The Ford EcoSport has come in for some visual updates for 2016, but the baby SUV falls short of rivalling others in the segment for overall use and practicality.
In the metal
It's hard to find any particularly good angle from which to view the Ford EcoSport, as it just looks awkward. Riding high and on small wheels the EcoSport has proportions that don't work as well as the other SUV offerings in the segment. Helping the image from the rear is that the boot-mounted spare wheel has been deleted from the standard specification build sheets. Unfortunately, the same side-swinging door remains and proves limiting in terms of access, particularly if you've parked rearwards into a tight space. On a more positive note the EcoSport does feature a useful 375-litre boot and its high ride height means the load level isn't too low, which is good for bags of shopping, if less so for heavier items.
Ford has worked at improving the quality of the interior, which is mostly made up of B-Max and Fiesta components. The Zetec model tested here is in fact the only specification offered in Ireland and so comes with a good level of standard equipment. Despite there being little difference in the dimensions, the EcoSport does feel more cramped inside than the Fiesta, and that isn't helped by the seats, as they are too small, even for this correspondent's very average frame. Rear passenger legroom is lacking a bit if you're going to try to squeeze some adults in, but if you have a small family there should be enough room. The boxy nature of the EcoSport's design means that headroom is pretty reasonable too. The heated windscreen is a bonus too, especially in the winter months, although the type that Ford uses does tend to distort and blur oncoming headlights at night.
Ford has lowered the ride height by 10mm in a bid to improve handling. The result may be backed up by data, but in everyday driving conditions the difference is negligible. Our test car was fitted with the 140hp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, although this isn't currently offered in Ireland - the 125hp version is. The latter also features in the Fiesta. Both are good engines and do suit the EcoSport well, though fuel economy could be better on the motorway if there were more than five gears in the transmission. Even at higher speeds the EcoSport remains composed given its size and shape, but it is around town there it performs best.
Despite its baby SUV looks Ford is only offering the EcoSport with a front-wheel drive transmission here in Europe, as currently there is no demand for an all-wheel drive version. Ford also says that doing so would make it simply too expensive given the existence of its bigger brother the Kuga. Few owners, if any, will ever to attempt to venture off-road in an EcoSport anyway so this is unlikely to concern too many potential buyers.
What owners will like is the elevated driving position, which does give a better view of the road, although the oversized A-pillars do create a sizeable blind spot looking forward. Rearward visibility isn't great either. Given that it shares much of its underpinnings with the Fiesta it shouldn't be too surprising that within urban confines the EcoSport feels at home. Both the steering and suspension deliver a positive feel, with the latter seeming to absorb most bad surfaces with ease. Through faster bends that soft suspension does result in more body roll than in some rivals and certainly doesn't encourage more spirited driving.
What you get for your money
Ford Ireland currently only offers the one specification level for the EcoSport: Zetec. This includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, electrically-operated door mirrors and Ford's 4.2-inch SYNC infotainment system including smartphone connectivity, as well as manual air conditioning and electric front and rear windows. Annoyingly, rear parking sensors are still an optional extra and if you want a reversing camera you'll need to stump up an extra €275 for it on top of the €850 you'll need to spend in order to get the five-inch Sony Navigation system that it is solely compatible with. There is also a Winter Pack available as an optional extra and this includes heated front seats and heated door mirrors and windscreen.
Even with the small changes made to it the Ford EcoSport remains an unconvincing choice if you're in the market for a compact SUV. It does tick a lot of the boxes, but against its rivals it simply doesn't compete. If you're simply looking for a small Ford go with the excellent Fiesta, as it's a far better car.