We’re very late. The sun has already come up, our Brazilian journalist colleagues are running late, and then once away, we land slap-bang in the middle of Sao Paulo’s mid-morning stampede. They said it would be bad, but this is ridiculous. The gridlock on the Ayrton Senna freeway is so intense, so tight and so unending, it makes rush hour in Banglore feel like a breeze. An hour and a half later, still on the elevated freeway, still on the way out of the city and still in the jam, I’m casually informed that our destination is around 130km away!
Then, finally, salvation. A couple of speed breakers, a toll plaza, and beyond it open roads. It’s a sight for sore eyes alright – perfectly paved elevated road, perfectly marked wide lanes, long sweeping corners and gently banked sections, all rolled nicely into the mix. Time to loosen the reins on the 1.6-litre motor and see what the EcoSport is really like. First Impressions are First good. There’s enough torque in the mid-range to get the relatively light 1243kg EcoSport moving quite effortlessly, the Speedo needle climbs past 110kph easily and speed continues to build as I keep y foot down, the motor pulling quite happily. The road ahead is empty, so soon the speedo is up to 140 and climbing.
Then, out of the blue, an 18-wheeler decides to change lanes on a whim. I feel right at home; must be an Indian trucker. I get sharply on the brakes in a straight line, bleed a lot of speed and steer smoothly into the next lane. The Ford executes the change of track without a hiccup. Yes, I know this car’s based on the Fiesta and that automatically means good driving manners, but this is something else. The rest of the expressway is traversed without incident, the Ford holding on to high speeds as easily as a low-slung saloon. Wind noise is well contained, the roar from the tyres is pretty subdued, despite the big lugs in the rubber, and the kilometers just fly. Soon we are at our exit. Time for some smaller roads and some corners.
As luck would have it, the road is a dream. Strung between sections of low-lying hillocks, it dips and rises, has both tight sections and free-flowing corners, and seems just perfect. I start slow; this is an SUV after all and there will be some amount of body roll. Ten minutes into said road, however, I’m left scratching my head. Sure I’m going easy, but the EcoSport just doesn’t roll like something with its belly floating 200mm above the tarmac should. As on the Fiesta, the steering is both light and feelsome, I love the fact that there is zero slack and this, together with the good body control and beautifully weighted brakes, makes this car an absolute joy to drive, even at a slightly relaxed pace. The light but very accurate gearbox is super slick, it’s a pleasure to use and the best bit is that it doesn’t mind being hurried too much either.
Inevitably the pace increases. I use more of the 115bhp on offer and carry more speed into corners. But even though I’m pushing the EcoSport much harder, there’s still no loss of composure, not much body roll and not too much dive from the suspension. And the message from the steering wheel is clear: ‘there’s plenty more grip, please push on’. And I do. The front tyres are now scrambling for grip on the way into corners, the EcoSport skating mildly over the road. And though there’s a bit of roll and yaw on the way out, the steering keeps chattering, giving me confidence all the time. It just feels special.
Eventually we get to a place where we can shoot. Time to stop, pull out the cameras and admire the car; give that just-rolled-out-of-the-motor-show look a once-over. And is there any doubt that, in the flesh, out in the real world, Ford’s EcoSport looks just insane? We’re used to seeing outlandish and futuristic designs under the arc lights at car shows, and in that setting they don’t stand out as much. But seeing the EcoSport on the road, barely altered from the concept car revealed at the Auto expo less than a year ago, come as something of a shock.
What sets the eyebrows floating, of course, is that massive, open-mouthed grille. To give it a very different feel from the Fiesta, the high bonnet line machine gun pod-like fog lights and heavily raked windscreen make the EcoSport look even more radical. The slot-like headlights add further aggression, the flared, wheel arches give it a well-planted look and the rising beltline makes it look tipped forward. Neutral grey cladding runs around the bottom of the car, the 16-inch alloys are reasonably large and Ford has done a good job with the rear of the car as well. The C pillar and wraparound rear windscreen mesh together well, the rear door handles is set in the tail-light and the rear-mounted spare wheel is well integrated too. The placement of the spare wheel, however, is key; it will help the EcoSport duck under four metres; vital if Ford wants the small car excise benefit in India. If you’ve spend time in the new Fiesta, you will be familiar with this car’s interiors. Stepping into the cabin is quite easy because the car is just the right height, there’s plenty of legroom for tall drivers due to the higher seating position, and the cabin does feel slightly airier in the front. The funky ‘wedgy’ styling works well here too. The EcoSport’s dash is actually even more angular than the Fiesta’s. The triangular vents are larger than the saloon’s, the gear lever is set lower down, and though this car didn’t come with digital climate control, we should get it in India. The digital ‘command centre’ on the centre console is just as interesting and fun to use. Plastic quality also seems to be slightly improved from the Fiesta. The material covering the dash looks much improved, the build and quality of the steering is fantastic and the leather seats on this car help lift the ambience of the cabin. Another nice touch is the padded door pads, especially if you happen to knock your elbow on the armrest.
The rear door is slightly smaller than the front, and as a result ingress isn’t as easy Passengers in the rear seat, however, have sufficient legroom to be comfortable. There’s plenty of space for your feet under the front seats and, though the seating position is a bit upright, comfort is pretty good. But this is still a compact SUV, so don’t expect acres of legroom, or a particularly airy cabin. You are sat higher than in the front seat, so visibility out isn’t too bad, and you can adjust the backrest, but the Duster still has more space in the rear.
The car I was testing didn’t have all the kit on it, but EcoSports can be specified with stuff like climate control, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights. Boot space is at a premium though – 362 litres, which is not much more than some large hatches, and the opening is narrow too. You can, however, flip the seats to increase boot space. Also disappointing is the fit of the rear door. There’s quite a gap where the door meets the rear fender, and it looks unsightly from some angles.
On the way back to Sao Paulo, I get to experience the EcoSport in less extreme traffic over some back roads, similar to our own; roads with plenty of potholes and ridges. The EcoSport’s sporty suspension setup felt too stiff here. While smaller bumps are absorbed with just a shimmy, larger craters register as thuds and upset the composure of the car. Ford, as ever, need to find a good compromise between comfort and grip for India, but they’ve always done a stellar job, so we assume they will get it right on the Ecosport too.
The first-generation EcoSport was a car designed and engineered in Brazil for Brazil. This new car, however, will be exported all over the world, with India being one of the first markets to get the car. It’s no surprise – the appeal of the car is just massive. Very attractive to look at, fantastic to drive, comfortable, sufficiently spacious on the inside, well equipped and just the right size for city streets, the EcoSport is just the kind of car Indian customers want. The Renault Duster has recently proved just that. Equipped with a 1.5 diesel for India, a modern direct-injection turbo petrol motor (the 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost) and even the option of a twin-clutch gearbox, the EcoSport has the potential, if priced somewhere in the region of Rs 6-8 lakh, to be the most successful Ford ever sold in India. Let’s hope Ford gets it right.