The pugnacious Ford Ecosport crossover hatchback has had a bumpy and tortuous road to success since its introduction to Europe in 2014. But then cars like this are often designed to thrive in tough circumstances, and while this one isn’t exactly setting the world alight in sales terms, it has certainly proved a hardy survivor.
In its first generation, the Ecosport was a slightly awkward-looking compact SUV built in Brazil, predominantly for Brazil, and was popular there. But when globalist Alan Mulally turned up as Ford boss in 2006, it became one of his missions to prove that The Blue Oval could make its products work better all over the world. The second-generation version, which was launched in Brazil in 2012, went on to be produced in as many as five factories on four different continents, then, and was sold in as many as 149 countries.
It's based on the same B-car platform as the last-generation Fiesta and B-Max
Matt Prior | Editor-at-large
It’s a twice-massaged and -updated version of that second-generation model that Ford of Britain sells in the UK today. It first came to our shores in 2014, imported not from Brazil but instead from Ford’s new manufacturing facility in Chennai, India; and, though instantly popular out there, it met with stiff criticism in Europe for poor build quality, rudimentary driving dynamics and coarse mechanical refinement.
Ford’s response, in 2017, was to begin manufacturing European-market cars more locally – in Craiova, Romania – to higher quality standards, with better equipment levels and a widely revised suspension setup. At that point the car’s engine range was expanded also, four-wheel drive was added, and an ‘ST Line’ version came along; although not all versions available elsewhere in Europe were on offer to UK buyers.
Now and for 2021, with sales of the car slowly taking off and its global manufacturing base having been consolidated from five sites back down to just two, Ford has added a second new derivative of the Ecosport: the even-more-jacked-up Active version. That’s the trim we elected to test. Like other trims, it can be had in the UK with a choice of 123- or 138bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engines, but only with a six-speed manual gearbox and a driven front axle.
Ford Ecosport design & styling
This was Ford’s first global model to be developed entirely in South America. Its suspension configuration was supposedly retuned for European tastes, as were its electro-mechanical power steering and stability systems, back in 2014; and they have been again at least once since, as part of the migration of the car from India to Romania.
Like the last-gen Ford Fiesta and the now-discontinued Ford B-Max with which it shares a platform, the Ecosport wears its dinky engines transversely in the nose, where they exclusively drive the front wheels. Those wheels meet the ground courtesy of MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, and they are stopped by front brake discs and rear drums backed up by the usual stability and anti-locking software aids.
The car’s engine line-up has previously consisted of a number of normally aspirated petrol and turbodiesel options, but now Ford’s UK-designed 1.0-litre, three-pot EcoBoost turbocharged engine is the sole offering for UK buyers. It can be had in 123bhp and 138bhp tunes; but, as far as UK sales go, only driving those front wheels and only through a six-speed manual gearbox.
The Ecosport’s design is perhaps less likely to be a selling point for it than its engine. There’s nowhere to go with a small crossover other than up, but the Ecosport has sprouted further up than most of its rivals, and its tall, boxy proportions go somewhat against the grain when so many rivals now favour the high-rise coupe look.
The car’s bluff front end – shaped so perfectly for our current times rather like a carpenter’s dust mask – is a feature that might take a lifetime to grow on you. Likewise, the looming, side-opening ‘tailgate’ boot door isn’t exactly easy on the eye when it’s either closed or open. There is bad news here for UK buyers on convenience also, that tailgate being hinged on the nearside of the car and therefore swinging open the wrong way for easy kerbside loading and unloading (a problem it shares with the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, funnily enough).
For 2018, Ford gave its crossover the same SUV family face that was being worn by the Ford Kuga and the Ford Edge, while two tone paint jobs (body colour and contrasting roof), new wheels and sports styling was used to try to jazz up the car’s visual appeal.
The Active version now represents a move back towards the Ecosport’s original rugged look. As well as having a raised ride height and some underbody grounding protection, the car gets tough-looking black wheel arches and bumpers. Ford has resisted the urge to replace the boot-mounted spare wheel onto the car’s tailgate with which it was originally sold in 2014, however; the appearance of which certain commentators likened to an outside toilet on an outback saloon bar.
Model tested: Ford Ecosport 1.0T 125 Active
Price as tested: £24,145
Engine: 3 cyls inline, 998cc, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 6-spd manual; front-wheel drive
Keyword: Ford Ecosport review