New EcoSport late to the party

by Haney Louka . Aug 10 2018
The dashboard features Ford’s latest SYNC 3 infotainment system.

The dashboard features Ford’s latest SYNC 3 infotainment system.

It’s no secret Ford is a company that thrives on sales of its trucks, SUVs and crossovers. Ford knows it, and that’s why it announced earlier this year they will stop selling most cars in North America and focus on what makes them more money. Or, to hear the company tell it, build what the market wants.

The market does want crossovers, and small ones specifically: as of the end of June, this hot segment was outpacing last year’s sales volumes by a staggering 55.5 per cent countrywide.

One would expect, then, that Ford’s latest entry, the “first-ever” EcoSport, would be a critical, and thus very competitive, product that should worry its market rivals.

One would be mistaken.

Instead of showing up late, but being the best dressed at the party, the EcoSport arrives as if it had just rolled out of bed, slapped some makeup on, and showed up at the door expecting to be let in. Oh, and did I mention this latecomer is older than everyone else at the party by about five years?

Quite an entrance, indeed.

The EcoSport has been on sale in Canada since January, but the current generation has been available in overseas markets for six years. We get ours from Chennai, India, while others are assembled in five other countries worldwide.

Heck, even the EcoSport’s marketing catchphrase, “Drive towards your dream,” acknowledges this isn’t where you want to be, but could get you where you’re going.

So what is it, exactly, that makes the EcoSport such an underachiever? Glad you asked.

First impressions are important, and it’s here that the EcoSport puts its best foot forward. The interior of our top-line SES tester had smart orange inserts in the door and dash panels, and orange stitching and patterns on the partial leather seats. The dash layout earns instant points with its free-standing centre-mounted touch display: a slick user interface that hosts Ford’s latest SYNC 3 infotainment system and all the tech buyers in this segment are looking for.

But it doesn’t take long to realize how thin this veneer really is.

Materials and assembly quality are substandard, no matter how attractive the price point. Hard, sharp plastics are ill-fitting and fabric stitching is inconsistent. Ford calls this leather, but I wonder aloud whether this leather is just bad pleather.

The rear door is side-hinged as opposed to a conventional top-hinged hatch. It opens the proper way at least so that curbside loading and unloading is easy. But the door requires more space than a hatch to swing all the way open, and even then, restricts access to one side.

Let’s move on to the powertrain. The standard engine on front-drive EcoSports is the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo from the Fiesta. It does fine in the Fiesta, but I can only assume the EcoSport’s additional 200 kg take their toll.

With our tester being all-wheel drive (not 4WD as it’s incorrectly marketed and badged), motive force comes from the optional 2.0-litre four-banger, which puts out 167 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque. The engine is adequate around town, but on the highway, the 1,500-kg EcoSport was wanting for power, so much so that I think some of the horses were missing.

I was the only occupant in the hills of northwestern Ontario and found successful passing was only achieved using a disturbing combination of advance planning and courage.

The inefficiency at which the EcoSport underperforms is also noteworthy; it consumed an average of 8.3 L/100 km on my 600-km highway trip. I made the same trek one week later in Volkswagen’s new Jetta — which has the guts to do its job — at a rate of 5.9 L/100 km. As far as official numbers go, the EcoSport is rated at 10.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the highway, thirsty for the class.

Not helping matters was an overly conservative “distance to empty” indicator advising me to stop for fuel before I’d driven 400 km.

This is an old design, warmed over, and it shows. Given Ford’s increased emphasis on crossovers and SUVs, I can only suggest the company wanted a piece of this pie but didn’t have the time or resources to develop a competitive product.

Thing is, this is not an inexpensive trucklet. With a sticker price range of $22,099 to $29,399, the EcoSport finds itself in the thick of the subcompact crossover class, one that’s full of entries that do just about everything better than the EcoSport: Kona, Crosstrek, CX-3, HR-V, Renegade, Qashqai, C-HR, Soul and the Trax. Take your pick.

autoreviews@mymts.netTwitter: @haneylouka

Photos by Ford CanadaThe Ford EcoSport struggles to produce power with its four-cylinder engine and has a 10.2 L/100 km fuel rating for city driving.

Photos by Ford Canada

The Ford EcoSport struggles to produce power with its four-cylinder engine and has a 10.2 L/100 km fuel rating for city driving.