EcoSport is built in Brazil, China, India, Thailand and soon, in Russia too

EcoSport is built in Brazil, China, India, Thailand and soon, in Russia too

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Back in the 2000s, Ford do Brasil's EcoSport was one of the first B-SUVs to make it big in South America. Now, the second generation model has arrived in Europe.

Unlike the establishment of Europe’s B-SUV and B-crossover class, the little Ford is an import to the region, being sourced from India. It faces the Nissan Juke (built in England), Renault Captur (Spain), Peugeot 2008 (France), Opel/Vauxhall Mokka (Spain), Jeep Renegade (Italy), and from 2015, the Suzuki Vitara (Hungary), Fiat 500X (Italy), Honda HR-V (TBC but likely Japan or Thailand), Mazda CX-3 (ditto), SsangYong ‘X100’ (Korea) and most probably a competitor from Volkswagen. Hyundai (ix25) and Kia’s European operations may also launch their own entrants to this crowded segment, while the failure and withdrawal of the Urban Cruiser means Toyota needs to rethink its approach should it decide to try again.

B226, the first generation EcoSport, was built in Brazil and sold mostly there. For the follow-up, the One Ford philosophy was adopted, meaning a single engineering centre was nominated to take control of the project for all regions. That doesn’t preclude essential localised changes, with flex-fuel engines available in South America, larger capacity gasoline ones for Mexico and Russia, plus the addition of a diesel for India and Europe. 

The B515 project model was developed at Ford's Camaçari Engineering Center in Brazil's Bahia state. It has taken its time in reaching Europe, a prototype having appeared back in January 2012 at the Delhi auto show. The production version debuted three months later at the Beijing show. The EcoSport went on sale in Mexico in January 2013. Ford is yet to rule out potentially selling the model in the US and/or Canada. 

It does seem odd that with GM having just added the Chevy Trax for the US’ 2015 model year that Ford continues to hesitate in offering a rival. Especially given that FCA will be importing the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade from Italy in 2015. Ford needs to act too, or risk being too late to the segment, ironically when it could have been there two years ago. The main problem is where it would import the model from. India, China, Thailand, Russia or Brazil? None of those countries is ideal for various reasons so perhaps Ford is intending to add production in Mexico. If that’s the case, logic suggests it would go down the same line as the Fiesta at Cuautitlán: both vehicles are based on the B2E platform. 

Depending on the region, up to five engines of this global model are available: 1.0-litre EcoBoost (direct injection and turbocharged) three-cylinder petrol, 1.5-litre petrol, 2.0-litre petrol and 1.5-litre TDCi. The Brazilian market model comes as standard with a 1.6-litre flexfuel engine, while the model for Mexico has the 145hp 2.0-litre engine. The car that came to me for test had the 90PS 1.5 diesel, while torque is 204Nm. Zero to 62mph takes a long 14.0 seconds, and top speed is one mph short of 100. Better news is the CO2 average, which is 120g/km and Combined consumption of 61.4mpg. Things could be better still were there an extra ratio for the manual transmission, as it has just five speeds.

Ford of Europe revealed the model for this region at the Geneva motor show in March last year. It was originally due to go on sale by the end of 2013. In September 2013, a Ford of Britain spokesman told just-auto that the vehicle would be launched across Europe in Q1, 2014 in limited edition form. Of the first 500 units, 120 ended up coming to the UK with the regular model series launched in June. As well as the diesel, here, there's the choice of 1.0 EcoBoost and 1.5-litre petrol engines.

As well as for the local market (launched there in June 2013) and Europe, Ford's Indian plant builds the model for export to Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan. Meanwhile, CAF, the Changan-Ford JV, added production in China during March 2013. This, the Ford YiBo, is manufactured in Chongqing. As for the Thai-produced version, the FTM (Ford Thailand Manufacturing) facility in Rayong commenced production in January 2014. 

There is still one more confirmed plant yet to start up EcoBoost build and it’s in Russia. Ford-Sollers will build both the little SUV and 1.6-litre petrol engines for it, the partners stated in May 2013. In October 2013, Ford issued a statement naming Naberezhnye Chelny as the build location for Russia's EcoSport. A prototype of the Russia-built model was displayed at the Moscow motor show in August 2014. The smaller of the two petrol engines will be made at Ford-Sollers’ Elabuga powertrain plant in Tatarstan from December 2015 but the 2.0-litre will also be offered.

The EcoSport has had some criticism due to the perceived quality of its interior. While the test car was perfectly put together, you wouldn’t call the surfaces of the dashboard and door trims the last word in luxury. Choose the top-spec Titanium X model grade and glossy black plastic surrounds the infotainment buttons, which goes a way towards breaking up the otherwise large expanses of plastic, all of which has the texture of old-school metal-legged stackable stairs. But then the inside of most Fiestas also have the same look and that clearly doesn’t prevent it from being Britain’s best selling car. 

To drive, the EcoSport feels a lot like what it is: a front-wheel drive only Fiesta-based crossover, with SUV looks, though the handling isn’t as crisp as the Fiesta’s. So as to both maximise boot space and toughen up the view from behind, an exterior-mounted spare tyre has been made standard. That means no top-hinged hatchback, which can cause problems. Just as if you were a wheelchair user, if you need to fully open the boot, you'd best leave about a metre behind you as the tailgate is hinged on the (passenger) side and the glass does not open separately.

The boot is as good as most rivals for volume, with 375 cubic metres available thanks to the decision to stick the spare on the tailgate. There aren’t that many places to store things inside the cabin, even if the doors will take large bottles but there’s no cubby behind the handbrake, just a thin swing-up armrest for the passenger. The instrumentation is standard Fiesta, and in my car that meant the pleasant light-blue needles for the speedo and tacho. Your front seat and rear passengers will be pleasantly surprised by how much elbow, head and legroom they have, and the driver’s range of adjustments and space are equally good. 

I could imagine many downsizing retirees or young families being perfectly happy with the EcoSport - it’s good enough to satisfy most European buyers of small SUVs, despite having been designed primarily for lower income markets. Alternatively, for a keen driver who might be trading up from a B segment hatchback such as the 208 or Fiesta, there’s much appeal in the overall roominess but stretching the budget to a Kuga would be a better idea if 4x4 traction, lithe steering and tuned-for-Europe suspension are the top priorities.