An SUV that launched compact SUVs

The Ford EcoSport revolutionised the automotive market with an affordable compact vehicle that offered the utility of an SUV with the comfort of a city sedan. One of its two petrol engines was also so revolutionary that it won the global `Engine of the Year’ award two years in a row. SUVs, as recreational vehicles capable of bad roads were quite expensive and the EcoSport offered a compact but more afford-able model. It was soon followed by several other competitors with smaller and cheaper options until the compact SUV segment has become so popular that the segment saw a 43 per cent growth in India last year.

The EcoSport is a car big enough to comfortably carry five passengers with their luggage but small enough for easy city driving as well. It has big 16” wheels and a high ground clearance to take you over rough roads. It is powered by a 1500 cc diesel, a 1500 cc petrol and another remarkable 999 cc petrol engine as well. The latter 999 cc turbocharged engine delivers an unbelievable 125 bhp comparable to a normal 1600 cc engine. It is quite unorthodox with a three-cylinder layout and is designed unbalanced to compensate for the uneven engine vibrations to give extraordinary performance that has made it a global hit. It is also a fuel miser. On a long test drive I was surprised that this small engine could deliver so much smooth power and astonished that it had such a huge torque that I could have driven the entire 200 km route in third gear in which it could easily accelerate from low speeds to 90 kmph. It was like driving with automatic gears.

It is good looking in a chunky sort of way common to all SUVs with excellent ride and handling on the twisty track. It quite easily hit 130 kmph on the clear patches. It is not an SUV as it has a two-wheel, front-wheel drive but is `Macho’ enough for any urban cowboy. There was plenty of inside space in a car that is just four metres in length for easier parking. The high seat position offers good visibility. The attractive dashboard with an angular design looks like something out of a stealth bomber but comes loaded with every mod con that young drivers could desire. The new FordSync system takes ‘hands free’ driver communications to a new level with a system that allows voice controls for the complete management of infotainment and messaging.

Success breeds competition so it is not surprising that Hyundai quickly launched a slightly longer Creta that offers 1400 cc and 1600 cc diesel engines with 89 hp and 122 hp as well as a 1600 cc petrol model that pumps out 122 hp. They are paired with a six-speed gearbox to make driving easy. It is a good looking car with a more SUV look that has made it a hit.

Where Hyundai goes Maruti cannot be far behind and they have more recently launched their S-Cross with a 88.5 hp 1248 cc diesel engine. It is as long as Creta and offers excellent performance, ride and comfort but lacks an aggressive SUV look. It looks more like an attractive large saloon and while a good buy has not been a huge success.

These ‘crossovers’ offer comfort with moderate off-road capability for those who need to drive over bad roads and especially for younger buyers who want to be seen in a sporty looking car.

(The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist)