In your in­ter­face

The cabin plas­tics don’t flat­ter but the hi-tech driv­e­train and in­fo­tain­ment setup lift the Ecos­port above the pack

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

IT was al­ways go­ing to be a good thing, a baby SUV based on a jacked-up Ford Fi­esta. The EcoS­port re­alises that po­ten­tial but it is lit­er­ally a case of a hitech driv­e­train be­ing matched to a ho-hum in­te­rior.

Made in In­dia, the cabin sac­ri­fices soft-touch plas­tics for hard but durable sur­faces. That’d make it ideal for wip­ing down af­ter off-road du­ties … but Aus­tralia is only tak­ing the front-wheel drive ver­sion.

VALUE

This is a city car with an el­e­vated driv­ing po­si­tion, plenty of fea­tures and the right price. Along with the re­fined drive, th­ese will help lure buy­ers away from its ri­vals — of which there are aplenty, from the Holden Trax and Nis­san Juke to Peu­geot’s 2008 and the soon-to-ar­rive Re­nault Cap­tur.

In the EcoS­port, the base Am­bi­ente costs $xx, xxx. It is pow­ered by a 1.5-litre four­cylin­der en­gine (82kW/140Nm) mated to a five-speed man­ual gear­box and rid­ing on 15-inch steel rims.

Move up to the $xx, xxx Trend and there’s a choice of the 1.5-litre mill with a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion or the more re­spon­sive 1.0-litre turbo three-cylin­der with a five-speed man­ual. It picks up body­coloured side mir­rors, 16-inch al­loys, front fog lights, cruise con­trol and a chilled glove­box.

The range-top­ping Ti­ta­nium costs $xx, xxx and gains leather­ac­cented seats, auto head­lamps and wipers, key­less start and re­verse park­ing sen­sors.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The adage ap­plies here: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Ford’s tur­bocharged di­rect­in­jec­tion 1.0-litre triple-cylin­der (92kW/170Nm) em­bar­rasses plenty of four-pot­ters, in­clud­ing those in the Trax and 2008. It is rarely found want­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, it is only be­ing sold with a five-speed man­ual gear­box. Buy­ers who want a self-shifter will have to set­tle for the 1.5 with less power and torque.

Ford’s Sync in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is now fit­ted with emer­gency as­sist, which works with a paired phone’s Blue­tooth con­nec­tion. It will con­nect to emer­gency ser­vices in the event of an ac­ci­dent — it is trig­gered by the airbags be­ing de­ployed or the fuel-pump shut-off be­ing ac­ti­vated.

DE­SIGN

The scaled-down Ter­ri­tory styling makes the EcoS­port an in­stantly iden­ti­fi­able mem­ber of the Ford fleet. It looks tough and its 200mm ride height im­bues it with the “com­mand drive” seat­ing po­si­tion that en­thrals many city-car buy­ers.

Front and rear oc­cu­pants alike get more space thanks to the stretched Fi­esta plat­form. The boot is also rea­son­able at 362L, bol­stered by tum­ble­down rear seats.

The tail­gate opens from the side but the EcoS­port’s di­men­sions mean it can be par­tially opened with­out bang­ing the car be­hind in shop­ping cen­tre car parks.

In­te­rior fea­tures are also lifted from the Fi­esta and there are plenty of them, from Blue­tooth to Sync, Ford’s voice­con­trolled in­fo­tain­ment setup. Stor­age is a high­light, with 20 com­part­ments in­clud­ing nine cup/bot­tle hold­ers, al­beit housed in or moulded from cheaper, harsher plas­tics.

In­con­sis­tent panel fit is prob­a­bly a big­ger con­cern. It’s no worse than first­gen­er­a­tion Thai-built ve­hi­cles but shows the as­sem­bly line on the sub­con­ti­nent still has a lit­tle to learn.

SAFETY

Ford ex­pects the EcoS­port to earn its place in the five-star field when tested, a safe as­sump­tion given the Fi­esta’s score and the fact that Aus­tralian ve­hi­cles get the full airbag treat­ment, in­clud­ing a driver’s knee­bag.

DRIV­ING

In the cut and thrust of city traf­fic the EcoS­port is a win­ner. The man­ual gear­box is a sweet

shifter and doesn’t re­quire too many down­shifts to keep the three-cylin­der en­gine on the boil, even up steep hills.

Peak torque surges in from just 1500rpm, so that’s the magic min­i­mum for the miniSUV. In prac­tice, keep it above 2000rpm. It’s not as quick as a turbo Nis­san Juke but is a match for the Holden Trax.

The Fi­esta’s sus­pen­sion has been stiff­ened to cope with the ex­tra weight and height of the EcoS­port.

Body roll is min­i­mal and cor­ner­ing speeds are as high as most driv­ers will dare.

There is a sen­sa­tion of weight over the front wheels when tip­ping in down­hill but the steer­ing af­fords enough feed­back to avoid scrub­bing the tyres with des­per­ate tight­en­ing ma­noeu­vres.

Cargo space is ad­e­quate — there’s more height than width — but drop the rear seats and it will swal­low most do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances.

Driv­ers will have to try hard to match the claimed 5.7L/100km fuel use. Carsguide man­aged mid-eights, though we were ad­mit­tedly driv­ing harder than the av­er­age gen Y or empty-nester.

VERDICT

As a prac­ti­cal city run­about — and the in­te­rior plas­tics guar­an­tee that — the EcoS­port is hard to fault.

It goes well, turns tight and comes with all ameni­ties our in­ter­face-ob­sessed so­ci­ety ex­pects in a car.

CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@carsguide.com.au

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