CJ Hubbard | December 2013
Car buyers are bored with MPVs – and who can blame them. These slabby boxes have become the badges of people who have given up, submitting themselves to a life of taxi duty for the children, in fear that an ordinary set of wheels doesn’t offer the practicality all those extra curricular activities require.
This boredom is being exacerbated by the shiny new compact SUV crossover segment, which has exploded over the last 12 months and is only set to keep on expanding. These cars feature fresh styling – well, how else would you describe the Nissan Juke? – project a much more interesting ‘lifestyle choice’ kind of image, and give you a higher seating position. It’s gotten to the point now where even a very good compact people carrier is struggling to attract buyers. Take the Ford B-Max, for example.
But does that really mean Ford can get away with offering a half-baked compact SUV in its stead? Ahead of the launch there was certainly a suspicion this new EcoSport would prove exactly that…
What is the 2014 Ford EcoSport like to drive?
Half-baked? A little unfair, as it’s taken Ford two years to introduce the EcoSport into Europe. But there is no escaping the reality that this is a Brazilian market vehicle, never originally intended for global sale. The ‘One Ford’ world car programme and the need to plug that compact SUV gap has brought it to our shores.
The EcoSport is based on the same platform as the latest Fiesta, and is, in fact, only 4cm longer than that car, discounting the gloriously retrograde tailgate-mounted spare wheel. Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to tell from the driving experience, which seems to be channelling the behaviour of SUVs from an era similar to the external boot furniture.
While the designers have done their best with the chunky visuals, that this is a tall, narrow vehicle is obvious on the outside and very much apparent from behind the wheel. Body roll is excessive to the point of being comical, while the electric power steering system must be the least precise of any Ford offered in the UK for a decade. The two combined means you won’t be going anywhere quickly, ever.
Which is fine by the engines, it seems. The shining beacon of hope here is the 125hp 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol, which is spirited but suffers from even worse steering than the 90hp 1.5-litre turbodiesel. Which is torquey, but slow – as in 0-62mph in 14.0 seconds slow. Still, we found both surprisingly refined, and blessed with beautifully weighted gearchange actions.
Shame you only get the five cogs to play with. If you want six you’ll have to opt for the automatic version of the 112hp 1.5-litre non-turbo petrol – an engine that wasn’t available for us to try. The EcoSport is front-wheel drive only in the UK, so genuine green laners need not apply.
So, does the Ford EcoSport have any redeeming features at all?
There are no two ways about it: the EcoSport is a disappointing car to drive, especially for a Ford. The interior is going to raise a few eyebrows as well – the test cars were pre-production, and thus (just about) forgivably nasty; but even the showroom spec static demo model felt low rent inside. And that’s before you’ve considered the pretty, pretty cabin finishes available in the likes of the Peugeot 2008 and – perhaps unexpectedly – the Vauxhall Mokka.
However, it is roomy. The packaging is impressive, actually, with loads of headroom (a weakness of some rivals, including that 2008), and enough rear legroom for adults to tolerate for a while. The rear seat back adjusts to balance comfort against boot space (nominally 333 litres; 310-375 litres with that variation; up to 1,238 litres if you’re travelling two-up), which is further helped by having the spare wheel on the outside. Shame that the side-hinged tailgate will make access a pain in a crowded car park, and opens on the wrong side for the UK.
If the roly-poly soft suspension slows you down through the corners, it should also keep you comfortable – the ride quality is reassuringly supple, and will likely dismiss tattered British tarmac with ease. The EcoSport is a snoozy cruiser, then – if quite a high-tech one, thanks to the increased smartphone integration of a new Applink system for Ford SYNC, which grants you voice control over specially adapted versions of popular services, including Spotify.
That said, the EcoSport has only received four Euro NCAP stars for safety, which is unusual for a modern mainstream car. Pedestrian impact and child passenger protection are its downfall, though Ford has also opted to not fit a speed limiter or rear seat belt reminders; electronic stability control and seven airbags are standard.
MR VERDICT: 2014 FORD ECOSPORT
The EcoSport will initially be available in Titanium specification only in the UK, since available right hand production is limited to 4,000 cars in 2014. This means you get plenty of standard kit, but few options – including a £1,000 X Pack with leather seats and 17-inch instead of 16-inch alloy wheels. On this basis the pricing compares well to both the opposition and an equivalent Fiesta.
For all of the compromises in its driving experience and interior finish, the EcoSport is unlikely to struggle to sell – the mere presence of a Ford badge in a sector that still lacks a stand-out star will be enough for many, and anyone who values comfort over velocity is sure to be pleased.
- Nissan Juke, from £13,195
- Peugeot 2008, from £12,995
- Renault Captur, from £12,495
- Vauxhall Mokka, from £15,999
- Fiat 500L, from £14,995
Engine 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol, 1.5-litre non-turbo petrol, 1.5-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox five-speed manual, front wheel drive (six-speed auto optional on 1.5 petrol)
Price from £14,995
Torque 103-151lb ft
0-62mph 12.7-14.1 seconds
Top speed 99-112mph