Review: Ford EcoSport joins the baby SUV market

Don't let the 4x4 looks fool you - the Ford EcoSport is strictly front-wheel drive.

Don't let the 4x4 looks fool you - the Ford EcoSport is strictly front-wheel drive.

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FIRST things first, the name. It’s pronounced “echo-sport”, not, “eek-o-sport”, as Scotsman Motoring suggested to a Ford executive at the car’s European media launch. Red faces all round.

Anyway, here’s the lowdown: the eek-o-sport, sorry, EcoSport, will lead Ford’s assault on the baby SUV segment when it goes on sale in May, taking the fight to, among others, the Vauxhall Mokka, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and other cars with names that wouldn’t be allowed in a game of Scrabble.

Underlining Ford’s push towards building cars all the world can drive, EcoSports bound for the European market are built in India to a South American design. If thoughts of sultry summer evenings in Rio or Rajasthan are lifting your winter spirits, I’m afraid the reality is a little more down to earth.

The new car shares a lot of its underpinnings with the Fiesta but, from the outside at least, you’ll struggle to spot the similarities. It’s much chunkier and higher-riding than its supermini sibling, with a grille as tall as the Grand Canyon and a purposeful looking spare wheel bolted to the tailgate, just at the right height for Ray Mears to rest an elbow.

Don’t let the 4x4 looks fool you, though, for the EcoSport is strictly front-wheel drive. Ford says 4x4 is “not relevant” to its target market. Hmmm… Scotsman Motoring lives in fear of pootling around in a 4x4 lookalike, only to be found wanting when the snow arrives.

Inside, the dashboard looks like it was lifted out of a Fiesta, but some of the unyielding interior plastics let the side down. Headroom is generous, as is legroom for anyone around the six-foot mark. I was a wee bit worried that the driver’s seat cushion might be a bit too narrow and too short to support a chap of my dimensions (legs of an antelope, buttocks of an elephant) but it proved comfortable enough over the next 100 or so miles. The EcoSport’s cabin has five seats and will accommodate four adults with ease, or two adults and three kids. The rear doors aren’t very big, though, and I snagged my size tens on the bottom of the door pillar getting in and out of the back seats.

Putting the spare wheel on the outside frees up space in the boot, which swallows up to 375 litres with the rear seats in place. The big tailgate opens to the left, rather than up the way, so bear that in mind when you reverse into supermarket and on-street parking spaces.

Choosing your EcoSport is fairly straightforward. There are three engines and two high-spec trim levels to choose from. We’ll make it even easier for you, by steering you towards the EcoSport Titanium with the one-litre Ecoboost petrol engine. Yours for £15,995, plus £495 if you don’t want it painted AA-van yellow, and another £200 for parking sensors that’ll prevent you from using the spare tyre as a bumper.

Note: the car is pronounced echo-sport, but the engine is pronounced eek-o-boost. I know, take it up with your local Ford dealer. With three cylinders, one turbocharger and 123bhp, the little petrol motor offers diesel-like flexibility and economy, but without the occasionally gruff tones of the 1.5-litre, 88bhp diesel engine which we also tested. You can also rev the danglies off it, should the mood take you, something you can’t do with the diesel.

Both engines are paired to a five-speed manual gearbox. Only the entry-level
EcoSport – powered by a 110bhp four-cylinder, non-turbo, 1.5-litre petrol engine – offers the option of an automatic box, albeit for an extra £1,500 over the £14,995 starting price.

As I said, the EcoSport is based on Fiesta DNA, and the last Fiesta that Scotsman Motoring drove was the ST, a car so accomplished we named it our favourite of 2013. Alas, the EcoSport can’t match the ST for driving thrills, but it doesn’t disgrace itself either. It leans a bit in the bends, but clings on gamely when pushed hard. Ford says it has re-worked the steering for European buyers, and it’s certainly sharp enough to keep pace with class rivals. Ride comfort is commendable, although we tested the car in Spain, where we’ve yet to stumble across a badly-surfaced road.

Standard equipment in Titanium-spec cars includes 16-inch alloy wheels, electric front and rear windows, front fog lights, keyless entry, roof rails and leather on the steering wheel and handbrake. For an extra £1,000, Titanium X Pack trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, full leather trim, cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

All the kit can’t disguise the EcoSport’s shortcomings though. It looks and feels like the not-very-exotic car you’d rent on an exotic holiday, then forget about as soon as you got home. Ford has work to do between now and the EcoSport’s mid-life facelift if the EcoSport is to mount a sustained challenge to already well-established rivals.

VITAL STATS

CAR Ford EcoSport

PRICE £14,995-£17,495

PERFORMANCE Max speed 99-112mph; 0-62mph 12.7-14.1s

ECONOMY 44.8-53.3mpg combined

CO2 EMISSIONS 120-149g/km

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