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A day with the Ford EcoSport

I got whirled down to Durban for a brief spin in the soon to be launched Ford EcoSport, a small SUV aimed at young, sporty people. The EcoSport was originally designed in Brazil and now built in India. Ford South Africa will be importing these models directly from the subcontinent. We’re getting the second generation of the EcoSport; there are three spec levels, three engine options, two transmission choices and eight different colour choices. The name of the car is a portmanteau of Eco (economic) and Sport (lifestyle implications).

This is very much a car for the B-segment buyer (Ford Fiesta or VW Polo) looking for the SUV lifestyle and a vehicle that is more aspirational than your hatchback runaround. According to Ford the B-segment makes up 24% of yearly sales in South Africa, making this a smart move on their part. Competitors in the “B-SUV” segment include the Daihatsu Terios, Suzuki Jiminy and to some extent the Nissan Juke.

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Can driving a van be a cool experience?

Last week I had the pleasure of driving a Ford Tourneo, the bus version of the world famous Ford Transit Panel Van. The Transit has been the best-selling light commercial vehicle in Europe for 40 years, and in some countries the term “Transit” has passed into common usage as a generic term applying to any light commercial van in the Transit’s size bracket. While initially designed for European consumption, the Transit is now produced in Asia, North America, and Europe for worldwide buyers.

After an almost 30 year gap the Transit has been released in South Africa in both panel van and bus (Tourneo) forms. The car is made in Turkey and uses South African built 2.2 litre diesel engines also found in the Ford Ranger. The panel van also comes in short and long wheel base versions with three versions of the engine from 74kw to 92kw and a sport version with 114kw of power. Despite a large engine fuel economy is around 7 litres per 100KM so it’s efficient and powerful enough to get you around town. In addition you’ve got technical benefits such as ABS with EBD as well as hill climb assist and roll-over mitigation if you try take it around a corner too quickly.

The Transit Custom is available in a choice of short wheelbase (SWB – overall length 4.97 metres) and long wheelbase (LWB – overall length 5.34 metres) versions, so that customers can select the amount of load space which best suits their business. It’s not cheap with the five models costing the following:

  • 2.2 TDCi Ambiente Low swb – R302 700
  • 2.2 TDCi Ambiente Hi swb CVT – R306 400
  • 2.2 TDCi Ambiente low lwb – R309 700
  • 2.2 TDCi Ambiente Hi lwb – R317 400
  • 2.2 TDCi Sport swb – R364 600

The Toyota Quantum panel van costs around the same so it’s competitive. The interior is fairly decent and you can fit a fortune in the back.

As mentioned, I drove the Tourneo bus and I was surprised at how good an experience it was. Again there is a short and long wheel base version although both offer eight seats.

Tourneo Custom models offer twin side sliding doors as standard, with running boards below the doors for improved low level step access, as well as a strong visual differentiation. A liftgate is fitted as standard at the rear.

The seats in the two rear rows can be easily folded into multiple configurations and removed in segments or completely – in total there are over 30 seating permutations to suit any occasion. All seating positions provide integral three-point lap and shoulder style seat belts. The Tourneo Custom comes with a four-year or 120 000km comprehensive warranty and a service plan covering five years or 90 000km (service intervals of 15 000km).

What surprised me was how the interior feels exactly the same as a car. So much so that you get standard Ford features such as a USB port, Sync Bluetooth connection with voice command abilities combined with a very light steering wheel and a very slick gearbox. Besides for the exceptionally high seating position you’d never know you’re in a panel van. It’s easy to drive, easy to park and has enough power to overtake on the highway.

I drove the bus no differently than I would a normal car. I took it on a highway, on windy roads at reasonable speed and around traffic circles with absolutely no issue at all. So much so that I forgot I had four passengers and luggage in the boot.

I’m personally not in the market for something such as the Tourneo but it seems a lot more stylish than a Toyota Quantum and vastly cheaper than a Mercedes Viano. If you’re in the market for a vehicle to transport a crowd or are breeding a soccer team or just happen to be gangster enough to want a car for drive by shootings then I reckon the Ford Tourneo is a great choice.

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The downward diffusion of tech

Ford have recently launched the Sync system in South Africa and what’s totally fascinating about the system is you can now get the technology in your car for voice dialling on a car that costs R160,000. According to the press release:

Using the hands-free technology of SYNC, powered by Microsoft, customers can connect almost any mobile phone or digital media player to their Fiesta via Bluetooth and USB connection respectively. Drivers can use either steering wheel-mounted controls or voice commands to manage the system’s features.

Ford’s open platform approach to mobile device connectivity has helped SYNC stand out in the industry for its ease of use, allowing for continuous improvement of the user experience. Unlike embedded connectivity systems SYNC does not allow access to the user’s stored contact information unless his or her phone is connected, hence ensuring a high level of privacy.

 

Web206743_Full_HiResUsing Bluetooth technology, SYNC can wirelessly connect up to eight different mobile phones to the new Fiesta through a process called pairing. Once paired, SYNC will automatically transfer all the names and numbers in the phone’s contact list to the in-vehicle system.

A microphone inside the cabin allows drivers to use their mobile phone hands-free while driving. Making a phone call is as simple as pushing a button and saying someone’s name. SYNC also enables Fiesta customers to continue their mobile phone conversation as they get into the car – without the need to hang up – as the system will instantly connects to the Bluetooth-enabled phone once the car is started.

By seamlessly integrating with the mobile phone, SYNC includes the same features offered on the phone, including caller ID, call waiting, conference calling, a caller log, contact list, a signal strength icon and a phone battery charge icon – all conveniently shown on the new Fiesta’s centrally-located display screen.

SYNC can recognise the user’s ringtone on supported phones and play it when a call comes in. If unique ring tones have been selected to identify specific callers, SYNC will automatically play those too.

When connected to a compatible phone, SYNC can even retrieve text messages and read them aloud, including popular abbreviations and emoticons such as LOL (laugh out loud) and 😀 (smiley big smile). Using voice activation, the driver can also send a reply from a predetermined list of 15 responses while on the move.

Other than making and receiving calls, SYNC gives the driver full hands-free control over portable media players and USB storage devices. Users can browse their music collection by genre, album, artist, playlist or song title using voice commands. SYNC can even put together a playlist of the music the driver is in the mood for with the “Play similar” command. The SYNC USB port also simultaneously charges the player as the music is being played.

Additionally, SYNC can wirelessly stream the user’s music collection on the mobile phone to the new Fiesta’ sound system via Bluetooth. All music played through SYNC is high-resolution digital quality.

I think the exciting thing is that five years ago voice commands in a car were something you’d only find in a top end Mercedes S-Class. Plug in your iPhone, call people using the button on the steering wheel and you’re safe and sound rather than fumbling for your phone. Genius.