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Euro-centric Ford EcoSport upgrade not for Oz

Fresh face: Ford Australia has elected not to take the facelifted EcoSport that was revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show.

Ford will stick with standard small SUV spec despite many incremental improvements

21 Mar 2016

FORD will not import a more refined version of the current EcoSport into Australia, electing instead to stick with the existing model that arrived at the end of 2013.

Rapidly revamped for European markets following widespread criticism about the small SUV’s interior presentation, overall refinement, and rearview impeding tailgate-mounted spare wheel, the upgraded model made its debut at the Geneva motor show this month.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the Falcon Sprint in Tasmania last week, Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said the EcoSport has a uniquely rugged appeal as it is, so does not believe the Euro-centric changes would have much bearing on the car’s fortunes in this market.

“We’ll obviously continue to look at any opportunities, but at this point we are not convinced for Australia that the removal of the spare wheel in the rear is something that is for us,” he said.

“We do get commentary around that (the rear-mounted spare) gives the EcoSport that rugged SUV look for that size of SUV, so it’s almost a matter of taste.

“In some ways, in Australia, I often see more similarities with North American tastes in terms of visual design than I do with European at times. It seems to toss and turn as far as consumers react.

“And so, what we’re not getting is people saying that they are not buying the vehicle because there is a rear spare in the back, and that’s always a first indicator of concern, but we’re just not getting that feedback.”

The European models do not represent fundamental changes to the EcoSport, but rather a series of specification improvements designed to keep the vehicle more competitive against newer rivals.

These include more sound-deadening material fitted, a 10mm ride-height drop, higher quality spring and damper rates, different wheels and tyres, and a tyre-inflation kit to replace the controversial tailgate-mounted spare.

Inside there is more brightwork, a larger central information screen, the availability of more appealing leather trim, and the option of more equipment such as a digital radio.

With the additional upgrades likely adding to the ex-factory price (out of Chennai, India), it is believed Ford Australia has elected to stay with the more cost-effective solution.

Since its December 2013 launch, the EcoSport has been hampered by poor press reviews, singling out a lack of sufficient performance from the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder automatic version against key rivals’ 1.8-litre, 2.0-litre, or turbocharged alternatives along with criticisms relating to cabin quality.

While sales edged up 11.5 per cent in 2015 to 2453 registrations, the Ford was beaten by the ageing (though larger) Hyundai ix35 (15,227), Mitsubishi ASX (13,557), and Volkswagen Tiguan (6334), as well as newcomers that were only on sale for a portion of the year, such as the Mazda CX-3 (12,656) and Honda HR-V (10,899).

Sales are up by nearly 70 per cent year-on-year to the end of February, but that is on the back of a special promotional program and a small starting base.

Based on the current Fiesta light car, the EcoSport was designed and developed in Brazil primarily for emerging markets, with India supplying the bulk outside of South America. It was unveiled at the Delhi Motor Show in January 2012.

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