Sales of SUVs have quadrupled in Europe since 2005 and Ford have been getting in on the act with a range of models looking to tick all the boxes for ‘modern mums’, ‘millennials’ and 50-somethings – the groups Ford have identified as those driving growth in the sector.
Ford sold 44,251 SUVs last year, with those sales split between the mid-sized Kuga and the baby of the line up; the EcoSport.
While it was a newcomer to Europe when it launched in 2014, the first generation EcoSport had already enjoyed a successful run for Ford in South America, where it was a best-seller.
The growing SUV market in Europe led Ford to introduce the second-generation car over here as a ready-made contender in the small crossover SUV segment.
Based on the same platform as the Fiesta, it’s aimed at urban drivers. With a taxi-esque turning circle and a raised ride height, it’s perfect for navigating the pot-holed landscape of austerity Britain.
I drove the top-spec Titanium S version recently. It packs Ford’s award-winning 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine, tuned to squeeze out 140bhp while delivering average fuel economy of 52mpg.
The pint-sized three- cylinder block is the most powerful engine option in a lineup that includes a de-tuned 123bhp 1.0-litre option, a 1.5-litre petrol engine and two 1.5-litre diesel variants.
The Ecoboost engine’s familiar, turbocharged purr and eager throttle response are as pleasing as ever, but the heavier EcoSport doesn’t feel as sprightly as Fiestas sporting the same powertrain.
The Titanium S manages a nought to 60 time of 11.4 seconds, and is nippy enough in first and second gear for the rigours of urban driving.
The sports suspension in the top-spec car means bodyroll is reduced and the ride firmed over the standard EcoSport. The handling around the towns, for which it is designed, is sharp enough to hint at sporting credentials.
Taking it on a B-road with a bit of momentum behind you will dispel any notions that driving this like an MX-5 is a good idea, however.
While the steering is well weighted and the ride stable enough, it feels like the tall, narrow, SUV it is. Out of its comfort zone the fun experienced weaving through the town is sucked out of the car at speed.
The interior will be familiar to anyone who has been inside the current generation Fiesta – so, everyone basically – and is all sharp angles and many, many buttons. The build quality is good and the cabin comfortable.
Exterior styling says all the right things about the EcoSport. It’s not just a Fiesta on steroids, but a bonafide mini-SUV that looks like it could drive through a dry-stone dyke. That’s a terrible idea though and doing so would almost certainly ruin the chrome trim around the grille of this version.
Some cars come with the spare wheel mounted to the back of the car like an old-school Willys Jeep, which is when it looks its roughty-toughty best.
Unfortunately that means the boot is hinged on the left to open sideways like SUVs of old – something that’s impractical for city driving. Try reverse parking in a multi-storey car park and see what I mean.
Opening the boot under any circumstance might cause some consternation the first time you do it – pro tip, the handle is in the light cluster. It’s actually a really elegant piece of styling, but who wants to have to read a manual to get the boot open?
The Titanium S Ecosport starts at £17,595. Our one is packed to the chrome roof rails with extras though and rings in at £19,180 as driven.
Many of those extras – like the rear-view camera (£250) and the Sony DAB radio (£400) – are things you’ll definitely want if you’re spending north of 17 grand on a car for the city, making this a relatively expensive option compared with a standard hatch without the off-road cues.
But you’ll benefit from increased practicality, thanks to the bigger boot and better headroom, a better driving position and an all-round more grown-up feeling car.
Compare it with the competition and you’ll also see that the pricing has actually been quite shrewd. A fully-loaded Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke or Vauxhall Mokka will top out in the mid-20s. Bearing that in mind, £19,180 for an EcoSport with all the bells and whistles is something of a bargain.
The car in facts
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol producing 140bhp, 133lb/ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 115mph, 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds
Economy: 52.3mpg combined.
Emissions: 125/km of CO2