Compact SUVs are all the rage right now, and the trend doesn’t appear to be dying out. Ford was one of the earliest manufacturers to embrace the move to small high-riders with the EcoSport, a tall, SUV-like proposition that’s based on the Fiesta hatch. It offers more practicality than the hatch, naturally, and promises a more car-like drive than most. It also employs the Blue Oval’s award-winning 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo petrol engine, though only with a do-it-yourself gearbox.
The EcoSport is available in Australia in Ambiente, Trend, and Titanium trim levels, with all models gaining a choice between a five-speed manual and a six-speed auto.
“More than its rivals, it’s designed to look properly off-roader-y. Be not deceived: It’s the standard fare for the class.” - TopGear
Being based on a Fiesta, the EcoSport’s dimensions are not that different. It’s a truly compact SUV, with a bluff nose and rump on either end minimising its footprint. The EcoSport was recently revised, which brought about improvements to just about everything… except the styling. Thankfully, the externally-mounted spare wheel that used to jut out of the rear has been deleted, though the hatch is still side-hinged.
The EcoSport doesn’t have the same cheeky styling as the Fiesta it’s based on, nor the rugged good looks of the Ranger and Everest, or even the sophistication of the Escape. It’s just a little odd, the EcoSport, and contrasts starkly to the rest of the handsome Ford range. Hm.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The three-cylinder turbo engine available in the EcoBoost is a characterful unit that works nicely with the car; it's even won engine of the year awards. But it's not available with the auto transmission most owners want.” - Drive
We’ll address the elephant in the room: The Ford EcoSport is front-wheel drive only.
It’s hardly a deal breaker though, as the EcoSport is designed as an urban runabout anyway, and the engine range reflects that. There’s an 85kW/140Nm atmo 1.5-litre petrol, which offers modest performance at best. The best engine here is the three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo, with a more considerable 99kW & 170Nm. There’s a reason why the EcoBoost has won multiple awards, and the three-cylinder thrum had little to do with it.
The EcoSport packs a mean surprise, though. There’s a six-speed automatic and five-speed manual available, but the great little EcoBoost is only available with the manual. As a result, a bulk of buyers will be left with the merely adequate (if not underwhelming) 1.5-litre, what with the Oz appetite for automatics.
“Much of the interior is taken from the Fiesta, but poorer-quality plastics give the EcoSport a low-rent feel.” - AutoExpress
The cabin of the EcoSport will be immediately familiar to any modern Ford owner, retaining the bold and adventurous design from the donor Fiesta. However, it’s starting to feel a little outdated, with rivals like the Peugeot 2008 outperforming it in tactility and aesthetics. What the EcoSport’s cabin materials do offer are years of worry-free motoring, as the plastics certainly feel hard-wearing.
It’s not particularly spacious either, though that’s more the fault of the category rather than the car. Compact SUVs are hardly ever going to be serious load-luggers, though the EcoSport still sits toward the bottom of the pack. At just over four metres in length, the EcoSport isn’t able to offer masses of interior volume, but should be enough to lug around a young family and their gear across town.
Behind the Wheel
“It’s not all bad news here, but Ford of Europe’s usual high dynamic standards have been missed, ignored or simply not applied during the specification and tuning of the running chassis and steering.” - Autocar
Despite the Blue Oval on the nose, it the EcoSport doesn’t feel like a Ford to drive. Ford’s has always been class-best at driving dynamics, be it in the giggle-inducing Fiesta, the grin-inviting Mondeo, or even the surprisingly-agile S-Max. The ride is firm and almost unforgiving, which is a surprise for a high-riding crossover, which would traditionally offer more pliancy and body-roll than their lower-riding siblings.
When roads are flat and straight, the EcoSport isn’t bad, though it gets blown about a little when overtaking big vehicles. The steering is just about acceptable, though grip runs out fairly quickly. It’s almost a good thing that the electronic stability program on the EcoSport jumps in early, especially in the wet, because the EcoSport runs out of talent a lot sooner than you’d expect.
Despite what the ride-height might suggest, the EcoSport isn’t that much more capable off-road than the hatchback it’s based on. With no four-wheel drive on offer, the EcoSport deals with unsealed surfaces with a robustness that you’d expect from a more serious proposition. Shame all-wheel drive was never offered, because the EcoSport might have given contenders like the Suzuki Jimny a run for its money.
Safety & Technology
“Though it hasn’t been crash tested by ANCAP yet, Ford Australia is confident its EcoSport will achieve the maximum star rating.” - CarsGuide
The EcoSport does do safety pretty well, though. There are seven airbags on offer, as well as the usual electronic stability and assistance tech that you’d expect from something in this segment. There’s a very handy hill-start assist to ensure no rollbacks on inclines, brake assist (which brakes the car harder in emergency situations), dynamic stability control, and the typical seatbelt reminders.
Convenience tech on the EcoSport is relatively spartan though, with no touchscreen infotainment system on offer. There’s USB connectivity and six-speakers, but no satellite navigation at all. Keyless entry and go is available on Titanium models, while cruise control is (thankfully) standard across the range.
There’s plenty to like about compact SUVs, as the lofty driving position and improved practicality on offer can make them really fun propositions in town. However, while compact SUVs have evolved from relatively-crude, jacked-up hatchbacks into more refined, and even fun-to-drive options to the traditional hatch, the EcoSport has seemingly evolved slower than everyone else.
It’s distinctive to look at and offers decent practicality, but its basic features and unrefined road manners means that it loses out to the competition fairly easily. Cars like the Nissan Juke are just as stand-out to look at and offer better value, while the Honda HR-V offers much, much greater practicality. The EcoSport is a vehicle that’s difficult to recommend, no matter how you look at it.
Shame, really. It could have been really very good, indeed.
WhatCar? - 2.0/5.0 - “The Ford EcoSport’s chunky looks are easy to fall for, but it’s actually a disappointing car in most ways.”
AutoExpress - 2.0/5.0 - “Ford has built its reputation over the past two decades on affordable cars that are fun to drive. However, the EcoSport is utterly lacking in the fun category, and its design is too compromised to compete in a sector where the style of a supermini-based SUV really counts.”
TopGear - 5.0/10 - “Not Ford’s finest hour. Does the job, but rivals look & drive better.”
Autocar - 3.0/5.0 - “It’s a long time since a new Ford was as bad as the EcoSport. It may not be a European-hailing car and it may be due an early revision to address its failings, but customers won’t care and neither should we.”
Carbuyer - 2.4/5.0 - “It might have the tall stance of a small SUV, but the Ford EcoSport is too small to be practical, while a dull drive and poor fuel economy fail to impress next to great rivals.”
Drive - 5.0/10 - “The EcoSport brings some endearing elements to the fast-growing compact SUV class. But its four-cylinder engine is off the pace and the superior three-cylinder turbo is not available with an auto gearbox. Combined with other oddities - the clumsy tailgate and evident cost cutting - it makes the EcoSport more about the look than genuine substance.”
CarAdvice - 7.5/10 - “The Ford EcoSport isn’t as polished as a Peugeot 2008 but it is an impressive and fun little jigger that’s also well specced and sharply priced.”
CarsGuide - 4.5/5.0 - “Great looks, modest prices and a host of practical features make the all-new Ford EcoSport look like being a winner in Australia.”