Back in the day (particularly before they were banned on aircraft) every self-respecting man carried a Swiss army knife.
Okay that's a fallacy, but they really were that popular then; so much so that even as a student I carried one around in my bag because they were very handy and can perform tasks equivalent to the contents of a decently-equipped toolbox.
Got a screw loose? Just pull out the screwdriver. Forgot to cut your nails? Fold out the scissors. Got something in your teeth? Pull out the white, plastic toothpick. All these and more can be accomplished using one seemingly simple, compact and affordable device.
The question now is can the same principles applied to make a multi-tool be applied to a car? Ford seems to think so, and they're trying it with this: the Ford EcoSport... a model that the company brands as a crossover that can do nearly everything and more.
Is there any substance to the marketing, branding and positioning? We're about to find out.
Ford appears to have approached the design of the EcoSport with cleanliness and cleverness in mind. The EcoSport begins with a rather high tech and highly detailed fascia. The large octagonal lower radiator intake dominates the front and differentiates it from the Fiesta that uses what Ford designers call the “inverted Superman” grill. Then there are the hexagonal headlamps connected by a slim grill with daylight running LEDs that are quite cool to look at. The hood features a pair of strakes up to the plenum, though I do wish that they found a way to better conceal the wipers when at rest.
The lower edges of the front bumper, the rear bumper as well as the rocker rails are all bare gray plastic pieces; all the better if you hit a tall speed bump. The trailing edges of the headlamps form the sill line all the way to the back while all the grip-type doorhandles are all aligned with the character lines that stretch to the taillights.
The tailgate itself is rather clever particularly with the centrally-mounted spare tire (to generate more luggage space inside) and the neatly concealed taigate button and handle; it's almost an optical illusion. What could really use an upgrade are the rolling stock, as the standard 16-inchers just don't seem to do the clever design elements justice.
The cabin too has been well thought out and definitely had plenty of attention paid to it. Upon first glance, the dashboard appears to be the same as the Fiesta, but only when we put them side by side did we realize the dashboards are actually quite different. The architecture is similar, but Ford changed many details such as the A/C vents and made the dash a bit taller.
Also of note are the front seats as they are far more comfortable than the Fiesta's, particularly with its better and wider cushion; yes, bigger (and wider) guys can be quite comfortable in the driver's seat. Rear legroom is okay but not stellar, though the seats are quite comfortable too. Space-wise, Ford claims the Fiesta, err, EcoSport can swallow a decent sized washing machine with the rear seats folded down, though I can only imagine what that kind of weight can do to the back of the seats.
The EcoSport comes with a tech suite that is comparable to or (as the case is) even surpasses most of the larger and more expensive models one or two classes up. This being the Titanium, this particular EcoSport gets the full package (on top of the standard power features) such as the Sync audio system with a varietyo of connectivity options (USB, Bluetooth, Aux), 6-speakers, voice command recognition, automatic climate control, steering wheel buttons for the audio and a multi-info display. Ford was also able to fit features such as the sunroof, leather seats, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and a folding center armrest for the driver.
Powering the EcoSport is Ford's 1.5 liter Ti-VCT engine mated to a 6-speed PowerShift transmission. Fiesta owners will recognize the engine, though it has been retuned somewhat to deliver 110 PS (2 PS less from the Fiesta) and 142 Nm of torque (2 Nm more than the Fiesta). We really wish it came with either TDCI or EcoBoost that our UK friends get, but it looks like those two are a long way away from reaching ASEAN. Oh, and ASEAN EcoSports are purely front-wheel drive, so it's best to keep them away from challenging off-road situations; flat trails with compacted terrain are okay though.
On the highway, the EcoSport is pretty good; exhibiting better stability that is typical of small cars or even small crossovers. In terms of power the EcoSport is okay, though it feels like this crossover's power unit might a bit overworked the more passengers are in the car. Open road handling is pretty good, though don't expect Fiesta-levels of nimbleness through the corners; it's still a taller car that can ford (no pun intended) water up to 500 mm, or so they claim. Most deep puddles (i.e. gutter deep) that characterize tropical monsoons shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Crosswinds while cruising at 100 km/h are not a problem, and fuel economy with 1 passenger is pretty decent at 14.2 km/l (89 km/h average with two stops).The fuel economy figure drops significantly in moderate city traffic (as expected) to 8.5 km/l (21 km/h average), but that's not the issue.
The only real problem with the EcoSport Titanium is the same powertrain that can help deliver better fuel economy; particularly the gearbox. There's no doubt that on the highway the combination of the 1.5 liter Ti-VCT engine and the 6-speed dual clutch transmission works well as a team (like our drive of the RHD EcoSport in Thailand). The issue arises when driving within city limits and speeds, as the EcoSport gearbox's manner of operation borders on annoying.
It's an inherent trait of most (if not all) dual clutch gearboxes to have shift shock at low speeds and low gears; meaning it can get noticeably rough when driving in heavy metro traffic. Eventually we found a way compensate for the shift shock by lifting off the throttle ever so slightly when it seems like the gearbox is about to shift from first to second and second to third. Also, the SelectShift switch (the +/- buttons on the side of the shifter) is rather pointless; perhaps they should have put in paddles, a gate-type sport mode or deleted it altogether.
Despite that, the advantages put forth by the EcoSport are significant. Ford's new “gamechanger” (cliché as it sounds) offers the consumer a stylish package with the versatility, usability, fuel economy, technology, ride height, seating and much more within a very compact B-Segment crossover. What's more is that Ford was able to do it for a range-topping pricetag of PhP 975,000. The Ford EcoSport made such a profound impact in the entry-level market (both here and abroad) that other companies are rushing to come up with their own B crossovers such as Tata, Mahindra and even Honda with the Vezel.
We can't really say that the EcoSport drives outstandingly well as an SUV or as a car, but it drives adequately well enough and does it in such a cleverly-designed and incredibly well-packaged vehicle. Sure, the Ford EcoSport may be a creation with many compromises but mind you, the compromises are where the EcoSport draws its best selling points from, much like the venerable Swiss army knife.
Just don't look for a toothpick or tweezers.