Ford crosses to NZ through India
It's a long way from India to New Zealand. By plane it's about 15 hours non-stop, but for Ford's EcoSport the trip has taken a year.
Ford New Zealand has just launched its version of the compact crossover that joins an ever-increasing list of vehicles in the fastest-growing model segment.
Built on the Fiesta platform, the EcoSport was once only available in Brazil, where it has been built for 10 years. But last year the EcoSport moved out of South America and is on sale in 100 countries.
To handle that increase, Ford built a US$142 million ($165 million) plant near Chennai, India, and last year held an international launch in Goa with six prototypes fresh out of the factory.
I attended the launch, driving the 1.5-litre petrol auto that had 15in local tyres that really weren't suited for local roads.
But a year later I'm reunited with the Chennai-built EcoSport, and this time it's the tamer streets of Auckland rather than the crazy roads of Goa.
Ford NZ has just launched two models -- the entry-level Trend priced at $29,990 and my test model, the $32,990 Titanium -- with the first two shipments selling out.
Ford Australia has on offer the manual transmission EcoSport with the award-winning 1-litre EcoBoost engine and the 1.5-litre auto. But Ford NZ instead wisely decided we Kiwis prefer autos only.
Ford's EcoSport has stayed true to the prototype (pictured) driven in India last year.
That 1.5-litre petrol is paired with the six-speed powershift auto transmission, and the tyres have moved up to 16in over the prototype 15in.
The two NZ models also have electric power assist steering -- that helps with manoeuvring into tight parking spots -- plus seven airbags, cruise control, Ford's Sync voice-activated system, and the nifty feature of a cooled glovebox.
The Titanium then gains keyless entry and power start, plus leather seats and steering wheel, and silver roof rails to visually differentiate between the two models.
The EcoSport is 241mm higher than the Fiesta plus has more headroom and nearly 50mm more boot space than the hatch.
Performance-wise, the EcoSport is more than capable around the city streets and coping on the motorway.
The gear ratios are close in the auto transmission, though there is a slight pause between first and second.
Ford NZ's marketing manager, Chris Masterson, says the company is finding a mixture of buyers for the compact crossover.
The EcoSport features electric power assist steering plus seven airbags, but the left-side hinged door looks dated.
"We have had Fiesta owners who wanted a higher driving position and customers who wanted an SUV-style vehicle but didn't want something the size of the Ford Kuga," he said.
Its buyers so far have included younger people and retirees.
"The EcoSport has broad appeal and we are not pigeon-holing the customer."
Masterson expects at least 600 unit sales this year with the compact crossover segment to be joined soon by Honda's Vezel.
But for now the EcoSport's main rival is Holden's Trax, which has a similar price and styling but has a 1.8-litre petrol engine.
Though both the EcoSport and Trax have prominent grilles, the Ford loses points for its rear. It has a 1990s style left-side hinged door with the spare tyre mounted on it.
Not only is the look dated but as it is left-hinged when you parallel park you have to stand on the road side to remove gear from the boot.