New Ford Ecosport simply can’t keep pace with rivals

Original Ecosport was frankly awful and while this one is better, it’s far too expensive

Make: Ford

Model: Ecosport

Year: 2017

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: December 15, 2017

Fri, Dec 15, 2017, 19:51

   

Some cars get off to a poor start in life and the Ford EcoSport is a prime example. Built originally at a price point to suit the South American market it was frankly cheap and nasty in the eyes of Europeans. And in Ireland, it wasn’t even that cheap.

The build quality of the Fiesta based machine was poor and the ride and handling was not up to the high standards European drivers expected from a Ford. It was truly as bad to drive as it was to look at.

In Ireland there was the additional problem of its high asking price (circa €24,000). The awkward five door even failed to drive like a Ford and was rightly panned by motoring hacks.

Thankfully Ford has given the car a major makeover, but can it really are a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

The oddity of having its spare wheel mounted on the tailgate was actually on the back of demands from South American buyers to help prevent theft from the vehicle - as they could keep the car locked while changing a flat tyre.

In recent years the big spare was ditched and is now an optional extra. The EcoSport has been tweaked over the years in a feeble effort to meet demanding European standards when really they should have binned the car and started again.

Better built

Ford hopes the new heavily revised model, with its 2,300 new parts will give the brand a stronger foothold in the fastest growing sector of the new car market. The good news on the manufacturing front is that the cars destined for Europe will now be assembled in Romania. Up until now the five seater was assembled in India to a barely adequate standard. Ford has invested €200 million in refurbishing the B Max plant in Craiova to improve production standards. It will also be assembled in Brazil, China, India and Russia.

The new EcoSport boasts a more rugged front end of the car is the significant exterior change. Overall the EcoSport is better looking but it’s still a little awkward. The proportions don’t really work.

There are clear echoes of EcoSport’s larger siblings the Kuga and full size Edge SUV and this just may be enough to lure unsuspecting buyers easily parted from their cash. The flanks have been given some minor cosmetic tweaks low down, but there is no disguising how tall the car is (1653mm) relative to its length of just over 4 metres.

The tailgate that swings opens like... a gate, is carried over. The drawback is you have to be careful where you park as you’ll need half a car length of free space behind you to open it fully. This feature looks great and ‘outdoorsy’ in the brochure but if some plonker parks up close to your rear you’re goosed.

Practicality

The tailgate is also hinged for Europe and the Americas who drive on the right-hand side of the road. They can open the door safely close to the pavement whereas in Ireland you have to take your chances stepping into the traffic as the small handle is located in the driver’s side taillight cluster. The boot features a tyre inflation kit and an adjustable split floor. The boot can hold up to 356 litres. With the rear seats folded there is up to 1,238 litres of cargo room.

Inside has been overhauled with a new dash layout plus the seats have been redesigned. Ford’s parts bin has been raided to deliver a modern feeling Ford, from the familiar multifunction steering wheel through to all the switchgear. The outgoing car’s dash mimicked the old Fiesta’s and the new EcoSport’s dash looks very like the new Fiesta’s.

The top of the dashboard has a vast surface area all the way to the base of the windscreen. It looks and feels cheap but could be sorted with a nice covering, ‘I need some alcantara, glue and a scissors stat’. The seats are comfortable but offer little in the way of lateral support when cornering. The seats on higher grade cars feature mica dynamica. Ford says the suede-like man made material is roughly three times cheaper than alcantara. For a crossover based on a small car there is reasonable room in the back.

We drove two versions at the launch in Lisbon. A new 1.5 litre ‘EcoBlue’ diesel in ST Line trim. The 125hp/300nm four cylinder was coupled to a six speed manual gearbox. This new diesel will be available to order from mid 2018 (as will a 100hp 1 litre EcoBoost petrol). The EcoBlue unit is quite pleasant with great pulling power and Is noticeably quiet too.

Refinement

Cabin refinement overall is improved. The second test car was powered by a 1 litre EcoBoost petrol with 125hp that will be the entry point for now. The three cylinder engine has real character and really suits the EcoSport. The front wheel drive Was a bit lighter than the AWD diesel and felts more eager to please its master.

Sadly the driving experience is hampered by quite poor forward vision. The EcoSport has massive front A pillars and the one nearest me seriously impaired my ability to see through bends for on coming traffic. In fact I spent a lot of time looking through my side window to maintain vision.

The availability of all wheel drive (AWD) is a first for the EcoSport and while Ford is sure there is a market for it, I am sure it’s not in Ireland. The system is clever and costly. It distributes traction where needed at speeds up to 20 times quicker than the blink of an eye.

Out on the open road the AWD EcoSport (the heaviest version at just under 1.5 tonnes) felt surefooted and dull. Often I thought I was making brisk progress but every time I glanced down at the speedometer I was doing less than the posted speed limit. Behind the wheel you are encouraged to drive in a manner that is more eco than sport.

The suspension set up is classic small car with McPherson struts with separate springs and dampers up front and a torsion beam setup at the rear with underfloor coil springs and separate mono shock absorbers. Twisty roads, when driven with any enthusiasm, will induce unpleasant amounts of body roll. The tyres will protest and get vocal while you brace yourself in an effort to prevent sliding out of your seat. Mild understeer is present but not a problem and other than that, the car’s handling is neutral. The EcoSport to its credit has a nice tight turning circle and the power assistance is nicely weighted too.

Engines

The Euro 6 engine range includes a 1 litre EcoBoost petrol with either 100hp, 125hp or 140hp power outputs and two 1.5 litre diesels; the all new ‘EcoBlue’ and a more humble 100hp TDCi. The Fiesta’s six speed automatic gearbox is available only in the 125hp EcoBoost FWD. All engines now come with a six speed manual gearbox as standard.

There are no plans for hybrid or electric versions. In fact Ford has been dragging its heels when it comes to joining the green motoring crusade. It will be 2019 before they offer Irish motorists electrically powered machines, and only in the last few weeks has Ford in Ireland launched what is essentially a five year old Mondeo hybrid on to the market.

Pricing mistake

The runout EcoSport model in Ireland starts from €22,995 for the Zetec grade but the new car starts from a whopping €26,995 for the Petrol 125hp (circa + €900 for the TDCI). That’s more expensive than than the entry point Toyota C-HR (€26,895) and it’s far more premium, stylish and spacious.

The current crop of small/supermini based crossovers in Ireland have much lower starting prices. The Renault Captur starts from €20,290, Kia Stonic from €18,599 and the impressive little Seat Arona from €17,995. Even Volkswagen’s excellent T-Roc that starts at a hefty €24,750 looks like a relative bargain and let’s not overlook the Hyundai Kona. The impressive i30-based crossover starts from just €20,995. It really does raise questions about Ford’s pricing policy.

However, Ciarán McMahon, Chairman and Managing Director of Ford Ireland is convinced that the car represents value and has used the Opel Mokka X (from €22,495) as its main pricing benchmark. He says when you factor in the high standard specification with Titanium and ST Line, plus the buying supports of up to €4,000 - a less vulgar way of saying discounts - the car is competitive with an attractive transaction price.

He told The Irish Times that the new EcoSport is not cheap and cheerful but well-equipped and premium, and that he believes no one wants low specification these days. The car arrives in Ireland in at the next of next month at the earliest, which means Ford will have missed between 35-40 per cent of the 2018 new car market. That means sales expectations are for 450 next year and in 2019 closer to 900 registrations are expected.

Has Ford a winner on its hands with the EcoSport? McMahon believes so, but we’re not convinced. The new EcoSport is a very expensive middle of the road crossover that is a clear improvement on the outgoing model - but it must be said the old EcoSport was truly awful.

Lowdown: Ford EcoSport 1.5 EcoBlue AWD ST Line

Price: Circa €30,000

Engine: 1499cc DOHC turbodiesel

Power: 125hp

Torque: 300nm

0-100km/h: 11 seconds

Top speed: 181km/h (112mph)

Claimed fuel economy: 4.5 l/100km (62.7mpg)

Emissions: 119g/CO2

Motor tax: €200 (band A4)

Verdict: Much improved, but could do much better in the face of fierce competition

Rating: 2 stars

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