Ford EcoSport Titanium 125PS road-test: has going under the knife improved it enough in a crowded SUV market?
19 November 2019
As a dog breed, the Dachshund clearly has its limitations, from stubbornness that makes housetraining seem an uphill battle at times, spinal disc issues and a penchant for barking, to the most visible disadvantage in the form of its diddly legs. Still, the sausage dog has trotted into the UK’s five most popular pooch breeds, its foibles forgiven thanks to doleful eyes, a shiny coat, floppy ears, an affectionate personality, universally manageable proportions and those unarguably cute legs.
Drivers in the UK continue to suck up Ford models as keenly as a basking shark’s gob does plankton and despite having the excellent Fiesta Active doing its thing at the more compact end of the crossover market and the Kuga perennially performing well in the mid-size SUV arena, the blue oval believes that there’s still a place for its Dachshund-like EcoSport, which has flourished since its facelift despite some obvious idiosyncrasies.
With a face like a startled red panda whose ears had swept back and its mouth locked open after accidentally biting a jalapeno, its jungle cred’ dented further by the zit on its bottom in the form of the spare wheel-carrier, the original EcoSport needed more than a nip and tuck to help it compete with its sea of rivals – and Ford has done a great job.
How has the Ford EcoSport changed externally?
Okay, Ford hasn’t squished the Plasticine into the table entirely and created an unrecognisably new EcoSport, but giving it the same face as the latest Kuga and Edge SUVs has done the trick nicely. It’s still cute facially but no longer looks goofy, the family grille, bonnet bulge and LED daytime running light signatures giving it a new sense of maturity, while the rucksack strap-influenced fog-light surrounds inject a sense of adventure.
At the rear, there’s a strong whiff of ‘spot the difference’ over the new Ford EcoSport, which looks like its designers have mainly just used the sharpen function in their graphics software, but the subtly added crispness is welcome and effective, and that controversial boot-mounted spare wheel has gone, eliciting cheers from many corners – although it is on the options list.
Without the snazzy contrasting roof colour of more expensive ST-Line models, Moondust Silver isn’t the most stimulating colour choice for the car in Titanium trim, but the 17-inch 10-spoke Flash Grey alloys are attractive enough.
Stare at the new EcoSport for too long and it could start to appear a little ungainly, but the model’s face transplant and other more subtle plastic surgery mean that it can now keep its chin up as far as visuals are concerned in what is a segment bunged full of options.
This compact SUV's hidden talents
Inside Ford’s revamped small crossover, it’s clear that this is a supermini which wears high stiletto rather than kitten heels and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a surprising number of SUVs from upper echelons.
Going by RIDC figures, which we often rely on, the EcoSport’s 443mm door sill height from the ground and 693mm minimum driver’s seat height are both rated as loftier than those of the Qashqai, Vitara, Arona, Kona and even the Discovery Sport (374mm and 602mm respectively), which may initiate some pretzel-choking, even if the new Jimny’s 492mm cill and 767mm seat height figures even more surprisingly eclipse the Q7’s 445mm and 726mm.
Wading isn’t something most EcoSport drivers will have on their agendas, save for the awful flooding currently in South Yorkshire and other areas that comes to mind, but it’s another area the plucky little Ford excels in, with a bizarrely impressive wading depth of 550mm. Ground clearance of 190mm, meanwhile, might not hold a candle to the Jimny and larger Discovery Sport, but it woops the Kona, Qashqai and similar. Okay, stuff like is more relevant to anyone contemplating the all-wheel drive version, which is diesel only, but it again shines a light on the otherwise fairly pedestrian-looking crossover’s hidden talents.
Does the new Ford EcoSport have a nicer interior?
Anyway, back to the ‘new’ Ford EcoSport’s interior and it’s a massive improvement over the original model’s, the penny quickly dropping that the latest Fiesta’s excellent cabin has essentially been lowered into Ford’s mini SUV. Sure, there are some naff plastics in a fair few places, but with reasonably tactile primary touch-points, it’s on a par with alternatives like the Kia Stonic and even the VW T-Cross. Comfort and ergonomics up-front are very good, although the narrow chairs won’t suit folk with Santa Claus’ physique, and they can only be adjusted manually.
Titanium trim, as tested, comes as standard with a rear view camera, cruise control and Ford’s SYNC3 infotainment system, which handily reads out text messages and features a floating 8-inch touchscreen that juts up out of the dash but doesn’t look like an afterthought, a superbly intuitive sat nav system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility as standard, plus a pair of USB ports by the gearstick. The welcome inclusion of Ford’s Quickclear heated windscreen made the autumnal mornings of our road-test week more comfortable.
The decent if not class-leading equipment list also wraps its arm around the FordPass Connect embedded 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot modem, partial leather seat trim, adjustable ambient lighting to jazz things up a bit, keyless start, Electronic Automatic Temperature Control to keep occupants toasty or chilled, a sliding armrest for drivers who slouch like Desmond Swayne MP, and, umm, electric windows, which we thought every car under the sun was automatically endowed with.
A handy drawer under the front passenger seat plus door bins large enough for 2-litre bottles boost cabin storage inside the EcoSport, but the glovebox is stingy although it is cooled, and Ford has thoughtfully stuck a couple of 12V electrical power sockets in the rear door areas, useful for plugging tablets in or vacuuming kids' cereal or Dashhunds' leaves and hairs up.
Electric-folding wing mirrors are a reassuringly welcome inclusion, too, in the fight against narrow garages, inconsiderate drivers and indeed people whose elbows must have somehow absorbed muscle memory from Ben Tameifuna.
Is the facelifted Ford EcoSport practical?
Rear headroom is surprisingly copious but legroom is woefully tight unless driver and passenger sit as close to the dashboard as they can, meaning the EcoSport remains a small crossover SUV best for two adults and two kids, even teenagers likely to whinge when sat back there.
Boot space in the EcoSport is also restrictive, falling way short of something like a Citroen C3 Aircross, and Ford got us frowning by their not replacing the original model’s side-hinged tailgate with a conventional boot lid. We can only deduce that it’s a financial move, especially with the tailgate opening the wrong way for UK drivers unless they park with the nearside against the kerb, which is a pretty unusual and inadvisable thing to do. Oh well. At least the rear seats are split 60:40 and can be dropped down using boot-mounted levers, though, and the car’s 365 litres will admittedly suffice for solo drivers and couples.
How does the Ford EcoSport drive?
When it comes to driving the revised EcoSport out there on the UK’s often miserable roads, Ford’s EcoBoost petrol engine is a faithful friend that proves very likeable in this mini SUV, serving up enough power for the average driver, at least with one or two people on-board, although it’ll start to wheeze when the car’s groaning under the weight of five grownups and their luggage.
Yes, it’s definitely more tortoise than hare in the 0-62mph stakes, but few buy or lease a Ford EcoSport for its performance and it goes about its business both impressively quietly and frugally, averaging around 43mpg after 350 miles’ mixed driving, not far off its published 47.1mpg WLTP figure. It’s just a shame that the otherwise tranquil overall experience is tarnished by seafront-evoking levels of wind and road noise, especially on motorways where the relatively diddy vehicle does get buffeted around in strong gusts at times.
Its Fiesta roots don’t make it the most agile baby SUV on the block, sadly, and the EcoSport will lean if it’s hustled through corners hard enough, but it’s unlikely that many people finding themselves behind the wheel of one will have the urge to. The 6-speed manual gearbox felt surprisingly notchy for a Ford, but the actual ratios are nicely spaced, and it’s an effective amigo for the engine.
The silver lining of the car’s strongly-assisted power steering is that it’s easy to manoeuvre, and while forward visibility can sometimes feel a little restricted thanks to the length of the dashboard and the thick A pillars, the latter have peepholes carved into them to ease proceedings, and the car’s square outline makes it easy to place. Just don’t let heart conquer head by picking 18” alloys when raiding the options list, unless suspension and ride quality as subtle as a cupboard being dragged down a flight of stairs doesn’t sound off-putting.
For parents toying with the idea of buying or leasing a Ford EcoSport for taxiing their young children around in, there are two ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the rear, while Ford’s Easy-Fuel capless refuelling system will please people who like to keep their hands as clean as possible.
How much does the EcoSport cost to buy and lease?
Our test EcoSport 125PS’ £20,750 starting price was bumped up to £22,850 with the addition of £500 metallic paint, £250 rear privacy glass, £150 front parking sensors and the £1,200 Titanium Lux Pack, bundling full leather, heated front seats and HID headlamps, while CO2 emissions of 119g/km aren’t much higher than a petrol SEAT Arona, but the Ford is beaten by the cleaner Vauxhall Crossland X.
Price-wise, the EcoSport Titanium is more expensive than a Renault Captur in GT Line trim but a smidgen cheaper than a comparable Vauxhall Crossland X and stands neck and neck with the Hyundai Kona and Kia Stonic from Korea. Only the Volkswagen T-Cross is priced a fair bit higher in a relative sense, but it's a more advanced proposition.
Safety testing of the original EcoSport threw up a few issues that resulted in it getting a rare 4-star rating from Euro NCAP, but some online digging quickly explains that Ford has addressed certain areas on the facelifted ‘new’ model, which now has 5 stars thanks to side and thorax airbags, rear seatbelt reminders, a speed limiter added to the cruise control, plus additional tech’ such as blindspot monitoring appearing on its options list. The EcoSport has always achieved a reassuring 93% adult occupant score anyway, so it’s intrinsically a safe car in general even if it lack some rivals’ bells and whistles.
Ford’s equivalent of a Dachshund may well be pants when it comes to rear legroom for adults and practicality from its frustrating boot door, but the number of them out there in the wild is testament to Brits’ love for the rugged-looking EcoSport, which in facelifted form certainly has plenty of lovable features to compensate for its foibles. Ninety-one percent of Good Housekeeping readers would recommend their Ford EcoSport to friends and family, so it's obviously still doing something right.