As we explore new horizons with CaLDRON, which, thanks to our readers is scaling new heights each day, we at the Chef at Large team keep tapping our feet in our endeavor to figure out what to do next that hasn’t been done yet. Trust me, it gets really annoying sometimes with all that tapping, especially with the Louboutins that some of us wear (not Sid and certainly not me, I’m referring to the ladies here). Regardless of occasional Louboutin induced annoyance, we’re determined to try out new things every now and then. In that pursuit, we thought about doing something we’d never done before – travel and eat our way through a weekend. It sure was a lot of eating for someone my size and not very proud to say, all the trousers had to be altered immediately upon return.
Nonetheless, the weekend, the drive and the food were awesome, especially when you have company like Sid, Indu, Cherie, Brandy and Simon. The road wasn’t all that less traveled. I mean, how many times have any of you traveled to Chandigarh from Delhi? Many times, I’ll wager. It’s a beautiful road with lots to explore on the way, especially the sights and flavors that come along with the package. But a brand new EcoSport from Ford India made all the difference to the journey.
Five people, three of them over six feet tall, luggage and a dog – how much more would one expect from a car? Well, here’s a report card.
Those who’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sid would agree with me that he is a big guy; a gentle giant opposed to my scrawny, visibly temperamental appearance. He’s about six foot six, Simon is about six foot three and I’m a measly six foot one, I look like a little boy in front of these two gentlemen. Nonetheless, while Simon and Sid took up the front seats, Indu, Cherie and I were lounging in the back with plenty of legroom for myself. This was a welcome respite as I had often heard about the EcoSport being a “driver’s car” – not true at all. Not only were we all comfortable up front, Brandy had plenty of room to curl up in the boot with the luggage and all the camera equipment we were carrying. So, this sub-four meter urban SUV does have plenty of space, yet is compact enough to navigate traffic with relative ease. There’s more than just the size of the car that contributes to the maneuverability of the Ford EcoSport.
The EcoSport looks aggressive enough with its styling and design, and is a dominating presence on the road without being menacing. The exterior paint and finish is of very high quality, given the price tag of the car. The windows and windscreens are well designed to allow a good 360 degree view of the road for the driver.
The interiors of the car are quite pleasing and Ford have done their best in giving the EcoSport a sharp and sporty feel. The lines and curves on the dashboard and instrument panel merge seamlessly and the instrument panel is placed very conveniently. Bluetooth connectivity for iOS and Android devices gives the added advantage of streaming music and making calls from these devices without the need of a cable. Buttons on the steering wheel provide easy access control to the music and connected device without the need of scampering around the cabin. Sid did take a call on his device using the car’s interface, but just to test it and does not recommend talking on the phone while driving at all. A configurable lane change indicator is an added feature that we noticed which can be configured to 3 or 5 blinks and is activated by pushing the lever through half way.
The upholstery is of good quality and the plastics used for the interiors is of much superior quality than most of the competitors. I know, we haven’t reviewed any of the competitors yet [sic], but we have done our research before making this claim about the EcoSport. Sid felt that the steering wheel was a bit too skinny, but then he has big hands that can crush a watermelon perhaps with relative ease. Side mirrors are easy to operate and can be done from the driver’s side, which is a standard feature for cars these days though they can’t be electronically opened and closed in the EcoSport – surprising. Now, only if people started using them properly. The reverse sensor is good and overpowers the music being played when needed. The three-way adjustable seats make sure that the driver is comfortable without causing discomfort to the passengers in the back seat. We were driving a stick-shift and the shift knob is placed ergonomically. Even with the adjustments required between Sid and I while we switched between driving and lounging, the gear shift was never a problem.
That said, a few little things that irked us were the missing grab handles above the doors on all passenger seats. Might prove to be a ‘handy’ addition. The cup holders were rather inconveniently placed around the cabin. While the stereo is decent in output, the equalizer does not give you the flexibility to customize the sound output at all. Someone like me who likes to fiddle with the stereo till I hear the perfect sound, that’s one feature that I sorely missed. Still, the stereo and the ride music bagged a couple of new fans for cheapskate Bollywood music in Simon and I. Back to the car, I felt that the pedals were placed a little too low for a comfortable drive while Sid thought that the dead pedal was too small, too low and not firm at all.
Grand Trunk Road offers plenty of space to open up the throttle and see the horses under the hood at work. The 1.5L TDCi engine belting out 90BHp is a delight on the open road; it carried the weight of the car, the passengers and the luggage with relative ease. The throttle is very responsive and does not feel like a diesel car at all – the throttle response lag of a diesel engine being nearly completely absent. The five-speed manual gearbox was smooth and gear ratios well spaced and responsive. However, the fifth gear seemed very weak and obviously meant for cruising and high mileage only.
The very well designed instrument panel looks sporty; an indicator on the instrumentation gave the fuel consumption rate which often helped in adjusting the speed/throttle to optimum consumption levels.
Overall, the engine was very smooth and quiet through the cruise and throaty and sporty on accelerating. The car gave an average fuel consumption of little over 20 kmpl through the journey, which is remarkable for an SUV.
The EcoSport’s ride quality is excellent. Minor bumps on the road go unnoticed while the car handles the larger bumps with ease. We took the car up the hill in the morning to do a little speed check with five people and Brandy on board again. At high speeds, handling curves is a piece of cake for the EcoSport. There was no loss of grip on the road as the car navigated tight mountainous curves at speeds of 80kmph, holding firmly on to the road at all times. The steering system with an electronic assist (EAPS) makes sure that the car stays in control at all times while anti-lock brakes and six airbags in the cabin provide an extra layer of security to the passengers. Having said that, the power delivery at lower speeds was very choppy and did not make it easy to navigate heavy traffic which the EcoSport should do given its role as an Urban SUV.
The brakes were excellent, Simon and I believed, both of us familiar with the long lineage of Ford’s muscle cars. The turning radius was awesomely small for a car that size, making an ‘S’ curve in not more than ten meters, a fact echoed and appreciated by all.
Of course, the food. Anyone ever traveling on the GT Road, going to Chandigarh would tell you that the first stop has to be Murthal for the legendary paranthas. A whole bunch of food lovers would not let go of such an opportunity. We therefore stopped and gorged at the stuffed paranthas and the unsalted white butter.
Simon’s heart was set on Nando’s chicken and we literally had to hunt down the place in Chandigarh as we arrived. I guess he was missing home. An Englishman with a penchant for spice and chilies was a bit surprising for me; I was more of a foreigner in the group with a delicate palate not fit for chilies. We ordered enough to feed a small country that afternoon.
Don’t know about Simon and Sid, I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. The chicken and the overall fare at Nando’s was not exceptional. Even the chilies/hot sauce were not hot enough to light me up (which happens more often than not to the amusement of my dining companions). The food at Nando’s was devoid of any real flavor and character, much like any other QSR.
All that changed the next day at Pashtun (erstwhile Khyber, Sec-41). Exceptional flavors in the most common of dishes, dal makhni and aloo-jeera and the awe inspiring presentation of the raan gosht made my day. I would go back for those any day.
The journey was fun, and the company and food, beyond belief. It must be the Punjabi hidden in me somewhere that yearns for a good, rich, hearty meal full of flavors that you find in the North. The Ford EcoSport is an exceptional car for an exceptional price point, real value for money. I’d buy that just to take it for one of those long drives that I love so much.
We’ll find something new to take out for a spin soon. Until then, au revoir Chandigarh.