Baby SUVs are currently the flavour of the month - indeed the decade, it seems - and one of the easiest ways for a car company to create a player in this burgeoning segment is to take the skeleton of its smallest hatch and remould it in an SUV style.
Looking at the front end of the four-door, five-seat EcoSport, it's obvious that Ford has developed a company-wide look for its SUV family, with the large prominent chrome grille mimicking that in the company's other SUVs, including the Escape and the Everest.
The EcoSport has a faux SUV look that Ford is gunning for.
For a small car, the EcoSport is quite slab-sided with narrow windows, a prominent roof and squared off rear, and an overly long front-centre look. Along with a squared-off, bluff bonnet line and the EcoSPort’s tall suspension, it gives the EcoSport the faux SUV look that Ford is gunning for.
On the inside the car is dominated by a deep dashboard that's lined with a hard, dimpled plastic. This theme continues throughout the car, across the tops of the door cards and into the rear as well. The colour scheme verges on sombre, with a low-key grey, silver, and black theme challenged only by a cream coloured head lining.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The EcoSport Titanium we tested costs $28,990 before on-road costs, and it’ll be cross-shopped with cars like Hyundai’s Kona Elite FWD ($28,500) and Honda’s HR-V VTi-S ($27,990), as well as the category-leading Mitsubishi ASX LS FWD at $28,500.
The EcoSport has keyless entry, start button and uses Ford's Sync3 system in the multimedia screen.
The EcoSport is marketed as a five seat, five door small SUV, or compact SUV, but really the rear compartment particularly, is designed best for two occupants.
ISOFIX points are located in the rear but there are no provisions for charging or for ventilation, while in the front the sheer lack of dimension of the EcoSport means the driver and passenger are seated quite close together.
The steep windscreen, a long dash, and slightly bulbous bonnet also means that front visibility is quite difficult.
In terms of storage there are a handful of very small oddment bins scattered on the centre console, along with two cupholders line astern. All four doors can take small bottles and there are another two cupholders in a rear pull-down armrest.
Probably the most distinctive - and probably most annoying - feature of the EcoSport is its rear tailgate. Instead of a traditional top hinged style, the EcoSport uses a side opening door with a single strut, with a full size spare wheel mounted to the rear of it.
Finding the switch to open the door itself is hard enough, especially if you've never done it before, and the door itself is surprisingly heavy. As well, if you park the EcoSport in the wrong place you simply won't be able to open the door to access the boot area fully.
The EcoSport has a full size spare wheel mounted to the rear of the side opening door.
It's an anachronistic design in a world where practicality rules, and this will make or break a buying decision for a lot of people. Thankfully, Ford has responded, and will offer the EcoSport without a rear door-mounted spare wheel from the middle of 2018.
The cargo area itself has 743 litres of space with the seats up and 1178 litres with them down - isn't too bad in terms of floor space, although it does narrow up quite significantly when you get to the seat backs.
Ford, though, has added a split-level floor that's designed to provide a flat loading surface when the two rear seats are tumbled forward. Oh, and you have to lift the seat bases up and away before you drop those seat backs, too.
Passenger accommodations are okay at best. The fitment of a sunroof to the top spec Titanium model doesn't do the car any favours, particularly in the rear, thanks to the deeper roof lining needed for a sunroof. If there is a taller driver up front, then you’ll need to find a very small rear passenger as legroom all but disappears, while fitting three across the rear really isn't an option for even a moderate journey.
Park the EcoSport in the wrong place and you simply won't be able to open the door to access the boot area fully.
ISOFIX seat points are provided for two baby seats, while the driving position itself is more than adequate with fair visibility. Something to note though, the porthole provided at the base of the A pillar to give the driver a slightly better view really does nothing at all thanks to the thickness of that pillar.
The steep windscreen, a long dash, and slightly bulbous bonnet also means that front visibility, particularly when parking, is quite difficult and it's very hard to get a sense of where the front of the car actually is.
Ford's SYNC 3 system does provide an excellent interface for all operations with phones, media, and satellite navigation, though as mentioned the buttons on the steering wheel are quite numerous and very small, so a little bit of tactility is needed to operate them.
Other than that, the rest of the main controls are pretty straightforward with a traditional automatic gear shift and manual handbrake.
The multimedia system is operated via a small screen that sits proud on the dash, while all instruments in the EcoSport are reasonably well labelled. The majority of buttons are clustered around the steering wheel and can be hard to discern their function given their lack of size.
The cargo area offers 743 litres of space with the seats up and a total of 1178 litres with the seats down.
The top-spec Titanium offers a black leatherette style interior treatment, which is reasonably well presented… but the sheer volume of harder plastics does let the side down.
There are two USB ports up front but none in the rear, and the 12v points are very well hidden.
What's it like as a daily driver?
Unfortunately the EcoSport doesn't really come together that well. Developed in a relative hurry off the basis of an ageing Fiesta platform, the car just doesn't really gel, particularly when driving around town.
The brakes, in particular, have a very strange modulation feel, in that the first small part of pedal travel does very little to stop the car, before the brakes bite very hard. It makes the car awkward to drive smoothly, which is an annoyance in stop/start traffic.
The front suspension crashes and bangs over even moderately sharp impacts.
The three-cylinder one-litre engine is a surprise package. It's smooth, linear, and although it’s raucous when pushed, settles down into quiet operation very quickly. Steering is okay, but it doesn't provide much in the way of feedback to the driver. Of course, this is not a sports car, but this is also a car that will make a regular driver wonder why it doesn't feel as nice as it should for a new car.
The EcoSport's ride is soft and comfortable, thought it quickly falls apart when pushed even moderately hard. It's a level of ride that's designed to add comfort for occupants… and really little more.
The front suspension, in particular, crashes and bangs over even moderately sharp impacts and overall it really feels like a narrow, tall vehicle it is. The centre of gravity does feel quite high and the slab sides do leave it susceptible to even moderately stiff side draughts.
What's it like for touring?
Make no mistake; the EcoSport is an SUV in name only. It does have some lower black plastic body exterior components that would protect it from knocks and bumps, while its ground clearance of 225mm does mean that it can get over small bumps and lumps on a fire trail without much fuss.
The EcoSport's small petrol tank limits its range, meaning that a driver, three passengers, and cargo would be a challenge, even for a short trip.
However, that's where any semblance of off-roading begins and ends, and the EcoSport's front wheel drive layout, relative lack of power and complete lack of any sort of electronic aid means that you would be wise to tread carefully should you want to take it even a small distance into the great unknown.
It also has a pretty small petrol tank, which limits its range, while combining a driver, three passengers, and cargo would be a challenge, even for a short trip. In fact, even if you wanted to take a pram AND a baby, you’d have to do some serious juggling to make both fit.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
Rated at 6.7 litres per 100km, the EcoSport Titanium consumed a dash-indicated 7.9L/100km over a shortened 120km test loop. It can run on 91RON, and it has a 52-litre fuel tank.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Titanium is the best equipped of all the EcoSport range, with It also offers a rear-view camera with front and rear sensors, digital speedo, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. It doesn’t, however, offer AEB in any model, and this generation of car won’t ever have it.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
With just a three-year, 100,000km warranty, Ford’s offering is fast becoming one of the least generous in the game. Its fixed price service deal works out at around $280 for the first five years or 75,000km (whichever comes first), so that’s not too bad.
Servicing should be carried out every at 12 months or 15,000km.
The EcoSport is less adventure vehicle and more a vehicle for those for whom adventure comes in smaller, easy to access doses. It’s small, easy to park and easy to drive, but it’s certainly well behind the rest of the class when it comes to a complete package.
It’s not a particularly nice thing to drive, for example, thanks to underdone suspension and poorly modulated brakes, and the quicker that tailgate spare is consigned to history, the better.
Does the Ford EcoSport rate a spot on your shopping list? Let us know!