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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This year is likely to be remembered as the year of the compact crossover or SUV, with never before-seen nameplates from Holden, Nissan, Peugeot and Fiat having already burst onto the Australian market.
Renault will also join the party down under in 2014, with Honda hot on its heels. In the meantime, Ford is just about to introduce its entry into this economical, practical, and incredibly fashionable segment, with the front drive-only EcoSport to sit beneath the mid-size Kuga and large Territory in the Blue Oval’s SUV lineup.
The top-spec EcoSport Titanium will introduce the new model from December 1, with the lesser Ambiente and Trend models due to follow in February next year.
When the lower tiers arrive, the EcoSport range will kick off at $20,790 for the1.5-litre four cylinder Ambiente in manual guise ($22,790 Auto), with the mid-spec Trend introducing the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol three cylinder engine in manual only for $22,290. A 1.5-litre Trend auto will also be available for $24,790. For now, the flagship EcoSport Titanium will command $25,790 in 1.0-litre manual guise, with a range-topping Titanium 1.5-litre auto a further $2000 north at $27,790.
The Titanium models tested here come equipped with plenty of niceties such as 16 inch alloys and front fog lamps, chrome detailing, leather seat and steering wheel, climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 3.5 inch multimedia screen and Ford’s SYNC smartphone connectivity and voice control system, chilled glovebox that can hold six cans, proximity keys, auto wipers and headlamps, and rear parking sensors.
Like its competition, the EcoSport is based on a light-hatch sibling, which is in this case the recently-updated WZ Fiesta. Ford has stretched the EcoSport’s 2521mm wheelbase by 32mm over the Fiesta, with the overall length growing by a more significant 178mm to 4245mm due to the rear-mounted spare wheel.
The more spacious interior boasts an impressive 20 storage cavities, an overhead console with sunglasses holder, dual 12V power sockets, reclining 60/40 rear seats ahead of a tall 346L cargo area that expands to 705L with a flat floor area. The cabin plastics are generally hard to the touch with a sturdy feel, but some messy casting seams were evident on our test examples.
The EcoSport’s compact footprint means that it will never trouble larger SUV’s for cabin width, but the cabin’s height makes transporting four tall adults a cinch. Despite the EcoSport’s honest two-wheel drive bitumen bias, Ford rates the baby SUV with a Land Rover Defender-trumping 550mm wading depth and a useful 200mm of ground clearance.
The automotive world is just starting to get used to the idea of diesel engines as a premium choice over petrol, but the EcoSport's three cylinder petrol option also defies conventional wisdom by easily eclipsing the four cylinder alternative - as long as you don't mind changing your own gears. The respective outputs don’t lie, with the 10kW and 30Nm stronger 1.0-litre EcoBoost having a clear performance advantage over the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre.
The three cylinder also betters the fuel consumption of the four by 0.8L/100km, with the driveability benefit of delivering its 170Nm of max torque from 1400rpm all the way to 4500rpm. Such tractability also likely negates any perceived compromise of the manual transmission only counting five ratios, but it’s a shame Ford weren’t able to spec the 1.0-litre with an automatic. The 1.5-litre four is the only choice if you insist on an auto, which is a six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch on all three tiers, and will also be available as a five-speed manual in the entry Ambiente.
Ford is yet to subject the EcoSport to local ANCAP testing, but it carries a four star rating from Euro NCAP, and is equipped with dual front and side, curtain and knee airbags for a total count of seven, plus ABS and stability control.
Like the Fiesta that donated its chassis, the EcoSport instantly impresses with its command of rough surfaces with complaint suspension that belies its meagre kerb weight. Combined with generous steering weight, the EcoSport gives the impression of a larger SUV from behind the wheel, but is easier to place on the road due to its compact dimensions. Also like the Fiesta, the EcoSport is a nimble handler despite its higher centre of gravity and is nice and settled for long distance highway work.
Ford’s efforts to improve the refinement of the three cylinder’s characteristic buzz are also immediately obvious, but thankfully some exhaust note has been preserved. The little triple loves to rev, and is difficult to catch off guard due to its 3100rpm torque band, and feels just like a torquey 1.6 litre atmo engine. The 1.5-litre four performs as well as it does in Fiesta form, as does the dual-clutch auto, which delivers sufficient performance despite a reluctance do downshift when in a hurry, but it lacks the technical marvel of the low-capacity turbo unit.
Aside from extra cabin space, the EcoSport also outshines its Fiesta basis when it comes to tackling speedhumps and steep driveway entries. The extra suspension travel and short front and rear overhangs make for relaxed urban travel, with the risk of undercarriage and nose scrapes greatly reduced. Given this is as off-road as most EcoSport owners would wish to venture, Ford's decision to stick with a more efficient front-drive layout for Australian models makes a great deal of sense.
The Ford EcoSport is a fresh and credible alternative to the crop of new compact SUVs that have already hit the market, and sure to rattle those of impending arrival. Like the others, the EcoSport is an option worth considering next to small sedan and hatches of similar value.
|Titanium 1.0||1.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$7,100 – 11,000||2013 Ford Ecosport 2013 Titanium 1.0 Pricing and Specs|
|Titanium 1.5||1.5L, PULP, 6 SP||$6,500 – 10,010||2013 Ford Ecosport 2013 Titanium 1.5 Pricing and Specs|