Ford has joined the baby SUV sector with the Fiesta-based EcoSport.
EcoSport looks chunky, and so ticks at least one important box. There's even a spare wheel mounted on the rear door, and it looks great - in a retro 80s way!
The reason for this positioning is due to consumer demand from the car's prime marketplace - Brazil. In South America ease of access to a spare wheel is far more important than in Europe. The boot-mounted spare also helps boot-space reach a modest 333 litres. In a very short time, however, the novelty of the tailgate-mounted wheel wears off.
Unlike most SUVs and even the Fiesta hatchback (that EcoSport is based on), you don't open-up the tailgate but rather open it like a door to access the boot. When parking you must allow extra space to ensure you can do this - but what's to stop other motorists parking too close and rendering boot door access impossible?!
EcoSport has a certain amount of road presence thanks to the smart front end. When viewed side-on you see that it is clearly sitting on a raised platform, as the wheels don't really fill out the arches. The rear looks quite retro with that spare wheel dominating the view.
Inside, you sit tall and the driving position offers a good view forward of the road. The cabin is bigger than the exterior footprint would suggest and the trim and materials used remind you of the car's Fiesta connection.
Under the bonnet you can get a 1.5-litre, 90hp diesel; a 1.5-litre automatic petrol with 110hp or the award-winning Eco-Boost, 1.0-litre, 125hp three-cylinder petrol engine. Try to forget the 1.0-litre part as the cubic capacity of an engine is irrelevant these days - it's the power and torque that matters.
Our petrol EcoSport never felt short of power but it was not as economical as its fuel consumption figures suggest. On the road EcoSport is at home at slower town speeds, where it is quite easy to use, although there is quite a high sill to step over when getting in and out. Once you venture onto twisty roads, or dare to drive with some enthusiasm, EcoSport fails to inspire.
The car's suspension loads up very quickly when turning-in, and while this suspension set-up might be ideal for the South American market, it doesn't work well enough here. On the motorway EcoSport does not enjoy crosswinds or even gentle breezes and tends to need quite a bit of steering input at times.
As an urban machine, EcoSport works quite well, but it has too many shortcomings to justify the €24,000 asking price (Titanium). Lots of alternatives spring to mind, such as the similarly priced KIA Soul or the very affordable Citroen C4 Cactus. Ford knows it has come very late to this growing market sector and has its work cut out with EcoSport to compete with more established rivals from Peugeot, Nissan, Opel, Hyundai, Renault and Suzuki etc. On price alone, who can can forget the "shockingly affordable" €16,000 Dacia Duster?
Without a cheaper entry-point, EcoSport sales will come from customer brand loyalty and the hard work of Ford's big dealer network.