This is the Ford Ecosport, and we have high hopes for it. It’s based on the Fiesta – the finest driving supermini money can buy. It uses Ford’s peppy range of turbocharged EcoBoost engines. And, it’s a Ford crossover – if the Kuga is anything to go by, this Nissan Juke and Renault Captur-rivalling soft-roader should be a winner, and give the Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Mokka nightmares…
Doesn’t make a very good first impression though, does it, this Ford Ecosport?
Glance up from the spec sheet to gaze upon the car and it’s fair to say the Ecosport is no looker. The collection of grilles in a teetering stack, together with piggy headlights and bluff bonnet all aim for SUV aggressiveness, but sail too close to cuteness. It’s like a Chihuahua in a studded collar. And don’t blame the bluff face on jumping through crash-test hoops: EuroNCAP didn’t much care for the Ecosport’s lack of compassion for pedestrians (58% score), though occupants are very well looked after (93% score).
The car’s profile is unsettled by the undersized alloys, which are dwarfed by the slabby sides, and the enormous spare wheel cover tacked onto the tailgate for original Toyota RAV4-aping off-road pretensions.
The name is awkward too. You’d imagine it to be pronounced ‘eee-koh-sport’, just like the engine range is ‘eee-koh-boost’. But Ford would prefer you called it ‘echo-sport’.
Ouch. What’s it like inside?
Hmmm. Fiesta-esque, and that’s a mixed bag. Ford’s cabin materials have come on in leaps and bounds in recent models, and even though it’s still not up at head-and-shoulders level alongside VW, Ford is snapping at the German’s heels.
However, as attractive as the Ecosport’s angular dial binnacles and vents are, the main infotainment panel uses the same old mobile phone-inspired interface we’ve been coming to terms with since 2008, and familiarity is breeding contempt, not acceptance. Well screwed together it may be, but the Ecosport is somewhat dingy and grey, and too button-heavy. Porsche Panamera drivers will feel at home, perhaps, what with more buttons being present than at Jenson’s birthday party.
I can live with the looks. Is it practical?
Now the Ecosport fights back. Not only are the seats comfortable, but that boxy profile makes for excellent cabin space front and rear for such a short car. You can tilt the rear backrests to vary passenger comfort and bootspace, with a maximum of 375 litres on hand as a five-seater, and 1238l once the back row is folded.
Those figures match the Renault Captur, trounce the Nissan Juke, but lose out to the bigger Vauxhall Mokka. Incidentally, both the Mokka and Ecosport can feel a touch claustrophobic inside despite what the tape measure says – blame fashionably high beltlines and slim windows for the lack of what estate agents call ‘natural light pathways’.
Black marking the Ecosport’s copy book is the tailgate. It’s a left-hinged door, carrying that huge spare wheel housing. Not only is it heavy, but in the left-lane-driving UK, the ’gate opens towards the pavement.
There’s plenty of on-board kit, though: there are a refreshingly simple two trim levels for the Ecosport. ‘Titanium’ spec offers 16in alloys, foglights, keyless go, climate control, tyre pressure-monitoring, and electric windows. Upgrading to ‘Titanium X’ brings 17in wheels, auto lights, mirrors and wipers, and cruise control. Sat-nav and rear parking sensors are still optional, however. With prices ranging from £14,995 to £16,495, the Ecosport stacks up well value-wise, compared to the more generously equipped Nissan Juke models, which cost around £17,000.
Surely like most Fords, the Ecosport comes good when you drive it...?
Like the Fiesta, the Ecosport’s steering lacks response around the straight-ahead, but weights up nicely from a quarter turn of lock onwards. Unlike the Fiesta, you won’t be chucking the Ecosport through bends, though. Ford’s gone for a rather soft suspension set-up, prioritising ride comfort and refinement (which is very strong) over handling dynamism (which isn’t).
We’ve often criticised carmakers for handing down wannabe ‘sporty’ cars that are spoiled by stiff suspension, with no discernible handling benefit, so the Ecosport’s setup sounds like manna from heaven. However, being a Blue Oval product, it does smack of disappointment – what Ford’s done so well since the original Ka and Focus of the 1990s is to team compliant suspension with agility and poise. The tall-toes Ecosport naturally warranted some compromise (it’s 140mm taller than the Fiesta, don’t forget) but we expected a better steer than this – something more like the Kuga, in fact.
What’s the pick of the engine range?
The engine that’ll suck up 35% of all Ecosport sales is also the best of the bunch. It’s a 1.5-litre turbodiesel: its 98bhp is adequate, but 151lb ft from 1750rpm squirts the Ecosport along keenly, despite the 14sec 0-62mph time. It starts to struggle in fast motorway cruising, but as an about-town runabout, the 1.5 TDCi is well up to the task. It’s best when teamed with a typically slick Ford manual gearbox.
With Ford claiming more than 60mpg, it should be the cheapest Ecosport to run, too. The three-pot petrol engine also makes an appearance in the range, but as CAR exposed when we sampled the 99bhp motor in the Fiesta, it struggles to achieve half of its claimed economy, languishing in the mid-thirties.
The Ford Ecosport rockets the UK’s favourite carmaker into the heart of the fastest-growing UK car market segment, so it’d be a shock to see it not sell strongly. However, that's not to say we think it deserves to.
We’re disappointed with the Ecosport’s unenthusiastic handling, and gripes about Ford’s exterior and interior design remain. Our pick of the compact crossovers remains the Renault Captur for the fashionistas, and Nissan’s cramped-but-quirky Juke as a driver’s car.