Sunday 16 December 2018

Ford's latest EcoSport: it's time to stop digging

Off the pace of key rivals and costly

Ford EcoSport ST-Line
Ford EcoSport ST-Line
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

They say when you are in a hole, you should stop digging. I think Ford initially dug a trench for themselves with the first version of this week's car, the EcoSport small crossover, and have not been able to sufficiently get themselves out with their subsequent attempts.

I'd say that first EcoSport was one of the worst cars I'd driven for a long time. It was built in India to a South American design. The so-called 'European' version was not good at all; I certainly had quality issues with it.

But at the time, Ford needed something in the expanding small SUV market where demand was exploding. Truth to tell, they had been caught napping. Yet I think they'd have been better off waiting to get a proper motor.

That first version of the EcoSport was roundly, and rightly, panned. Ford quickly updated. The result second-time around wasn't as bad, but it still left a lot to be desired.

So they got the shovel, spade and pickaxe out again and came up with the one I've just been driving.

It is now built in Romania. The change in location hasn't altered some basic home truths.

I would have expected it to have more comprehensively addressed major areas of criticism such as handling and ride, road noise and a general sense of what you should expect a small SUV to have in 2018.

To be fair, it does have more than 2,300 new parts. And, to be fair, it looks an awful lot better. And, to be fair, my test car was particularly well equipped.

Unfortunately, it stays with the same old chassis and underpinnings. After driving it, I'm still far from being impressed. It just didn't work for me. Equipment apart, the best things about it are the improved looks and its 1-litre EcoBoost petrol engine.

It is, I'll readily admit, an improvement on what went before. But that improvement was coming off a really low base.

Thankfully, it doesn't have the nauseous old spare wheel blotting the landscape as it clung to the rear tailgate door.

However, you still need nearly two car lengths of parking space to load or unload anything of substance.

That door arches from right to left and stretches way back. It was far from ideal for opening or loading in car parks or tight spaces, I can tell you.

The two-level boot boasts a capacity of 355 litres - not great - but I didn't have need for much use of it.

Inside, they've tried to upgrade the cabin with this and that - they've scattered 'upmarket' ST-Line touches all over the place - but there is no escaping a sense of cheap-and-not-so cheerful. And for a car costing upwards of €26,000, it's not cheap.

I try to be fair to any car I review, so I always look at what others are doing with theirs within a similar price bracket.

I also try to gauge how I felt in it; not just the technicals and the equipment but the ambience (if you want to call it that), too. The EcoSport does well on creature comfort and safety spec but the cabin is still average.

Above all, it is a long way from being a decent drive even though they say it is 'tuned' for European roads. If it is, someone needs to tune in the tuner from A-flat to B-something.

The thing is, if a basic chassis doesn't pass muster, you have a problem that can percolate the car's overall feel and drive. You can tweak here and there, but you are in danger of digging a bigger hole.

Even on decent surfaces there was a sense of unevenness and too much body roll on the kindest of corners.

Now, I can be accused of talking about dynamics to the exclusion of basics such as seats, driving position, equipment and so on.

But I'm really not concentrating on its dynamism for the sake of it. I just felt the set-up got in the way of a reasonably comfortable drive. Some might whinge the seats are too high and that makes it even less comfortable. I don't think so, but I still could not feel right about it.

But let's pick out some positives. The 1-litre EcoBoost petrol of 125PS gave everything to make this lively. It was frugal around town; less so on longer forays though the 6spd manual box helped.

And they have added a new instrument panel as well as slightly better plastics to lift the interior. It's better, but nothing to write home about.

Visibility wasn't great as the front pillar was a bit of a block, but you can find that with small crossovers.

I'm becoming self conscious now after my stream of criticism. So maybe I should take that old advice and stop digging.

I find little to recommend in this so I'll put down the shovel.

FACTS & FIGURES

Ford EcoSport ST-Line 5dr SUV, 1-litre petrol, 125PS, 6spd, 119g/km, €200 tax.

Range from €26,900; ST-Line €28,180. With options: €31,070

Spec included: SYNC system, spread of safety and driver-assistance equipment, 17ins alloys, bodystyling kit, rear spoiler, ST-Line wing badges, sports-tuned suspension, part leather/suede seat trim, ST-Line scuff plates.

Options include: 18ins alloys, rear privacy glass, front-parking sensors, HID headlamps, B&O in-car premium sound system with 8ins touchscreen, 10 speakers, 360-surround sound; heated front seats/steering wheel.

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