The market for small SUVs has exploded in recent years, so it’s no surprise Ford has got in on the action with a model based on its ever-popular Fiesta. It is called the Ecosport and goes up against rivals including the Renault Captur, Suzuki Vitara, Kia Soul, Vauxhall Mokka X and Nissan Juke to name but a few.
As with all these small crossovers, the goal is to offer a bit more space and a higher driving position than a conventional hatchback without saddling you with the high running costs traditionally associated with an SUV.
Space is average, access is poor
The Ecosport’s boot is one of the smallest you’ll find in a car of its type and uses a side-hinged door that is fiddly to use and requires a lot of space behind the car to open fully. The fixed parcel shelf is also a pain when loading in items, and the boot space is tall rather than deep, meaning you end up stacking things on top of each other. Folding the rear seats also results in a large ridge in the floor, so the Ecosport isn’t good for carrying longer items.
Two adults will fit comfortably in the back, each getting adjustable backrests (although the seats themselves don’t slide). However, doors that don’t open particularly wide hamper access, and while there is a third seat belt in the middle the space is fairly narrow, so if you regularly want to carry three in the back a Honda HR-V is a better bet.
In the front the Ecosport feels roomy, and has lots of storage in the form of large doorbins and a useful glovebox.
Seat comfort might be an issue for larger drivers
Ford has used noticeably narrow seats with pronounced side bolsters for the Ecosport, which dig into your ribs if you’re of medium build or above. Otherwise the driving position is good, with enough adjustment in the steering wheel to get comfortable.
The car’s ride is on the firmer side for an SUV, and lacks the light touch Ford has managed to instill in cars such as the Fiesta and the Focus, particularly below 40mph. Above that speed things do start to calm down, and road noise is reasonably well contained.
There is though a fair bit of wind noise to contend with at 70mph, and Ford’s 1.5-litre diesel engine isn’t the quietest on sale by any stretch, not helped by the lack of a sixth speed for the manual gearbox. As such, for quiet running we’d look instead to the 1.0-litre or 1.5-litre petrol engine.
Dashboard layout 4/10
Outshone by more modern rivals
If you like buttons then the Ford Ecosport’s dash will hold a certain appeal - there are 35 of them in the central control system alone. Unfortunately, the functions they command aren’t always intuitive to navigate, and the screen that sits atop the dash is rather small.
The simple heater controls and clear dials work in the Ecosport’s favour, but the quality of materials doesn’t feel up to Ford’s usual standards.
Easy to drive 8/10
Great, apart from the lack of performance
Ford tends to get the basics right when it comes to ease of use and the Ecosport is no exception. The controls are well weighted, the five-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly and the steering is precise. All-round visibility is also good, and the flat rear screen makes it easy to judge where the car ends when parking.
The only disappointment is the plodding performance, with all versions taking in excess of 12 seconds to complete the benchmark 0-62mph sprint, and even the diesel lacking the kind of mid-range pulling power you might expect. If you want an automatic gearbox you are limited to the 1.5-litre petrol engine, and no model of the Ecosport is available with four-wheel drive.
Fun to drive 6/10
Not up to Ford’s usual standards
The lack of performance seriously hampers the Ecosport’s chances of being much fun to drive, as does the stiff ride, which results in occupants bouncing around as soon as you attempt to take a road at any speed.
That said, the Ecosport doesn’t suffer as much body lean as rival small SUVs, and the steering and gearchange are both pleasant to use.
Good reputation, but warranty could be better
Ford’s standard warranty covers the Ecosport for three years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. It’s about the minimum a manufacturer can get away with these days, with others offering much better alternatives, such as the five years you get with a SsangYong Tivoli or the seven years offered on the Kia Soul.
At least Ford has a reasonably good reputation for reliability. The manufacturer came 7th out of the 24 included in the 2016 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Survey, placing it above Nissan, Renault and Honda.
Fuel economy 7/10
Not the best in class, but still not bad
For the maximum number of miles per gallon from your Ecosport you’ll need the 1.5 TDCi diesel engine, which recorded an official test figure of 64mpg, and delivered more than 50mpg in our hands.
Of the two petrol engines, it is the 1.0-litre that gives superior economy, managing up to 53mpg in tests to the 1.5-litre’s 45mpg, although you’re likely to achieve mid- to late-30s in normal driving in either model.
All of which puts the Ecosport behind the best cars in this class such as the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur.
Rivals are cheaper to buy and lease
Prices for the Ecosport are set slightly higher than those of its main rivals, and monthly leasing costs are also pricier than you’ll find for a Renault Captur or Nissan Juke.
Servicing costs are competitive, but the Ecosport lags behind when it comes to CO2 emissions, which combined with the higher list prices mean it’s not the most compelling option for company car drivers. That said, the Ecosport does hold on to its value quite well when time comes to sell.
Missed out on top marks in crash tests
The Ecosport scored four out of the possible five stars in Euro NCAP’s industry standard crash tests, matching the Peugeot 2008 for occupant protection, but falling short for pedestrian protection and active safety features.
There’s the full complement of airbags, including one for the driver’s knees, and as you’d expect the outer rear seats feature Isofix mounting points that allow you to easily install a compatible child seat.
It is disappointing, however, that Ford doesn’t offer autonomous emergency braking even as an optional extra. This type of system monitors the road ahead and, in the event of the driver failing to react to a potential collision, can automatically apply the brakes. Similarly the lack of blind spot monitors or lane departure warning as optional extras all point to the Ecosport being one of the older offerings in its class.
Standard spec 5/10
Rear parking sensors and DAB radio really should be standard
The range starts with the Zetec model, which has 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a multifunction leather steering wheel, front and rear electric windows and a trip computer. Stepping up to Titanium gives you 17-inch alloys, part-leather seats, keyless entry, climate control and cruise control.
If you want DAB radio you’ll have to select it as an optional extra or upgrade to a top-spec Titanium S, which is a poor show from Ford when you remember DAB is standard on so many other cars these days. The Titanium S also adds sportier styling and is only available with the 138bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine.
Our favourite version
1.0 Ecoboost Zetec, list price £16,245
Options you should add: Metallic paint (£495), rear parking sensors (£210), DAB digital radio (£100)
To call the Ecosport a terrible car would be a touch harsh, but it certainly lags behind rivals in several key areas, and the side-hinged boot is a pain to use. Our advice for those looking at a small SUV would be to try the Renault Captur, Skoda Yeti or Mazda CX-3 as well.