The EcoSport, Ford's most compact SUV, still has an appeal for the right kind of customer. Jonathan Crouch reports
The Ford EcoSport uses tried and tested Fiesta mechanicals to offer buyers a small SUV with added ride height and chunky good looks. Now it's got a trendy 'Active' lifestyle variant too.
Ford didn't rush into bringing us a supermini-based Crossover model. Indeed, the market was awash with the things by the time the brand brought us its own take in this genre, the Fiesta-based EcoSport, in the Spring of 2014. Even so, there were signs that all was not quite right with the product planning. Early buyers questioned the car's refinement, its driving dynamics, its interior and the need to drive around with a huge great spare wheel hanging off the back of the tailgate. Fortunately though, Ford was listening. So, the brand updated the car in both 2015 and 2016, before fundementally changing it in 2018 to create the version we're looking at here. As before, the chunky looks offer up a bit of Amazonian attitude, even if in truth, this car is more Cbeebies than SAS in its take on hostile streetlife. Let's check it out.
The EcoSport range is now based around Ford's 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, mainly offered in 125PS guise, but also available in 140PS form in the mid-range 'ST-Line' version. You can now only have manual transmission and front wheel drive. The news that an EcoSport is based on a Ford Fiesta should certainly set you off in a positive frame of mind when it comes to the drive on offer. The issue though, is one of exactly what would happen to a Fiesta if you gave it a relatively lofty 190mm ride height, 136kgs of extra weight and a chunky high-riding body. After all, even Ford's chassis engineers aren't miracle workers, something which is fairly evident from the driving experience served up by this car. To be fair, the Blue Oval brand has much improved it, tweaking the springs, dampers and steering of this revised model in order to make it better suit European roads. And there have been some wins as part of that process. The consistent and well-weighted steering for example, is way better than before. Plus the brakes are impressive, the shift change of the 6-speed manual gearbox is slick and highway cruising is pretty refined. Ultimately though, what could be achieved here was rather limited by the high, boxy shape, a big contributing factor to the way the car feels uncomfortable with fast cornering or sudden directional changes at speed. It also rides quite stiffly on its firm suspension. Still, it's nothing you couldn't live with and most likely buyers won't want to drive on their door handles anyway.
The EcoSport's styling at the time of its 2018 facelift was brought more into line with the look of Ford's larger SUVs. A sculpted bonnet with a central bulge delivers a clean front-end appearance and the front-end design is dominated by a smart trapezoidal grille design and distinctive angular headlights that incorporate LED daytime running lights. Angular fog light housings complete a front three quarter profile that was apparently inspired by the straps of a rucksack and was designed to reflect an adventurous character. The EcoSport's rear bumper and tail light designs also deliver a clean, sculpted appearance. Inside, you get an 8-inch SYNC centre-dash infotainment screen which features navigation, 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smart-phone mirroring. The rear seat of an EcoSport is a surprisingly pleasant place to be thanks not only to the high, airy roofline but also to the fact that the rear seats are set slightly above those in the front for a better view out. At the back, that side-hinged tailgate still accesses a load space that Ford reckons is big enough to swallow a 560-litre washing machine - once the 60/40 split rear seats are folded, that is.
You can't have a poverty-spec EcoSport any more, so pricing starts a little higher than you might expect - at around £21,000 for the base 'Titanium'-spec version. Another £800 gets you the 'ST-Line' trim most will want with 125PS: it's £400 more for the perkier 140PS version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost unit. The top 'Active' version costs the same as a 125PS 'ST-Line' model - just under £22,000. You'll spot the 'Active' version of the EcoSport by its 17-inch Y-design dark-inset alloy wheels, black painted roof and rear privacy glass. Or perhaps by its black body kit, which sees that colour applied to the headlamp bezels, the wheel mouldings, the front grille bars and the lower body side claddings. You also get Sport halogen tail lamps. Inside in an 'Active' model, there's partial Sensico upholstery with leather inserts and blue stitching. The thing that rather gives away the reality that this isn't an all-new generation design is the fact that it can't be had with many of the camera-driven safety features you'll find with more recently introduced rivals. So you'll look in vain on the spec sheet for things like autonomous braking and lane departure warning. Some compensation here though, lies in the fact that every EcoSport comes as standard with the potentially life-saving 'Emergency Assistance' set-up that competitors would make you pay extra for. In the event of an accident, this system will automatically call the rescue services to summon assistance anywhere you might be in Europe. It's also worth mentioning that a' Blind Spot Information System' is available at extra cost - one of those set-ups that warns you if, on the move, you're about to dangerously pull out in front of another vehicle.
It's a lot harder to get a boxy Crossover model to return efficient fuel and CO2 returns than it is with a conventional supermini or family hatchback. To illustrate the point, let's look at the WLTP figures of the 125PS 1.0-litre variant most will choose. This returns 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and 136g/km of CO2 - which is some way off the figures the same unit will deliver in a comparable Ford Fiesta - but probably acceptable, given the extra 136kgs of kerb weight this car must cart around. I mention kerb weight: Ford makes a lot of the way that this model's Boron steel construction reduces weight while increasing structural strength. That may be so but the fact still remains that an EcoSport weighs more than virtually all its direct segment rivals. When it comes too booking your EcoSport in for a check-up, you can do this online through the 'My Ford' portal. This is part of the 'Ford BlueService' scheme that wraps up all of the care and maintenance of your car into one bundle that also includes a free 30-point 'eCheck' of vital parts. Here, any work required will be highlighted with red, amber or green traffic light warnings on a report you'll be given that will rank items needing attention in order of their importance. There's also the 'Ford Service App' that you can download to your phone for free. It lets you locate your nearest dealer to make maintenance bookings.
This EcoSport still has a little life left in it. It won't handle anything like as well as a comparable Puma - or deliver that mild hybrid model's standards of efficiency, but if you don't really care very much about either of those things and you want a small Ford SUV, you'll find plenty to like here. The visual embellishment of the top 'Active' version is well judged. And with any EcoSport, at the wheel, you'll sit higher than you probably would in that alternative 'B'-segment SUV model you've maybe been thinking of. Ultimately, it's been hard for Ford to get round this model's fundamentally South American origins. But in this form, the EcoSport makes more sense than it ever has before. My daughter, for example, would love one. It is, as ever, a case of giving the market what it wants.
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