By Jonathan Crouch
The Ford EcoSport takes the underpinnings of the brand's Fiesta supermini and reworks them to better tackle the urban jungle. Back in 2013, this was a late arrival in the small Crossover class, but it brought the segment something different in a cute but rugged package that many target buyers liked. Compromises were made with this model's design approach, but if you're city-bound but adventurous at heart, there'll be plenty to like here.
Back in 2002, Ford did something very unusual. It missed an opportunity. The occasion was the launch of a model called the Fusion, a kind of Fiesta-on-stilts that offered a trendier, chunkier, more practical, yet more stylish take on Britain's best selling car. More than a decade on, in 2013, we were given the model that vehicle should - and could - have been. It was called the Ford EcoSport.
You might recognise the kind of car this is. There are, after all, plenty of them about these days, supermini-based so-called 'Crossover' models offering SUV style and attitude in a trendier, more versatile small package. Back at the turn of the century, the Fusion could have brought the market exactly that - and done so nearly a decade before segment-defining small Crossovers like Nissan's Juke came along. Ford even presented it in trendy 4x4 regalia in motorshow concept form, but shrank back from selling the car that way in the showrooms, where it was merely presented as a slightly bigger, slightly more versatile kind of Fiesta.
That mistake wasn't of course made with this EcoSport which, like its class counterparts, was marketed from the start with the full 'urban jungle' treatment. It doesn't have 4WD because the city streets and school run pavements of its natural habitat don't need it, but its raised driving position and 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. The tall sides, faux-4x4 undertrays and big bumpers all suggest something originally intended to be an SUV but whose designer thought better of it at the last minute.
This though, is what the market wants. Every mainstream manufacturer today either offers a supermini-based Crossover car of this sort. Indeed, Ford could still have entered this segment earlier if it had brought us the first generation version of this car that was designed and engineered solely for the South American market. Wisely perhaps, the Blue Oval chose not to. Just as with its larger Kuga Crossover model, the approach instead was wait, watch the opposition then try and come up with something better. Whether this EcoSport represented just that was debateable. It was updated with suppler suspension and various interior embellishments in 2015 and 2016 and a 140PS version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine arrived in the range in 2015. Ford fundamentally facelifted the car in early 2018. It's the re-facelift versions though, that we're looking at here as a potential used buy.
What You Get
The EcoSport is a real global effort, designed in Brazil, with the version launched in 2013 built in India. It leans heavily on Ford's so-called Kinetic2 design language, with its large trapezoidal grille, smeared back headlights, short overhangs and an interesting blend of sharp angles and more organic curves that try to soften a front end sheerer than the North Face of the Eiger. Joao Ramos' design team were clearly aiming for a bit of SUV attitude, but some may feel the finished result sails a little close to cuteness, with a look described by one writer as being akin to a Chihuahua in a studded collar. The Blue Oval brand will probably argue this to be exactly what many potential buyers would want - and we wouldn't disagree.
The sharp-looking headlights feature LED running strips, there are indicators integrated into the door mirrors and there's a decent amount of shape and style in the flanks. As with most designs of this kind, it's very sensitive to colour and trim choice, so if you're a potential buyer, we'd spend a bit of time on selecting the right shade and considering wheel rim sizes.
Talking of wheels brings us to the issue of the rear-mounted spare that you had to have when this car was originally launched. In 2015, Ford made this feature optional. If your EcoSport does feature this embellishment, you'll get a crossover harking back to the SUV-look of the Nineties, which apparently is still very much in vogue in this car's home Brazilian market, where quick and easy access to the spare wheel is essential for safety reasons. That's all well and good but this is supposed to be a 'global' Ford design and the company should have known from the start that outside of the tropics, buyers generally don't take to this feature. This isn't necessarily because they don't like the rugged look. Or because they don't want the kind of proper full-sized spare wheel that's such a rare feature in most of today's modern cars. No, buyers don't like it because a huge spare wheel on the back means you can't fit a conventional top-hinged tailgate and the side-opening rear door you must have instead creates all kinds of awkwardness when you're trying to access the boot when backed into a tight parking space.
Even if your EcoSport of choice doesn't feature a tailgate-mounted spare wheel, there's still the issue that the side-opening door is hinged on the left side. That means it opens away from the pavement, so when you get your stuff out, you can't put it straight onto the safety of the sidewalk. Instead, you've to put it onto the ground, then move it out of the path of the door before it can be shut. This wouldn't be such an issue if the kind of opening rear door glass section you get on many modern estates and SUVs was present here for getting smaller items in and out. But unfortunately, this feature was never made available.
All that said, you soon learn to live with the side-opening tailgate - maybe even to like it. Toyota LandCruiser owners seem to. As for boot space, well the 346-litre capacity isn't one of the largest in the segment. Still, it is over 40% more than the pathetic total you'd get in a rival Nissan Juke. If you want more space and can flatten the 60:40 split-folding rear bench, then up to 1,238-litres is available. Transport of bulkier stuff will be aided by the way that the smart standard-fit aluminium roof rails enable bikes and roofboxes to go up top quite easily.
On to rear seat space. Getting in isn't especially easy as the door aperture is quite narrow, but once inside, you'll find the back of an EcoSport 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. Of course, as with all cars in this class, there'll be the issue of restricted width if, rather optimistically, you're trying to cram three full-sized adults in the back, but a trio of kids will be fine.
And up front? Well, the Fiesta DNA that's lacking in the exterior looks is certainly well in evidence here, most notably with the mobile phone-style array of buttons on the centre console. It's a button-fest that can seem rather overly complex at first, but one you quickly adjust to. The six-way adjustable driver's seat offers a supportively commanding perch and the instruments are clear and concise. As for build quality, well you could easily guess that one of these is screwed together in an Indian factory from the hard, utilitarian plastics used around much of the dash. Still, it all feels solid and Ford's European division has done its best to plush things up with this smart gearstick and leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel.
It's a practical cabin too. The odd coat hook would have been nice but in terms of stowage space, owners are undeniably well provided for with no fewer than twenty different cubbies and compartments for 'phones, sunglasses, coins, cups, drinks and chocolate bars. You get properly sized doorbins able to swallow a 1.5-litre bottle of water, a decently sized cooled glovebox that can hold six 330ml cans, large seatback pockets and a drawer under the front passenger seat to keep valuable items away from prying eyes.
What to Look For
We found lots of satisfied EcoSport customers but inevitably, our survey revealed quite a few issues too. One owner complained of a transmission shudder. Another found his audio system completely shutting down. In one instance, the airbags failed to deploy. And a few owners have recorded start-up problems. It's extremely unlikely that this car will have ventured beyond a paved surface, so you'll just need to look for the usual scratched alloys and evidence of child damage in the back. The cabin plastics mark easily, so check them carefully; this could be grounds for a small price reduction. As usual, check that the service book is fully stamped up to date. Some ex-fleet models may have missed out on garage visits.
(approx based on a 2013 EcoSport 1.0 EcoBoost - Ex Vat) An air filter costs around £13-£15 and an oil filter costs around £6. Brake pads sit in the £21 to £50 bracket for a set. Brake discs can be as affordable as around £56. Wiper blades cost in the £7 to £10 bracket. A timing belt costs in the £15 to £32 bracket, while a water pump costs in the £75 bracket
On the Road
The news that this car 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 lofty 190mm ride height, a bit of extra weight and a chunky high-riding body. After all, even Ford's chassis engineers aren't miracle workers.
In the event, it seems like they're pragmatists. From their point of view, though it would have been nice to have been able to give this car the sweet handling sharpness of a Fiesta or a Focus, that would have entailed ride quality firmer than most typical small Crossover segment buyers would probably want, people with no need and even less desire to throw their cars about. So the EcoSport development team chose instead to put their efforts into ride and refinement.
With mixed success. Body roll is quite prevalent and the stiff suspension supposed to restrict it delivers an over-firm ride. Inevitably, the exact level of refinement you get will be heavily influenced by the choice of engine you make. There are actually four options, the least powerful unit of the quartet, the 90PS 1.5-litre TDCi diesel, offering the most pulling power, though even there, we're only talking about a modest 203Nm of grunt, which probably won't be sufficient if you were thinking of doing a bit of serious towing. Here, 62mph is 14s away from rest en route to a maximum of just 99mph.
Most EcoSport buyers will want one of the petrol options. Perhaps that'll be the normally aspirated 112PS 1.5-litre variant that manages 62mph in 13.3s on the way to 107mph. This is the only unit you can have with optional 6-speed Powershift automatic transmission, though bear in mind that if get a car fitted with that option, the weight that your EcoSport can potentially tow will fall from 750kg to a mere 400kg.
Overall, the best engine option is probably the one most original buyers chose, a 125PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol model which manages to be significantly more economical than the base petrol variant whilst still managing to improve upon that car's performance figures - here 62mph from rest occupies only 12.7s on the way to 112mph. If you want to go faster, a 140PS version of this unit was made available in 2015. Either way, there's about 30kgs less weight in the nose with this smaller three cylinder engine fitted, which means that turn-in to corners feels a touch sharper - or at least it would do were there a bit more feel from the electric power steering.
Still, as I've already suggested, this car isn't designed for handling heroics. Instead, it'll be at its happiest in an urban jungle you'll be able to tackle from a raised driving position over 150mm higher than that of a Fiesta. The light power steering will help here, as will the slick 5-speed gearbox and a decently tight 10.6m turning circle. In fact, the only real issues arise when the time comes to reverse into a parking space. That's the point when you'll find your rear view somewhat compromised by the huge tailgate-mounted spare wheel - if that's been fitted to the variant you'[re looking at. It tacks another 20cm onto the back of the car and makes the distance to what you're reversing towards that bit trickier to gauge. Rear parking sensors are optional and we'd definitely recommend seeking out a car fitted with them.
We should probably finish by talking about off road capability - but then again, perhaps on second thoughts, maybe not: that might just encourage people to go places with this car that possibly they shouldn't. We say 'possibly' because this EcoSport isn't quite as feeble in this regard as you might expect. True, with the original version of this model, you don't get the optional 4WD system that Ford offered on this car in South America or any kind of Peugeot 2008-style Grip Control system to maximise the front end grip you do have. On the other hand though, the 190mm ground clearance figure we mentioned earlier means that this car sits higher of the ground than some RAV4-style soft roading SUVs, which means that in the very unlikely event of an owner fitting it with a proper set of winter tyres, it would probably get you a surprisingly long way. Ford talks bullishly of a 22.1-degree approach angle, a 35-degree departure angle and a wading depth of 550mm.
If Ford had brought us this car, or something like it, at the turn of the century when it could have done, you can't help thinking that today, our roads would be flooded with the things. As it is, the EcoSport turned out to be a late arrival to an already over-subscribed small Crossover market sector that was - and still is - bursting with alternative talent. Still, a fashionably tardy arrival at any party can always work to your advantage and in developing this model, the Blue Oval brand clearly studied the segment's existing offerings and sought to provide something a little different.
You can see that by the way it goes against the grain in this class. Things like the high ride height, the side-opening tailgate and this car's refusal to prioritise 'sporty' handling all mark it out as a different way to go. In truth, all of these things were forced upon this design by the fact that, despite the 'global car' claims, this model was first and foremost developed for a South American market rather than a European one.
That doesn't mean that the EcoSport can't work for a used car buyer here though. It's good looking, fashionable and practical. Ride and handling aren't great but it's very well equipped across the board. And the SYNC connectivity AppLink system is just brilliant for a car of this era. In short, we can see why you might like one.