The latest segment that has emerged as a new winner in the Indian market is the compact SUV segment. With more and more carmakers trying desperately to make a mark in this category, there is already enough competition with cars like Renault Duster and Ford EcoSport – two most successful cars this segment has to offer. So we decided to do our comparison of these two stalwarts and figure out which one emerges as a clear winner.
This is a segment where spending a million bucks in something not unheard of. After all, these cars are supposed to take care of you in every possible way every possible day. From taking you to office every day, helping you finish your daily jobs on the way back home and to take you away from the cities over the weekend. So, when Ford launched its much-talked-about EcoSport with an under-6-lakh starting price, it seemed tastefully done – and Ford had the whole nation talking about the car. Twitter was working overtime, and the various EcoSport hash-tags were at the top of the trends, and the entire bag of new-age and conventional news sources were churning out many stories. Ford must have been very happy indeed! So-much-so that they even sent out press releases stating that there have been over 30,000 bookings for the EcoSport in just 17 days – mind you, that’s only bookings. The Ford EcoSport is so well placed in the market on the price parameter that it fights not just its primary rival – the Renault Duster – but also declares war against a bunch of hatchbacks and the best-selling compact sedans.
The Duster, on the other hand, is a fairly straightforward vehicle – the engine pulls neatly, and though the 110bhp tune is decidedly faster, the 85bhp variant that fits this price band actually drives better in the city. It’s got a more linear torque spread, and a lot of it comes from very low in the rpm band. Plus, the clutch is light, so your calf muscles don’t suffer like they do in the 110bhp version. The ride and handling have always earned the Duster brownie points, and it’s one of the most sorted and accomplished mainstream automotive packages that we’ve sampled in some time. Off late, it’s been my preferred choice for long-distance touring. The Duster surprises you with the way it drives – surprises you in a pleasant way that is!
But the current hottest item around town, the Ford EcoSport, too, is a rather pleasing thing to drive. At this point, I’m going to take you back in time. Ford has always been brilliant in doing driver’s cars, and I’m not even going to talk about the cult names like Sierra RS Cosworth or the RS200, or even the more recent Focus. I’m going to just talk about some of the cars that Ford has brought to India. The Escort may have been a sales disaster, but it wasn’t a bad car really. Then Ford just kept improving the game, and the Ikon was a genuine heart-warmer. They followed that up with the Mondeo and Fiesta. So Ford does know a thing or two about making cars that put a smile on the drivers’ face, but they don’t quite know how to sell them. As a result, quite a lot of their products have bombed in our land.
The EcoSport makes for a very visually arresting car – the front is dynamic and aggressive, while the rear tries its best to add some macho appeal to the EcoSport with the spare-wheel mounted on the tailgate. But there’s a problem. For a start, the EcoSport doesn’t look very SUV-esque – I didn’t say it doesn’t look attractive, but just that it lacks the stance of an SUV. And while the cabin quality of the Duster looks cheap in comparison, the EcoSport looks radical with edgy interior design – and that makes it feel quite sporty. But the quality of the plastics used isn’t great, and I get a sense that the rattles will start settling in quite soon. In fact, when Ishan and Jared drove the EcoSport during its global media drive event in Goa, they did mention some rattles from the cabin being an issue. I’ll still give it the benefit of doubt as it may have been a pre-production piece, but as the quality stands in its final form, I’m not convinced just yet.
The other thing that strikes you is the suspension. It does soak up the bumps very well when going at city speeds, but get the car moving at pace – which it will because the 1.5-litre diesel engine does gain speed rapidly – and the bumps get noticeable. The EcoSport just doesn’t feel as well put together as the Duster. With the Duster you can thrash the car and it won’t complain, but I didn’t get that same feeling of robustness from the EcoSport. While the Duster absolutely annihilates potholes, and you go over them without so much as even lifting off slightly, you do slow down considerably across the same patches in the EcoSport. But the EcoSport does one thing brilliantly, it handles! Yes, the Duster handles mighty fine, but the EcoSport is one chapter ahead in the book of fine-tuned handling. The steering communicates well, and though the gearshift quality isn’t a patch on what Renault has been able to manage, it’s still something you could live with. The equipment levels are impressive, and the EcoSport gets this SYNC system that lets you voice-control most of everything – quite a trick job, and it does actually work! The EcoSport has been criticized slightly for its cabin space, or the lack of it rather, but I’m not much bothered about that – it can accommodate a nuclear family with relative ease, so let’s leave the ‘space’ factor aside.
But the main problem with the EcoSport is the price. No, really, it is. Bear with me while I explain. You see, I understand marketing and I get the idea of making the nation talk about your car by placing it at 5.6 lakhs. But there’s a catch – that’s the basic variant, and is quite barren on the inside. You don’t get a whole long list of options that you’d really like in such a flashy car. And when you start ticking the boxes, it easily goes up to beyond 8.5 lakhs. So, the EcoSport you got attracted towards for its 5.6 lakh sticker price will now cost you 3 lakhs more. And, at that price-point, I would personally add another fifty thousand bucks and get a more robust machine that looks like a genuine SUV. Don’t get me wrong, the EcoSport is an excellent product, and Ford has played their cards extremely well to get people to flock to their showrooms – but it’s only after you get talking to the finance guys that you realize the real price you pay.