A few years ago,the idea that an SUV could be compact was almost laughable. How could you have an SUV without the size? But then the Logan-based Renault Duster came along and showed us that we could have our cake and eat it too. It was an affordable SUV and its success rang like a war cry. The first to answer that call was the Ford EcoSport. Its even smaller than the Renault (its under four metres long),but what it lacks in size,it claims to make up in premium feel. So,is it enough to topple the reigning king?
What are they like inside?
A big deal-maker (or breaker) for many buyers in this segment is a cars cabin ambience,and heres where youll find a stark difference between these two. The Dusters dashboard was updated for India to feature a fresh design,two-tone colour scheme and slightly better ergonomics,but it still falls short on quality,and this is one of the cars weakest points. The plastics all over the cabin feel hard and cheap,controls like those for the air-con are fiddly to use,and the ergonomics are still pretty woeful.
The EcoSports interior is in another league; it is very similar to the Fiesta saloon,and thats no bad thing. The dash has a modern,angular design,dominated by the V-shaped centre console. However,there are a lot of buttons here,and the dashboards sharp angle means they can be hard to read on the move. The advantage of this raked dashboard,which stretches far ahead to meet the windscreen,is that it gives a better sense of space than the Duster,which has a more upright dash.
The Fords front seats offer a lot of leg and head room,and are very supportive. The Dusters front seats are larger,and although they are quite flat and unsupportive,they are very comfortable.
Move to the back and the Duster wins some more points. The interior is wider,so sitting three abreast here is comfier than in the narrow EcoSport. However,the chunky AC unit between the front seats does eat into the middle passengers legroom. On overall rear legroom,the two are pretty evenly matched,with neither being exceptional. But the Ford makes better use of vertical space,and in addition,your thighs are better supported. These being tall SUVs,both have plenty of head room in the back. The EcoSports 3999mm length comes back to bite it in the boot however,and its 362-litre space is trounced by the Dusters 475 litres.
What are they like to drive?
Renaults Duster is powered by the familiar 1.5 dCi engine weve seen in the Logan,Fluence,Scala and Pulse,as well as a number of Nissans,and in the variant we are testing,it produces 108bhp.
The Duster takes a bit longer than the EcoSport to spool up its turbo,so when you cross the 2000rpm mark,theres surge in power that,though quite gratuitous,can be a bit irritating in stop-and-go traffic. However,if you keep your foot down on the throttle pedal,it is the Duster that is the more rewarding car to drive. The engine builds revs quickly and,correspondingly,helps the Duster deliver the quicker dash from 0-100kph (11.88sec versus the Fords 13.72sec). Its on an open road that you can enjoy the Renault the most and it is a very good cruiser too.
On the contrary,the EcoSports 89bhp,1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine is at its best in traffic. This has a lot to do with this motors ready responses and instant delivery of power at low to medium engine speeds. The Ford is happy to amble around in third gear,even at speeds as low as 30-40kph,and tap the accelerator and it picks up the pace quite rapidly. This is in contrast to the Duster,which needs you to execute almost twice as many downshifts. Its also got the lighter clutch of the two and its gearbox has a nice mechanical feel to it. However,the EcoSport tends to run out of breath on the highway,particularly when you have to execute a high-speed overtaking move.
Ride & handling
Both cars really impress in this department,though some differences do exist. They might both be tall with high ground clearance,but they are as easy to drive as your average hatchback. The Dusters suspension feels very absorbent over potholes and large speed breakers alike. The thick tyres also do their bit to cushion you from surface blemishes. Whats also nice is that the Duster maintains its poise over big bumps,which can catch the EcoSport out. Straight-line stability is also really good,but to be fair,the Ford doesnt disappoint on this count either.
Viewed in isolation,the EcoSport delivers a somewhat pliant ride too,but it does thunk over big bumps and there is a constant pitter patter over broken roads. The front suspension certainly feels stiffer than that of the EcoBoost petrol version and,as a result,the Ford doesnt iron out surface imperfections quite as well as the Duster. However,its the EcoSport that youll have more fun driving.
By contrast,the Dusters soft suspension makes it roll quite a bit in corners,but it always feels in control and you get good feedback (sometimes too much) from the steering. Still,for day-to-day city driving,youll like the lightness of the EcoSports steering.
Equipment & safety
The Ford EcoSport comes in four trimsAmbiente,Trend,Titanium and Titanium Optional. In terms of equipment,the base Ambiente trim comes with tilt and telescopic steering,a music player with Aux-in,USB and Bluetooth,electric wing mirrors,remote locking,a multi-function display,front power windows and 15-inch alloy wheels. The top-spec Titanium Optional trim gets 16-inch alloy wheels,climate control,a cooled glovebox,front fog lamps,keyless entry and reverse parking sensors. It also gets push-button start,which doesnt feature on any of the Renault Dusters four trims. The Duster RxZ gets almost all the goodies the EcoSport has,including electric mirrors,a fully connected audio system,steering-column mounted audio controls (steering wheel-mounted on the EcoSport),drivers seat height adjustment and front fog lights. It even gets a rear air-con unit,which the EcoSport misses out on. The Duster also has an available option pack on the RxZ trim that replaces the integrated audio system with a touch-screen sat-nav system.
In terms of safety,the EcoSport gets dual airbags and ABS with EBD on the Titanium trim. Titanium Optional adds Emergency Assist side and curtain airbags,which brings the total count to six. The Duster,on the other hand,only gets dual front airbags,even on the top-spec RxZ trim that comes with ABS with EBD and brake assist.