The Renault Duster opened up the compact SUV segment in India like never before, and it has been a huge success ever since its launch. But now it has a credible rival in the form of the Ford EcoSport. It’s even smaller than the Renault (it’s under four metres long), but what it lacks in size, it claims to make up in premium feel. So, is it enough to topple the reigning king?
Renault’s Duster is powered by the familiar 1.5 dCi engine we’ve seen in the Logan, Fluence, Scala and Pulse, as well as a number of Nissans, and in the top-of-the-line variant we are testing, it produces 108bhp. The Duster takes a bit longer than the EcoSport to spool up its turbo, so when you cross the 2000rpm mark, there’s surge in power that can be a bit irritating in stop-and-go traffic. However, if you keep your foot down on the throttle pedal, it is the Duster that is the more rewarding car to drive. The engine builds revs quickly and the Duster does the 0-100kph sprint quicker (11.88sec versus the Ford’s 13.72sec). It’s on an open road that you can enjoy the Renault the most and it is a very good cruiser too. But in the city, the combination of an unprogressive, heavy clutch and turbo lag spoils the fun.
On the contrary, the EcoSport’s 89bhp, 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine is at its best in traffic. This has a lot to do with this motor’s ready responses and instant delivery of power at low to medium engine speeds. The Ford is happy to amble around in third gear, even at speeds as low as 30-40kph, and tap the accelerator and it picks up the pace quite rapidly. This is in contrast to the Duster, which needs you to execute almost twice as many downshifts. It’s also got the lighter clutch of the two and its gearbox has a nice mechanical feel to it.
However, the EcoSport tends to run out of breath on the highway, particularly when you have to execute a high-speed overtaking move.
The Ford is by far the more refined car, but this is down to the sound insulation rather than the engine. Where the Duster’s motor has a sharp clatter at idle and feels gruff when worked hard, the EcoSport’s motor feels composed. It only gets noisy closer to the redline, and for the most part, it sounds and feels almost petrol-like on the move.
Ride and handling
Both cars really impress in this department. Despite their tall stance with high ground clearance, they are as easy to drive as your average hatchback. The Duster’s suspension feels very absorbent over potholes and large speed breakers alike. The thick tyres also do their bit to cushion you from surface blemishes. What’s also nice is that the Duster maintains its poise over big bumps, which can catch the EcoSport out. Straight-line stability is also really good, but then the Ford doesn’t disappoint on this count either.
The EcoSport delivers a somewhat pliant ride too, but it does ‘thunk’ over big bumps and there is a constant pitter-patter over broken roads. The Ford doesn’t iron out surface imperfections quite as well as the Duster. However, the EcoSport is more fun to drive. The stiff suspension setup lends it a certain agility, it’s got the better-weighted steering and, thanks to its good body control, it’s really entertaining to drive on twisting roads.
By contrast, the Duster’s soft suspension makes it roll quite a bit in corners, but it always feels in control and you get good feedback (sometimes too much) from the steering. Still, for day-to-day city driving, you’ll like the lightness of the EcoSport’s steering, while the Duster requires more effort to steer.
Cabin ambience is where you’ll find a stark difference between these two. The Duster’s dashboard was updated for India to feature a fresh design, two-tone colour scheme and slightly better ergonomics, but it still falls short on quality, and this is one of the car’s weakest points. The plastics all over the cabin feel hard and cheap, controls like those for the air-con are fiddly to use, and the ergonomics are still pretty woeful (the electric mirror adjuster is under the handbrake, for example). Moreover, the overall design and layout looks a bit plain and not special enough.
The EcoSport’s interior is in another league; it is very similar to the Fiesta saloon, and that’s no bad thing. The dash has a modern, angular design, dominated by the V-shaped centre console. However, there are a lot of buttons here, and the dashboard’s sharp angle means they can be hard to read on the move. The advantage of this raked dashboard, which stretches far ahead to meet the windscreen, is that it gives a better sense of space than the Duster, which has a more upright dash. The downside is it makes it hard to judge where the front of the EcoSport ends.
The Ford’s front seats offer a lot of leg and head room, and are very snug and supportive. The Duster’s front seats are larger, and although they are quite flat and unsupportive, they are very comfortable.
Move to the back and the Duster wins some more points. The interior is wider, so sitting three abreast here is comfier than in the narrow EcoSport. However, the chunky AC unit between the front seats does eat into the middle passenger’s legroom. On overall rear legroom, the two are pretty evenly matched, with neither being exceptional. But the Ford makes better use of vertical space, and in addition, your thighs are better supported. These being tall SUVs, both have plenty of head room in the back. The EcoSport’s 3999mm length comes back to bite it in the boot however, where its 362-litre space is trounced by the Duster’s 475 litres.
Equipment & safety
The Ford EcoSport comes in four trims – Ambiente, Trend, Titanium and Titanium Optional. In terms of equipment, the base Ambiente trim comes with tilt and telescopic steering, a music player with Aux-in, USB and Bluetooth, electric wing mirrors, remote locking, a multi-function display, front power windows and 15-inch alloy wheels. The top-spec Titanium Optional trim gets 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control, a cooled glovebox, front fog lamps, keyless entry and reverse parking sensors. It also gets push-button start, which doesn’t feature on any of the Renault Duster’s four trims. The Duster RxZ gets a lot of the goodies the EcoSport has, including electric mirrors, a fully connected audio system, steering-column mounted audio controls (steering wheel-mounted on the EcoSport), driver’s seat height adjustment and front fog lights. It even gets a rear air-con unit, which the EcoSport misses out on. The Duster also has an available option pack on the RxZ trim that replaces the integrated audio system with a touchscreen sat-nav system. There’s no climate control, though.
In terms of safety, the EcoSport gets dual airbags and ABS with EBD on the Titanium trim. Titanium Optional adds Emergency Assist side and curtain airbags, which brings the total count to six. The Duster, on the other hand, only gets dual front airbags, even on the top-spec RxZ trim that comes with ABS with EBD and brake assist.
The Duster’s SUV looks and car-like driving manners are rather strong points. As a result, its few misgivings like the rough-around-the-edges build and basic interiors seemed like a small price to pay. However, the EcoSport does everything the Duster does, but in a more sophisticated, up-to-date and desirable manner. Sure, the Duster feels the more powerful of the two and even rides better, but at the end of the day, it’s the Ford that comes out on top, especially considering the price advantage the car is likely to have when launched.