Nissan Juke ST and ST-S 2014 Review
No car company has attacked the booming SUV market with more gusto than Nissan.
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The battle between Ford and Holden in Australia continues, with the introduction of a small SUV called the Ford EcoSport. The EcoSport will take on the recently launched Holden Trax, with the even newer Nissan Juke also entering the fray.
All three companies have had many decades experience in the SUV and 4WD fields, but this is the first time they have got into what could be called the 'tiddler' market. Oddly, Toyota, the biggest player of all in SUVs and 4WDs in Australia doesn't have a model in this class. In its earliest days the Toyota RAV4 was significantly smaller than today, but not as small as the EcoSport, etc.
This is a fun segment of the SUV market and stylists have been given considerably more leeway in styling than with larger SUVs that are typically aimed at relatively conservative buyers.
Ford EcoSport is a visual standout from every angle, inside and out. The distinctive new Ford grille design - called the 'Aston Martin' look by many, but certainly not by those within Ford (at least not publicly) - works exceptionally well in the new little Ford. The large grille is flanked by slim headlights that reach well back under the clamshell bonnet.
The side view features bold wheel arches, 4WD style sill protection and a high window line. At the rear the glass wraps forward into the C-pillar and is framed at the top by a bold roof spoiler. Interestingly, there are traces of the Aussie-designed Ford Territory in the overall shape of the rear styling.
Spare wheels are invariably mounted inside the small to medium crossover SUVs, but Ford has broken the mould by fitting its spare boldly on the rear door. The door is hinged on the wrong side for right-hand-drive Australia, meaning you have to walk out onto the road when parked at the kerb. Boot volume is very good as the spare isn't taking space in the floor.
The out-there styling theme of the EcoSport continues inside the cabin, with bold shaping of the centre console area and the binnacle of the instrument panel. Cost saving is obvious in the thin, relatively hard plastics, but the stylists have partly overcome this by clever embossing of the surfaces.
Storage spaces abound: there's a glovebox that can hold six cans of drink, a drawer under the front passenger seat, a large centre box and useful door pockets, as well as numerous other little nooks and crannies. Cleverly, the little darlings in the back seat have their own 12-volt power outlets with which to power tablets, phones and the like.
The front infotainment screen is a good size and easy to use and EcoSport makes good use of Ford's multi-function Sync onboard electronic communication and entertainment system.
The price leading engine is an old-style 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol unit with 82 kW of power and 140 Nm of torque. The star engine is a brilliant little 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol with 99 kW and 170 Nm. Top torque runs all the way from 1400 rpm to 4500 rpm, meaning most people will have the engine at its maximum grunt almost all of the time.
At this stage the 1.0-litre engine is only mated to a five-speed manual gearbox with automatic transmissions expected later. The 1.5-litre is offered with a five-speed manual or six-speed double-clutch auto. It will be interesting to see if Australian buyers follow their European cousins in preferring a manual over an automatic.
Though it hasn't been crash tested by ANCAP yet, Ford Australia is very confident its EcoSport will achieve the maximum star rating of five. Seven airbags, including a knee bag for the driver, provide good protection. Electronic stability control and a full suite of brake assistance items are standard.
Ford EcoSport is being offered in Ford's usual range of models: Ambiente, Trend and Titanium. However, the first two variants won't be here till February 2014 so all our driving has been done in the topline EcoSport Titanium. Ride comfort is generally good, but there's more interior noise than we had anticipated, though it's probably acceptable for this size and price class.
Handling is competent and there's nice chassis balance and reasonably good feel through the steering. The steering is lighter than we like, but that's probably from the point of view of us as driving enthusiasts and many may find it to their taste.
While the little Ford is aimed more at the urban warrior than the off-road bush driver it has more ability on unsealed roads than you might expect. We thumped it at speed over some badly potholed dirt tracks and it handled them with ease.
Interestingly, the EcoSport has ground clearance of 200 mm, putting it into the lower end of genuine 4WDs in its stance. Approach, ramp and departure angles are also very good for this class. It's only driven by two wheels, so traction is likely to be the limiting factor. We are not sure we would like to test Fords' claim that wading depth is as deep as 550 mm.
The little three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is a sheer delight to sit behind. It's willing at all revs from 1200 to 6000 and the lightweight internals give it a cheeky feel and a pleasing sound. None of which should surprise us as the engine has won its class in the International Engine of the Year awards for the past two years.
Great looks, modest prices and a host of practical features make the all-new Ford EcoSport look like being a winner in Australia.
|Ambiente||1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$6,500 – 10,010||2014 Ford Ecosport 2014 Ambiente Pricing and Specs|
|Titanium 1.0||1.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$7,900 – 12,210||2014 Ford Ecosport 2014 Titanium 1.0 Pricing and Specs|
|Titanium 1.5||1.5L, PULP, 6 SP||$7,300 – 11,330||2014 Ford Ecosport 2014 Titanium 1.5 Pricing and Specs|
|Trend||1.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$6,800 – 10,560||2014 Ford Ecosport 2014 Trend Pricing and Specs|