The big trend at the moment is with city-sized crossovers that put a touch of country capability into a chic, street-friendly setting. How does the Ford EcoSport stand up?
Pros: Equipment level, space.
Cons: Side-hinged tailgate swing wrong way for NZ, cheap interior, poor engine.
Our road test rating 2/5
Such a big thing now: Pint-sized playthings that strive to show that smaller can be better, not least in the ‘urban SUV’ segment offering city-size crossovers, with the look and something of the feel of off-road vehicles, but the ease-of-use of a small hatchback.
The EcoSport is the successor to a model that Ford Brazil designed back in 2003 as a cheap, nuggety opportunity for emerging markets. The replacement that has gone global was developed to meet the same aims, but in being based on the latest Fiesta. For our market, it’s sourced from India yet don’t think that allows a big saving. The Ford sets you back $32,990.
The nuggety look belies that it is front-drive. Urban friendliness and an air of enhanced practicality over and above that perceived to be offered by a traditional small hatch is a key appeal.
The visual aspect is a challenge. Ford set out to create a Fiesta hatch on stilts but it’s not quite come out that way; a cheeky and well-balanced shape has been pulled and stretched into awkward proportion. It’s a poor cousin to the far more stylish Kuga – the same sort of thing, really, but on Focus underpinnings.
Powertrain and performance:
The six-speed, dual-clutch two-pedal Powershift automated manual transmission, should be a nifty and user-friendly opportunity for this kind of car. Unfortunately, this transmission means we cannot have the stunning three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine that works so well in the Fiesta S. Instead we draw a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol that dates back to the pre-EcoBoost era and offers less power and torque, with 82kW/140Nm, than the tri-pot. It’s borderline for refinement. A claimed 6.5 litres per 100km combined economy also seems optimistic from a mill that is remembered most for being slovenly and harsh-edged.
The EcoSport is not anywhere near as driver-involving as the hatchback, but it sits relatively well through bends and has reasonable grip despite the on-stilts attitude. The steering lacks feel, though, and the acceleration is languid.
The high-riding driving position and the clear frontal view it affords are pluses for the driver while passengers will enjoy good head and legroom.
Ride, refinement and quality:
Passes one, fails the others. The EcoSport offers a relatively good ride, given its wheelbase, weight and jaunty attitude. The build and quality of materials is fair to middling. The switch to Chennai sourcing has delivered a drop in the quality of materials; the plastics are not of the same grade delivered with German and Thai-built Fiestas, the headlining seems to be rendered from a felt-covered cardboard and there are gaps and rattles. It just looks like a cheap knock-off of a higher-quality genuine original. The cabin styling is very similar to a Fiesta, so is ergonomically-sound but starting to look a bit dated.
Practicality and packaging:
What jars most is the rear door. Hanging the spare wheel on the outside is a flashback to a distant past; hinging the door so that it opens toward the kerbside is something else again. Both facets add up to an awkward, curse-worthy disaster.
The hinge configuration makes a mockery of the One Ford ideal of outputting Blue Oval fare that has full global application. You’re forced to walk around the open door, potentially into the traffic. Assuming there’s room – the thing projects out a good 1.5 metres when fully open.
Rubber trim in many places and plenty of storage are attractions for those entertaining an all-round lifestyle. The boot is a good size with 310 litres’ capacity freeing up to a not-inconsiderable 1238 litres by folding and tumbling the 60:40 split rear bench.
EcoSport only comes here in Titanium spec, the highest level available, so has leather upholstery, keyless entry/start and automatic lights/wipers and the first-generation version of Ford’s Sync voice control.
The Fiesta hatchback from which this car is derived is one of the best drives in its category. So, on the strength of all that, the EcoSport should surely be a shoo-in. Except, it’s not. I cannot see it making much of a mark without undergoing change.