“We decided to take an integrated system approach, rather than just saying let’s put start-stop on as a sort of king hit, which actually is quite expensive as well.”

Fair enough. Ford has put a lot of effort into making sure all the smaller details of the vehicle are in place, such as smart keyless entry (the door unlocks automatically when the driver with the keys is near), a drawer underneath the front passenger seat big enough to hold your laptop, loads of USB and mobile phone charging ports, and a stereo function that turns the sound down when your speed decreases, so you never have to think about turning the volume down manually.

There’s also a nifty feature whereby you can shift some of the air conditioning across to the glove box, which fits six soda cans, and keep them cool. It’s all designed for the urban consumer who drives around town all week but perhaps likes to get out and live it up on weekends. To that end, there’s all the bells and whistles (such as front door bins that can hold 1.5-litre bottles, a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, and all those fun charging points!) but there’s also enough room to whack in some oversized items in the back.

Simply lie the seats down and you can fit a washing machine in the back (see pic below). OK, you don’t often cart a washing machine around on weekends, but think of all that room for the dogs, your sports equipment, or that friend you don’t really want to be seen with.

And speaking of (sorry, rewinding to) air conditioning: the AC system is so effective it can cool the interior cabin from 65 degrees Celsius (the typical temperature of a car that’s been sitting in the afternoon sun) to under 30 degrees in just 10 minutes.

More excitingly for those of us who drive without our glasses, it’s practically a free pass to hit all the potholes you want, as it’s got 200mm ground clearance (and, strangely but usefully for those who live in flood-prone areas, the ability to wade through 550mm of water). Those pesky monsoons will no longer be an issue!

Design has been a heavy feature of making the EcoSport ready for Asian and Oceanic markets (see sketches below), without losing features that lend it fuel economy. Slim headlamps frame a high-mounted trapezoidal grille, giving the car a Ford face, while the lines of the headlamps stretch towards the rear, allowing air to flow around them and thus improving its aerodynamics. And it’s available in fun colours such as Mars Red, Ingot Silver, Lunar Sky and Panther Black.

It has to be said the EcoSport won't win in a drag race with, say, the Ranger, but if you spend a lot of time in the city traffic but get out and about on weekends, and you want to feel like you're king of the road, while saving on fuel $$$, this one's for you.

It’s an SUV, Jim, but not as you know it.

Some of the car's design sketches: