Compact crossovers, B-SUVs, mini soft-roaders, call them what you will, there’s no shortage of high-riding supermini sized cars on the market right now.
While the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta still dominate the sale charts, there are plenty of similar sized pseudo-SUVs, from the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur to the Vauxhall Mokka and Volkswagen T-Cross, plus two models from Ford - the award-winning Puma and its less popular EcoSport sibling.
Like the Ka+ (long gone, not much missed), the EcoSport was developed outside of Europe then shipped in as part of Ford’s “world car” initiative. The early versions were criticised for poor road manners and shoddy interiors but since first arriving seven years ago it’s been heavily revised to make it better suited to European and UK sensibilities.
Those changes have undoubtedly been for the better but the EcoSport is battling in one of the fastest growing and most competitive segments so I’ve been finding out whether it’s able to run with the pack.
I tested two variants in quick succession from either side of the EcoSport spectrum, both of which felt largely redundant. The blue ST-Line is the “sporty” version of the EcoSport. Like other ST-Line models in the Ford family, this one features flashy 18-inch alloys, sports suspension and cosmetic upgrades including a bigger rear spoiler, fancy seat trim and sports pedals with stainless steel inserts.
Its alter-ego is the orange Active, which makes even less sense. Active is supposed to be the SUV-inspired styling pack for the Fiesta and Focus but Ford has now applied to a crossover that’s already meant to look like an SUV - go figure. Like the ST-Line, this trim brings body enhancements, in this case black cladding round the lower bodywork and unique 17-inch alloys, plus retuned suspension and trim-specific seats. And like the ST-Line, the effect is like putting lipstick on a pig. However you dress it up, the EcoSport is a tall, skinny, ungainly looking thing that feels increasingly left behind in a segment where eye-catching looks are key.
The interior is thankfully drawn largely from the Fiesta so while it’s not packed with flair it’s at least clear and easy to navigate, with a sharp eight-inch touchscreen. Key touchpoints are made from decent materials but some lesser-noticed areas still feel cheap compared with rivals. The seats in both versions are a shade too narrow for larger drivers and, this being a fairly small example of the breed, rear space isn’t a strength either.
Despite their differing outward appearances, both test cars featured the same Fiesta-sourced engine and transmission. The middle tune of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost provides 123bhp and 125lb ft and is paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. Unlike the more expensive Puma, the EcoSport doesn’t get the mild hybrid version of the engine but it’s still a decent drivetrain with enough pull for day-to-day motoring and an easy gear shift. Economy for the ST-Line is quoted a 43.5mpg, while the Active offers 47.1mpg.
As well as the engine, the EcoSport shares its platform with the Fiesta but has lost most of the hatchback’s dynamic qualities. While the Puma does a decent job maintaining some of the Fiesta’s engagement and surefootedness, the EcoSport feels top heavy and ungainly and has none of the positive steering feel. Swapping between the softer Active and ST-Line with its “sports” suspension makes little difference to this sensation. What’s worse for Ford is that its key rival the Vauxhall Mokka has transformed into a car you’ll actually enjoy driving.
That’s perhaps the EcoSport’s biggest problem. While other rivals moved forward in recent years both the EcoSport and Mokka languished at the bottom of the segment. Now, however, the new Mokka has leapfrogged to the top end of the B-SUV segment, leaving the ageing Ford far behind.
Despite its solid roots, the EcoSport manages to feel less than the sum of its parts and all a bit pointless. If you want a Fiesta-based crossover, the Puma is better to look at, more spacious and better to drive. If that’s too pricey, the new Mokka is all of those things, plus it’s better equipped and cheaper.
Ford EcoSport ST-Line/Active
Price: £22,695 (ST-Line) £23,895 (Active); Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo petrol; Power: 123bhp; Torque: 125lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 111mph; 0-62mph: 11 seconds; Economy: 43.5mpg (ST-Line), 47.1mpg (Active); CO2 emissions: 148g/km (ST-Line) 137g/km (Active)