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Car reviews - Ford - EcoSport - Titanium 1.0 EcoBoost

Our Opinion

We like
Driving dynamics, feisty 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, noise and vibrtation suppression, high equipments levels, value
Room for improvement
Lack of automatic transmission with 1.0-litre engine, high-octane fuel requirement, hard plastic interior surfaces, rear door that opens from the traffic side

Ford logo28 Nov 2013

By RON HAMMERTON

HOW can a tiny 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine possibly do justice to a five-seat SUV?A few years ago, the idea would have been laughable. Now, motor manufacturers from BMW to Honda are whipping out such engines and applying them to all sorts of vehicles that previously bore engines up to twice the size.

Ford’s new 1.0-litre turbocharged direct-injected EcoBoost engine – the smallest of a family of British-designed powerplants that includes the 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost offered in both Falcon and Mondeo in Australia – has just made its entrance in the new Ford EcoSport that is based on Ford’s well-regarded Fiesta light hatchback.

Compared with three-cylinder engines of yore – think Daihatsu’s Charade – this engine is a jewel that has been named in the International Engines of the Year awards for two years in a row.

Feisty and yet refined – for a three-cylinder that has inherent balance issues – the engine pumps out a handy 92kW of power and 170Nm of torque, which is more on both counts than the 50 per cent bigger 1.5-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engine that is also offered in the EcoSport range (and Fiesta) for those who can’t come at a three cylinder.

The bad news for many buyers is that the smaller engine is offered only with a five-speed manual gearbox, ruling it out for a large chunk of the potential market. The good news is that Ford Australia is working on a plan to equip it with an alternative six-speed automatic transmission at some point. Stay tuned.

At the Australian media launch of EcoSport, we sampled the 1.0-litre engine in the top-of-the-range Titanium. With a vehicle kerb weight of 1280 kilograms and a pair of chunky Aussie blokes on board, we did not expect fireworks.

Nevertheless, the engine pulled like a little Trojan, except for a noticeable hole low in the rev range before the turbo spooled up and pushed the revs into the torque zone above 1400rpm.

With judicious use of the manual gear-change, the front-wheel-drive-only EcoSport can be motivated quite adequately in almost all road and traffic conditions, even in highway passing manouvres at 110km/h.

At idle, when we expected a lumpy resonance from the little engine, it was smooth as glass. The only time the engine’s peculiar three-cylinder design made itself evident was under heavy throttle in the low-to-mid range, where it gave off a distinctive resonance that was somewhat rorty and sporty.

For the record, we also had a short spin the in the four-cylinder variant equipped with the optional ($2000) six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, finding the engine lacking the smaller powerplant’s mid-range pull. Surprisingly, it seemed more buzzy at high revs, but again did a good job of propelling the little hatch, without the pronounced performance gap at the bottom of the rev range.

One problem is that both engines demand more expensive high-octane 95RON fuel, which some of the direct rivals do not.

The auto transmission is the pick of the bunch, just lacking some steering wheel paddles to take full advantage of the manual mode (which is operated by a little switch on the transmission lever).

The manual gearbox occasionally tries to grab fifth instead of third, and seems at odds with the sophistication of the 1.0-litre engine.

Cruising at highway speeds, it was hard to dispute Ford’s claim that the EcoSport is the quietest in its class, not just from engine noise but road and wind noise as well, at least in the top-shelf Titanium form (the entry level Ambiente and mid-range Trend were not offered for testing at the launch).

Ford Australia also let it be known it had given the chassis special local treatment, and again, we came away impressed. Yes, body roll is pronounced – not surprising on a car with a substantial 200mm ground clearance – but handling and roadholding is comparatively tenacious for a vehicle of this ilk, as is the steering turn in that appears to come from a car one class higher.

These dynamics are not at the expense of ride comfort, which remains one of Ford’s fortes, especially in Australia.

Speaking of comfort, the high-mounted seats provide plenty of support, with lumbar adjustment a welcome addition on the Titanium. Even the rear seats – so often a half-hearted effort in vehicles at the low end of the spectrum – provide reasonable under-thigh support, along with sufficient leg-room and head-room for adult passengers. They can even recline, too.

If Ford has saved money anywhere, it is in the interior finishes, which comprise mostly hard plastics, with even some exterior body paintwork peeking through on the A pillars. The lack of central arm-rest was noticed too.

Still, this is expected, and the EcoSport more than makes up for it with high equipment levels that include Ford’s Sync connectivity system that – from mid 2014 – will also be enabled with voice control.

We had a bit of trouble getting the internet radio feature hooked up – owners will need lessons from the salesman – but Gen Y motorists should have few complaints. One whinge could be the lack of satellite navigation availability, which seems odd in a car with such a high level of electronics (even a built-in emergency services call function should the car be crashed).

Another gripe concerns the side-opening rear hatch that swings from right to left, placing the operator on the traffic side of the car in Australia.

Full credit to the designers, however, who hid the door’s handle as a chrome strip in the middle of the taillight cluster – a clever piece of disguise.

The full-sized spare tyre is mounted externally on the back of the vehicle, and while that is not everybody’s cup of tea, it liberates extra space for luggage in the back and also provides a low loading height.

The cargo space is similar to a small hatchback, and should be adequate for a couple of holidays. A family with two or three kids might struggle for more than a weekend away.

Still, natural habitat of these vehicles is the urban jungle, down the well-worn track to the local school, sports grounds and shopping centre. For this, it is well worth considering.

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