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Ford EcoSport heads to Europe, Spotify voice control in tow

CNET ogles Ford's new SUV for Europe, and tests out its AppLink Spotify voice control.

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BARCELONA, Spain--Mobile World Congress is usually more about smartphones and tablets than full-blooded vehicles, but that hasn't stopped Ford from using the show to announce its newest motor, the Ford EcoSport, which boasts Spotify voice control and a host of other futuristic features.

Technically the EcoSport isn't a new car, as it's already on sale in South America. This is the first model that gets to melt some rubber to European roads, however, when it goes on sale in Europe in late 2013.

Spotify in your car
The EcoSport is equipped with Ford's "Ford Sync" technology, including AppLink, which lets you control smartphone apps by barking orders at the car's voice-recognition software. Streaming-music service Spotify is the latest app to land on the AppLink service, filling the EcoSport's cabin with your carefully crafted playlists

iPhones connect to the car via a USB cable located just below the handbrake, while Android and BlackBerry mobiles can link up wirelessly. There's currently no support for Windows Phone devices, unfortunately.

Once connected, you press a voice control button that's built into the right of the EcoSport's steering wheel. The first voice command you'll need is "mobile apps" followed by "Spotify." Once the car has connected to the app, you can use the voice control to do things like turn shuffle on or off or select specific playlists. Nifty.

Ford EcoSport front
Luke Westaway/CNET

The voice recognition tech works quite well, though as with most systems of this type, you'll spend longer than you want listening to the robotic in-car system telling you your options, or asking you to try speaking again. You'll feel a little self-conscious shouting at your dashboard if there are other folks in the car with you, so I imagine this feature is something you'll mainly use when it's just you and the road.

Hearing playlists read out by the robotic voice sounds a little odd, and you might have to strain to make out exactly what your options are. The temptation will be to pick up your phone and just use the app itself, but thankfully this isn't possible -- when your mobile is connected to the car all you can access a Ford-branded lock-screen, which stops you distracting yourself from the road.

Spotify AppLink lock screen
The lock screen stops you from using the smartphone interface while driving. Luke Westaway/CNET

Another Ford Sync safety measure is that if you crash, the car will automatically contact emergency services with your GPS coordinates.

Thrumming away beneath the EcoSport's bright orange exterior is Ford's 1-liter, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which Ford reckons will boost fuel economy while slashing greenhouse emissions. The body isn't as chunky as some SUVs, and I imagine this surprisingly small car will fit in well on Europe's narrow, winding roads.

Are you keen on the EcoSport? Would you use in-car voice control? Let me know in the comments, and be sure the check out all our coverage from Mobile World Congress.