Ford EcoSport Review: Better Not Best
by Sue Baker
Fresh from a major makeover, Ford’s small SUV-crossover now looks a lot better inside and out, and drives better too. It needed to, but the goalposts have moved and it now has to compete with some tough new rivals.
Just to avoid confusion, let’s start with the pronunciation of a couple of Ford names: EcoBoost and EcoSport. EcoBoost is an engine, and you say it ‘E-co’. EcoSport is a car, and you’re meant to say it ‘Echo’. Why the difference? According to a Ford guru, it’s to avoid confusion inside the company. Fine, but why inflict that on the rest of us? So I reckon we should say it how we like.
To complicate matters further, you can have an EcoBoost engine in an EcoSport car. Someone at Ford clearly has a wry sense of humour.
There has been an EcoSport in Ford’s global portfolio for nearly 15 years. The original dates back to 2003, but back then it was only made in Brazil for South American markets. Four years ago Ford brought out a second generation EcoSport and launched it in Europe, including here in the UK.
Equipped with engines developed at Dunton in Essex, and based on Ford’s popular small hatchback, the gen-two EcoSport is effectively a Fiesta on stilts, intended to do battle with the growing ranks of other small SUV-crossovers that are steadily engulfing the new car market.
You don’t see many EcoSports on UK roads, though, because there are better alternatives, and the rather dated-looking body style has not won it many friends. Particularly off-putting for many has been the car’s cumbersome rear end, with the spare wheel mounted on the back of a side-opening tailgate. Interior quality was very budget too, with lots of scratchy plastics.
Well now here comes the revised EcoSport, having undergone a mid-life update. It looks smarter from the outside, and that old-fashioned looking spare wheel container on the rear door has gone. Hooray for that.
Inside there are good improvements too. The plastic surfaces around the cabin look better quality, some are now elevated to soft-touch pliancy, general quality has been upgraded, the seats feel more supportive and are clad in nicer material. It’s all quite a bit less low-rent than it has been before now.
There’s a but …
Those are the good bits. What’s disappointing is that the EcoSport still has some annoying anomalies. The back door – where other cars have a tailgate – is still side-hinged, heavy and awkwardly side-opening. The budget for tarting up the car this time clearly didn’t run to giving it a more conventional, and also more convenient, upward-opening tailgate.
That’s coming, apparently, but not just yet. It will have to wait for the arrival of the third-generation EcoSport, due in around 2022. Hopefully, then the satnav screen will also be more harmoniously integrated into the dash. On this new model, due on the road in the New Year, the tablet-style navigation and infotainment screen is sited on the dash-top like a bit of an afterthought add-on.
Better news is the upgrade in safety kit that now equips the car. You can have a new EcoSport with a rear view camera, cross-traffic alert and adjustable speed limiter. Also available for the first time in the car’s life are auto lights and wipers, a heated steering wheel, streamed music connectivity and a premium sound system.
So what is this latest EcoSport like to drive? Better than before. Still not the best of its ilk, though. There is more feel to the steering, better body control on the bends, reasonable ride quality on a dual carriageway or motorways, and a sprightly feel from the test car’s 1.5 litre diesel EcoBlue engine. Yes, another Eco word, pronounced E-co like its one-litre petrol EcoBoost cousin.
Point the EcoSport at a rural back road or potter around patch-repaired urban roads, and the ride is rather more jittery and unsettled. The car’s handling is secure but a bit uninspiring. Other small SUVs, such as Seat’s Arona, the Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona, are more rewarding to drive and have a better ride-handling balance.
There is a bit more feel to the EcoSport’s steering than the rather numb response of the pre-facelift car, and refinement isn’t bad, but it’s not especially quiet either. The diesel rumbles a bit, and you need to stir the six-speed manual gearbox to urge the engine into action.
Space-wise, it’s not bad. There’s plenty of headroom all round, reasonable rear legroom for the car’s overall size, and a fair boot – although at 334 litres, it’s smaller than most rivals like the Arona, Stonic, Kona, Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.
So it’s a bit of a muted hello to the updated Ford. School report: showing some welcome improvement, but must try a bit harder to keep up with the rest of the class.
Ford EcoSport Stats Review
Model tested: ST-Line 1.5 EcoBlue AWD
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62 mph: 10.9 secs
Economy: 62.7 mpg
CO2: 119 g/km
Images: Sue Baker
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