Can Tata’s first compact SUV overtake the founder of the segment – the Ford EcoSport?
Up until mid-2017, if you were in the market for a sub-4 metre SUV, there weren’t many petrol-powered options to choose from. However, those days are in the past. Buyers now have the option to choose between the petrol iterations of the Ford EcoSport and the Tata Nexon. Ford has recently given the EcoSport a comprehensive facelift to make it feel fresh and fitted it with a new petrol motor, while Tata has only just made its debut in the segment with the Nexon. Does Ford’s experience in the segment sideline the Nexon or can the youthful exuberance of the upstart outshine the veteran?
The EcoSport’s facelift is minimal – the overall stance, the silhouette, and, of course, the much-loved tailgate-mounted spare wheel remain unchanged. But it does come fitted with a wider front grille, redesigned headlight cluster and larger 17-inch wheels. Yes, while it may be difficult to tell the new version apart from its predecessor from certain angles, there’s no denying that its clean design makes it look fresh even today.
The Nexon, on the other hand, looks unconventional – courtesy of its bulging curves and svelte lines. While it is trendy, I wonder how well it’ll age? Nevertheless, design is a matter of preference. What can be said is that both cars certainly make a statement.
A quick look inside both cars is enough to make the competition even more intense. The EcoSport has an all-new dashboard dominated by a large 8.0-inch touchscreen with Ford’s Sync 3 technology. The system is easy to use and responds well to touch inputs. The quality of plastics is good, and, just like the old EcoSport, the front seats are supportive – although the side bolstering isn’t as hip-hugging as the Nexon. The cushioning is better in the Ford, and it’s a lot easier to find the right driving position – something that Tata still hasn’t managed to perfect. Tata does score a few extra points for its neatly laid out dash though. The touchscreen, however, isn’t as large, intuitive or crisp as the one in the Ford. Moreover, quality issues continue to plague Tata, as the Nexon’s central locking system kept making a clicking sound throughout our drive (and has done in the other Nexons we’ve tested as well).
The EcoSport has always been rather constrained in the back, and the refreshed model is no different. Leg and knee room is limited, especially when compared to the Nexon. The rear seat in the Ford just isn’t wide enough – three adults in the back seat will struggle for shoulder room. Compared to the EcoSport, the Nexon does feel relatively spacious. Even with the driver’s seat completely pushed back, there’s enough knee room in the back for an average sized adult. That being said, like the EcoSport, the Nexon doesn’t have a wide enough seat in the back to properly accommodate three adults. While the contoured rear seat gives better support to the two passengers on each side, the third has to deal with a protruding backrest. To add to the problem, the rear AC vent eats into the legroom too.
Under the bonnet
Despite being fitted with three-pot motors, the Nexon and the EcoSport feel reasonably refined. But Ford’s new 1.5-litre Dragon mill feels better engineered than its rival’s 1.2-litre turbocharged motor. Power in the EcoSport kicks in at around 1,800rpm and from there on it pulls in a linear manner steadily building up the revs. In the mid-range, the power delivery becomes flatter, but it starts getting sprightlier as you approach the redline. Even with all of this, the EcoSport is quicker to reach the ton than the Nexon. NVH levels in the EcoSport are also better controlled.
The engine of the Nexon itself is quite smooth, but the manner in which the power is put to the ground is where it falls behind. Despite being a turbocharged unit, the power delivery is jerky and inconsistent, especially at low speeds. This issue is easily noticeable when you switch to Eco mode and the fuel mapping is altered to make the motor more efficient. In City and Sport modes, the drivability is better. On the whole, the Nexon feels easier to drive at low speeds than its rival. This also can be attributed to the well calibrated 6-speed manual transmission that doesn’t demand frequent shifts. Shorter gearing in the EcoSport means that you have to work the 5-speed gearbox, and that can be quite exasperating in traffic. Moreover, the additional cog also helps Tata to score marginally better efficiency figures – 17.88km/l in comparison to 17km/l of the EcoSport.
On the Road
Over the years, the EcoSport has gained the reputation of being a great driver’s car, and this refreshed model continues this legacy. When driving at high speeds, the Ford feels absolutely steady and doesn’t lose its composure even when it encounters some undulations. But show it the rough stuff and the car can unsettle its occupants. The Nexon, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. From cracks in the road to larger bumps, it rides smoothly through everything. Some credit, of course, goes to the wider 215 section tyres that the Nexon so proudly sits on.
Ford has had a good base to develop the current EcoSport, but what Tata has done in its debut attempt is quite commendable too. For its price, the Nexon is great value for money, has more space and rides impressively. Not to mention the quirky design that will appeal to a large audience. But Tata’s experience in building petrol engines is limited, and it’s apparent in the Nexon. Meanwhile, the EcoSport feels better built and is more stable at high speeds. It also has an engine that feels better than the Nexon. The 1.5-litre Dragon is not only more refined but also leaps ahead in terms of outright performance. Most importantly, the EcoSport brings with it reliability and peace of mind – something that a buyer spending Rs.10 to 12 lakh on a vehicle expects. The EcoSport, then, shows that experience goes a long way. Tata, I’m afraid, still has some way to go!
- Ford EcoSport Titanium MT
- Tata Nexon XZ+
Engine: 1.5-litre / 3-Cylinder / 12-Valve
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 121bhp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 150Nm @ 4,500rpm
Price: Rs.9.39 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-factor:After all these years, the EcoSport still looks good and drives extremely well. In this spec, it remains the one to beat.
• Refined motor
• Solid build quality
• Cramped rear seat
Engine: 1.2-litre / 3-Cylinder / 12-Valve / Turbo
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 108bhp @ 5,000rpm
Torque: 170Nm @ 4,500rpm
Price: Rs.8.57 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-factor: With the looks of a concept car, the Nexon will certainly get you noticed on the road.
• Quirky design & plenty of space
• Affordable price tag
• Coarse engine
• Questionable quality