The new Fiesta may not have taken off quite as strongly as Ford expected it to, but the American carmaker still has a couple of aces up its sleeve. One of them is the yet-to-be-revealed EcoSport.
Known internally as the B515, this next-generation EcoSport will be unveiled at the 2012 Auto Expo, followed by a launch in Brazil in the first few months of the year. The current EcoSport is quite popular in Brazil and since India has similar market dynamics to Brazil, Ford is hoping to replicate that success here.
The EcoSport is built on Ford’s award-winning, global compact car platform (B2E) developed in association with Mazda, which majors on weight saving and torsional rigidity. Ford wants to milk this platform as much as possible and hence a wide range of body styles will be spun off it. Apart from the saloon, there’s a hatchback version of the Fiesta (expected in India in the not-too-distant future), the EcoSport and finally a mini- MPV (code: B516) which could be called the B-max.
Though the EcoSport shares plenty of bits with the Fiesta saloon under the skin, it looks completely different, and you would be hard-pressed to tell that the two have anything in common. In fact, as per these illustrations, the new EcoSport could pass off as a proper soft-roader, but it’s nothing of the sort. This is in fact a sub-four-metre car with hatchback dimensions, and a tailgate-mounted spare wheel that sticks out past the four-metre mark. Small-car regulations don’t count the spare tyre in the length of a car and Ford has taken maximum advantage of this rule.
What is plainly clear is that this car definitely has SUV written all over it. The upright stance, the high bonnet, generous ground clearance and subtle cladding make you think off-roader, and what’s even better is that it is fresh, boldly designed and well proportioned, all at the same time. There’s an attractive and striking inverse ‘V’ in the nose, the chin has a pair of menacing intakes and the tipped-forward stance makes it look like an alert slip fielder, always ready for action. It looks great from the back as well, with its pillar-less rear windscreen and sharply cut tail-lights. Large wheels are a must for an SUV and the EcoSport for India could get 16 or even 17-inch wheels.
The Fiesta DNA will ensure that this car rides and handles very much unlike an SUV, and the tall stance and high ground clearance will be perfect for Indian roads. Just don’t expect acres of space on the inside, for the EcoSport will be only slightly roomier than the Fiesta, primarily because passengers are sat at a greater height off the floor.
To keep in line with the regs, Ford will use the new 90bhp, 1.5-litre DV5 diesel which debuted in the new Fiesta saloon. Ford may bump up the power of the engine to make this slightly heavier (and less aerodynamic) car perform better, and we expect the overall gearing to be shorter too. But don’t expect the power hike to be significant; the IB5 gearbox carried over from the Fiesta is not rated to handle much more torque, and this will serve as a limiting factor. Also, since the EcoSport will use the identical platform and running gear to the Fiesta, it will be front-wheel drive only, with no
Introducing a petrol version, however, will be much more difficult. A 1.2-litre petrol motor, needed to comply with the small-car rules, would be too underpowered and a 1500 or 1600cc engine would attract a higher excise duty and also make it more expensive and less efficient. So we expect the petrol, if at all, will come only later, once the EcoSport has been well established in our market.
The EcoSport, which cleverly combines the charm of an SUV, the practicality of diesel, cutting-edge styling and a very affordable price tag somewhere in the region of Rs 7-9 lakh, has the makings of a winner. At that price, it will provide a genuine alternative to a midsize car and even a hatchback.
Though the Premier Rio is technically the first compact SUV in the market, the EcoSport will be the first serious player in this virgin niche. This could give Ford a big first-mover advantage in a segment that could explode. This could be the car to watch out for in 2012.
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