You only need look at the ubiquity of Nissan’s Juke to see how successful a well-executed compact crossover can be.
Neither supermini nor 4×4, crossovers like the Juke give buyers chunky, off-road inspired styling with supermini running costs and parking ability. They’re practical, fun to drive, cheap to tax and invariably look a little more interesting than the car they’re based on. For further evidence, see the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur or Vauxhall Mokka.
It’s strange that Ford has taken quite this long to join the party. The current-generation Fiesta is already a year into its mid-life facelift but eager buyers have been left snapping up competitors’ vehicles.
The EcoSport (pronounced “echo-sport”) fills that hole. It is, as you’d expect, based on the Fiesta, some of its engines are lifted from the Fiesta and its specification levels are largely similar. Unlike its sibling though, which was developed and is built in Europe, the EcoSport was developed in Brazil to replace the decade-old outgoing model, and cars for Europe are assembled at Ford’s plant in India. It is a truly global car.
Unfortunately, that globalisation has had some undesirable effects on Ford’s first compact crossover.
The styling is certainly an acquired taste. It’s definitely of Ford’s current design language but there are distinct differences to the Fiesta, Focus and others in the details.
The enormous front grille was wryly described by a colleague as looking like a towel rail, and it completely dwarfs the Ford badge above it. The 200mm of ground clearance is no doubt useful on unsurfaced Brazilian or Indian roads but here it gives the EcoSport a teetering, under-wheeledappearance, while what might have been a pert rear end is sullied by that enormous carbuncle of a spare wheel.
This appendagealso necessitates a side-hinged tailgate. Aside from the fact these designs make accessing the boot difficult if you’ve backed into a space or parked in a line of cars by the side of the road, it’s also hinged on the left – meaning you need even more space to step around it if you’re loading from the kerb.
The boot itself is reasonable in size and the interior positively spacious – adults will have no trouble fitting in the rear, and the seats are comfortable all around. You perch relatively high and aside from the usual modern-car bugbear of steeply raked A-pillars, all-round visibility is pretty good.
Interior materials are less special, and another hint as to the car’s origins. The design is pure Fiesta, but the plastics hard and shiny. Hopefully this means they’re durable too, but first impressions count and your first glimpse of a 2008, Captur or even Juke is likely to be more positive.
Buyers will have three engines to choose between: A 1.5-litre Duratec petrol with 112 PS, a 125 PS 1.0 EcoBoost petrol from the Fiesta, and a new 1.5-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel.
The first of these was unable to test. The Ecoboost is as sweet and tuneful a unit in the EcoSport as it is in the Fiesta, but the 200-kilos of extra weight in the crossover blunts performance and economy – a 12.7-second 0-62 mph run plays 9.4 in the Fiesta, and combined economy of 53.3 mpg seems underwhelming next to the Fiesta’s 65.7 mpg figure, with its corresponding free car tax.
Still, it’s better than the diesel, which goes down as one of the worst engines of any type we’ve driven this year.
With just 90 PS to call upon you’re never expecting stellar performance, but it feels even more lethargic than its 14-second 0-62 time implies.
There’s no expected turbocharged rush – not even a slightly boosted feeling as the revs climb to 2,000 rpm and beyond. What you get instead is a harsh, unpleasant din and plenty of vibration through the wheel and pedals. Thankfully this subsides if you’re either travelling slowly or sitting at a motorway cruise, but moving between these two states is quite unpleasant. It’s not even made up for in economy: A 61 mpg combined figure looks good on paper, but most competitors are capable of over 70 mpg these days.
General refinement at speed is perfectly acceptable, even if there are odd old-school quirks like a whistle from the windscreen wipers. And it’s a mostly relaxing car to drive;even on the twisty mountain roads above Barcelona, where the sweet Fiesta-derived chassis was in its element,it was a struggle not to just sit back and let the car flow from bend to bend with arms firmly perched on armrests.
The steering is typically Ford-good – well-weighted, direct and infused with decent feedback – and grip too is more than adequate for the class of car. It even rides nicely, though we’ll have to save a full assessment for broken UK tarmac:Spain’s roads are notably smoother than our own. Other controls – brakes, clutch, gearbox – are all easy to use and as well-resolved as any other Ford.
The EcoSport’s well-mannered driving characteristics, spacious interior and refined long-distance gait make the under-performing EcoBoost and atrocious diesel engines all the more frustrating. Ungainly styling and an atypically cheap-feeling cabin do nothing to improve matters.
Not even competitive pricing and decent levels of equipment – Titanium is the only trim level and offers Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, climate control, Hill Launch Assist and more for your 14,995 and up – can save the EcoSport from mediocrity.
Ford can do better than this. And in a market this competitive, it really should have.