Review: Ford EcoSport

I’m trying to remember the last time I was less surprised by a photo than this one of a Ford EcoSport on its roof – the result of holding the press launch on some of the world’s most insanely dangerous roads in India.

I think it would have to be when I saw a picture of the offspring of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and they turned out to be supernaturally attractive.

Having just returned from the EcoSport launch, in Goa, myself, the only thing that really surprises me about this picture is that I’m not in it myself, crawling from the wreckage.

Ford chose to launch its new tiny Territory (or downsized Kuga if you prefer) in India, not because they wanted to kill off the world’s motoring media, but because it’s where the car is going to be built – at a flash new factory in Chennai – and where most of them will be sold.

The could, of course, have launched the car in the middle of a colosseum filled with starved lions and giant crocodiles instead, but that would have been a safer option. The roads in the touristy Goa region are apparently not a patch on the real madness of India’s big cities, but they’re bad enough.

Suicide seems to be the main aim for the local motorist when he or she sets out in the morning, usually on a scooter, with three or four other members of their family, and no helmets (to be fair, you do sometimes see people carrying a helmet on their arm, apparently they’re very concerned about elbow safety).

The very lucky few actually drive cars, but, like the EcoSport, they tend to be tiny, because the Indian government charges a 12.5 per cent excise on anything longer than 4m, possibly to make the roads less crowded. It hasn’t worked.

Cows, dogs, pigs, ducks, pedestrians and the occasional boulder do their bit to make the experience colourful, but it’s the way people prefer to overtake on blind corners, seemingly with their eyes closed, that really keeps your pulse at rave-party levels.

Texting while riding is another thing you don’t see much of in other country’s scooter folk.

As a result of all this, it was hard to fully analyse the EcoSport – for a start we could never get above 80km/h, partly because of traffic and partly because we were too scared of what was around the next corner – but we can report that it’s quite roomy for such a small car, even in the rear.

The steering provides pretty good feedback and the ride and refinement are far better than you’d imagine in a car obviously built to a price (expect a $25k ballpark when it arrives here in December), but there is a bit of understeer and tyre squeal if you’re brave enough to attack an Indian corner enthusiastically (to be fair, some of the squealing might have come from me).

The real party piece, though, is the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, a three-cylinder marvel of engineering that provides the performance of a 1.6-litre traditional engine – 92kW and 170Nm – and the economy you’d expect from a diesel engine.

It’s a free-revving, fun-sounding powerplant, aided by clever turbocharging technology, but it does have a torque hole that’s almost the size of the potholes we were driving through.

As far as we could tell, it didn’t have a tendency to throw itself on its roof for no reason, although it was a bit rolly-poly at times, so we can only imagine that the poor journalist who inspired this rollover was aided and abetted by a scooter, a cow, an elephant or possibly all three.

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