Ford EcoSport review
The Ford Fiesta-based EcoSport crossover should be a winner, but it falls down on quality, driving dynamics and practicality
Ford has built its reputation over the past two decades on affordable cars that are fun to drive. The EcoSport is utterly lacking in the fun category though, and its design is too compromised to compete.
It’s flawed in other areas, too. Despite it's off-road body, the EcoSport is front-wheel drive only, and comes with a disappointingly impractical body. The boot is a good size, but the door is side-hinged – making it impossible to open on tight city streets.
You would think Ford would’ve been scrambling to get on board the small SUV sales bandwagon in Europe ever since Nissan launched the Juke in 2010, but it was actually quite late to the party. So instead of developing a Fiesta-based model for this booming market, the company parachuted in the EcoSport, which is designed in Brazil but built in India and Thailand. Unfortunately, a car intended for emerging markets simply can’t compete with the cream of the current crossover crop.
There’s nothing wrong with producing a car in a low-cost environment and selling it in the UK and Europe. After all, anyone who’s bought a Kia recently has been driving around in a car made in the Slovak Republic, while the virtually identical Volkswagen up!, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii city cars are produced in Bratislava. Plus, all examples of the Volkswagen Beetle are built in Mexico.
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With the EcoSport, though, Ford misjudged things – the car simply feels too cheap, and insiders at the company’s European HQ admit that they arrived to the project too far into the development process to make the sort of radical adjustments needed for more discerning markets.
So while the crossover is acceptable on a basic level, when you put it up against sophisticated rivals from in this market – models such as the Fiat 500X, Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Mokka, for example – it simply can’t compete.
The EcoSport has quite a peppy driving experience, but it’s undone as far as UK motorists are concerned by the fact it’s been built down to a cost. Are there any saving graces? Yes: the styling is quite attractive, especially since the boot-mounted spare wheel was ditched as part of an upgrade late in 2015. Plus, the steering is basically the same as that of the Ford Fiesta, so it’s one of the sharper, more responsive set-ups on the crossover market.
There’s also a reasonable amount of kit, whether you go for Zetec or Titanium spec. Nevertheless, this class has grown from nothing to one of the most competitive around in a really short space of time, and the EcoSport doesn’t offer enough to be a genuine contender.
Engines, performance and drive
The EcoSport should be the best driver’s car in the crossover market. After all, under the skin it features the mechanicals from the latest Ford Fiesta, which is one of the most entertaining superminis ever produced. Somehow, though, the DNA got lost in translation, and the first EcoSports were really quite dire from behind the wheel.
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Ford responded to widespread criticism of these cars, and upgraded European-spec models with revised suspension. The results are still a bit mixed, though. The EcoSport has the Fiesta’s nicely weighted steering, but the ride quality remains lacklustre and the body still rolls quite a bit. This would be disappointing from any motor manufacturer, but it’s especially the case from Ford, with its reputation for producing thrilling drivers’ cars.
You can have a very basic non-turbocharged 110bhp 1.5-litre petrol EcoSport, but this engine is distinctly underpowered. Even the 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol three-cylinder – which is such a sparkling performer in the Ford Fiesta – seems a little subdued in the crossover.
The EcoBoost three-cylinder has always been a lovely engine, and normally would be the one we’d recommend, but in the EcoSport it feels a little bit flat. It’s also just too thirsty when you drive it with the vigour you need to keep the crossover ticking along.
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So diesel appears the best choice then, but Ford’s 94bhp 1.5-litre TDCi engine feels short of torque here. The company claims it delivers 215Nm in the EcoSport, yet you’ll struggle to believe this when you take the wheel. The 1.5 TDCi feels as if it’s lacking proper mid-range punch. It’s around 55Nm down on the likes of Volkswagen’s 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which doesn’t help.
We have no complaints about the gearboxes on offer; the standard five-speed manual shifts sweetly, and the six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission – an option with the 1.5-litre petrol engine – is fine, too.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
As most EcoSport buyers will drive their cars on urban roads, the 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine looks a strong choice. It claims 52.3mpg fuel economy and 125g/km CO2 emissions (which mean an annual road tax bill of £110). But in order to get close to the official economy figure, you have to drive the Ford EcoSport incredibly conservatively. Press on and you’ll see your fuel returns plummet, with some owners reporting figures as low as 35mpg.
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The diesel is more efficient and cleaner, but it’s also around £700 more expensive, and it could take you a long time to recoup that price difference in fuel and tax savings. Plus, while owners might get near the 61mpg official fuel economy figure if they drive the 94bhp 1.5-litre TDCi gently, most of the time, the diesel’s limited torque output dominates the experience behind the wheel. Most drivers will find they are more aggressive with the throttle and have to row up and down the gearbox to keep up with traffic, which won’t help their real-world returns.
The same 1.5 TDCi engine is used in the larger, heavier and more spacious Ford C-MAX, which oddly emits less CO2. The C-MAX feels punchier, too – although the 1.5 TDCi in the people carrier is upgraded to 118bhp.
Even if the engines don’t quite deliver on their promise, the EcoSport shouldn’t bring steep annual insurance premiums. The 1.5-litre petrol model sits in insurance group 9E, while even the 1.0 EcoBoost – which is the most expensive version to insure – is only in group 11E, so a year’s cover is unlikely to break the bank.
Our experts predict that the Ford EcoSport will retain around 45 per cent of its new value over the course of three years. That’s about average for the small crossover class.
Interior, design and technology
The EcoSport shares its basic interior layout with the Ford Fiesta; it’s just taller. That means the switches, dials and the mobile phone-inspired centre console will all look familiar to anyone who’s driven the big-selling supermini.
But early examples of the crossover were blighted by a dubious hard plastics, which made the cabin look and feel low-rent. As part of its major upgrade in late 2015, Ford set out to resolve this, but it didn’t go quite far enough – the EcoSport remains less plush than the Fiesta inside.
And that’s a serious issue. Ignoring the fact that the Fiesta has fallen behind its class-leading rivals in terms of cabin design and quality, the EcoSport is up against the likes of the Fiat 500X and Peugeot 2008. Both these competitors use decent-quality materials inside, and their interiors offer much more of an upmarket feel than the Ford.
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The problem for the EcoSport is that the cabin looks and feels too much like a design from the last decade – which essentially it is. You can get away with that in developing markets, where value is prized above design, but in the cut-throat European and UK car markets, it’s just not good enough.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
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The EcoSport comes with Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, but it’s the older set-up, so you get a tiny screen and menus that are tricky to navigate. Still, all models offer Bluetooth and USB connectivity. An upgrade to larger screens and a more up to date SYNC system is due imminently, although this will be a cost option. Ford does include its Emergency Assistance system as standard: this links to your mobile phone and automatically calls for help if you’re knocked unconscious in the event of a crash.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
It’s a crossover based on the Ford Fiesta, with similar dimensions, so the EcoSport is never going to be the most spacious car. But then it doesn’t need to be, as rival models in this class don’t exactly score on practicality, either. But the car is still left in the shade by some competitors – the Fiat 500X, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur offer more space.
At just over four metres, the EcoSport is the same length as a Ford Fiesta, so it’s one of the most compact crossovers on the market. But there’s a sting in the tail. That length is measured without the optional rear door-mounted spare wheel. Add it, and the overall length increases to 4,773mm.
The spare wheel mounting caused controversy when the car was launched, with many people criticising it as old-fashioned and impractical. Ford therefore decided to make it an option on the updated EcoSport, cleaning up the lines around the rear of the car and making it easier to park. But there’s no option to stow a spare under the boot floor, so you’re either stuck with the tailgate-mounted wheel or a less helpful puncture repair kit.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
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Cabin space in the EcoSport is about average for the class, but that’s not saying much. After all, rivals in this market include the Nissan Juke, which is notoriously tight in the back. Certainly, the likes of the Fiat 500X or Peugeot 2008 leave the Ford trailing for rear seat space.
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A boot capacity of 333 litres is simply not enough – the Renault Captur offers 122 litres more than that (albeit only when you move the sliding rear seats all the way forward), while most competitors provide around 20 litres of extra space with their back seats in their normal position.
It’s not only the size of the boot that lets the EcoSport down, though; access to the load bay is hampered by the side-hinged rear door. This design just seems needlessly old-fashioned, when every other car in the class uses a more practical top-hinged hatch.
Reliability and Safety
While the low-grade plastics in the cabin might have you worried about the long-term durability of the EcoSport, there should be no questioning the mechanical components. Ford has been using the EcoBoost petrol engine for five years across a number of models in its range, and no major issues have been reported in that time. Although the 1.5 TDCi diesel is a bit newer, it has been serving well in the B-MAX supermini-MPV, Focus family hatch and C-MAX people carrier, so it should be fine. The same is true of the two gearbox options.
Reliability is an area where the car’s Brazilian origins should help: the EcoSport was designed from the outset to be rugged and stand up to use on poor-quality roads, and developed to be easy to fix if anything does break. There aren’t yet enough examples in circulation in the UK for the car to have featured in our annual Driver Power satisfaction survey, but we’d be surprised if any major issues arise.
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On the safety front, it’s a case of not bad, but could do better. The EcoSport was awarded a four-star crash test rating by Euro NCAP – one off the best. Its adult protection score is quite good, at 93 per cent, but a score of 77 per cent for child occupant protection is not great for a family car, and a 55 per cent score in the safety assist category of the test shows just how much safety kit is either left on the options list or simply not available at all. Buyers do get side and curtain airbags all-round, as well as a driver’s knee airbag.
Ford supplies the EcoSport with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty as standard, and the package includes a year’s paint defect cover and a 12-year anti-perforation guarantee.
As with many rivals, the company also allows buyers to extend the standard warranty: it can be boosted to four years and 80,000 miles for a one-off payment of £150, or five years and 100,000 miles for £260.
It’s recommended that the EcoSport is serviced every 12,500 miles or once a year, and Ford offers the option of a three-year fixed-price maintenance package. Buyers who choose this also benefit from an extension to the one-year roadside recovery and assistance package that comes as standard with the car.