Road Test: Ford Ecosport ST-Line 1.0 EcoBoost (140PS)
Ford hopes to add a bit of Fiesta appeal to its sportiest compact SUV, explains Alex Grant.
SECTOR Compact SUV PRICE £21,145 FUEL 53.3mpg CO2 119g/km
The Ecosport is a curious oddity. A car that had everything in its favour; a chassis derived from the ubiquitous Fiesta and engines to match, Blue Oval familiarity, and a relative head start in a rapidly-growing sector. Yet, somehow, it fell short of the mark, never really unlocking the brand’s full compact SUV potential – perhaps until now.
Ford must have known this. The Ecosport underwent chassis and refinement upgrades to better benchmark the competition, and lost its tailgate-mounted spare wheel, barely a year after launch. But it now faces a mature segment, with rivals ranging from the established Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka X and Renault Captur, to newcomers such as the Seat Arona, Hyundai Kona and Citroën C3 Aircross. A nip-tuck wasn’t going to cut the proverbial mustard.
The casualty of this rush to compact SUVs is that small estates and MPVs have been put out to pasture. Ford axed the Fiesta-based B-Max last year, so its space on the production line in Romania is being taken by the Ecosport, to meet rising demand. Pre-facelift versions had been built in India.
Visual updates are significant this time, aligning it with the updated Edge, while a thorough re-working of the suspension, steering and electronic aids are aimed at injecting a little of the Fiesta’s driver appeal into its sibling. Not all of the quirks have vanished – the tailgate is still side-hinged, which is irritating in car parks – but it hides its boxiness better than the old car. The interior is much improved, too, with a soft-touch dashboard similar to the latest Fiesta and flexibility to appeal to former B-Max customers, if not the sliding rear doors.
Pre-facelift models had been sold in two trim levels, with most UK customers opting for the top Titanium version. ST-Line is new for the EcoSport, essentially taking the Titanium’s fairly generous equipment list and fleshing it out with some styling upgrades. It’s a familiar package of red stitching flat-bottomed steering wheel and aluminium accents inside, plus a sporty bodykit, on top of the Titanium’s half-leather interior and standard 8.0-inch touchscreen navigation system.
At this point, most of the essential options are ticked, but the missing ones are cheap. Ford’s brilliant B&O audio system can be added for £350, front parking sensors are £150 (rear sensors are standard) and a contrast roof in black, red, orange or white is a no-cost option. Our test car also had the 18-inch wheel upgrade, as shown in the pictures, which helps mask how tall the Ecosport looks in side profile but wrecks the ride quality and bumps up CO2 from 119g/km to 124g/km.
In a full-fat ST model you’d tolerate that sensitivity to rough surfaces, but this is no ST. We tested the 138bhp version of Ford’s lively 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol turbo – the most powerful engine in the line-up. There’s a Fiesta-esque weight and precision to the steering, but without the playful agility to go with it. It’s perhaps not a priority, but the Captur and Arona manage to share the driver appeal of their respective hatchback siblings, while offering extra space. We say opt for a lower-powered EcoBoost, as there’s little compromise for doing so.
Either way, though, it’s no longer the curious oddity it once was. Sales are up 56% in Europe this year, to 56,000 units, placing it behind the Kuga but at a third of Ford’s SUV sales in the region. It’s still not a class leader, but it is in a better position to capitalise on its solid foundations.
What We Think:
A much-needed set of improvements for the Ecosport, particularly considering the influx of rival products in this segment. But consider the Fiesta Active if driver appeal is a priority.