x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Road test: 2014 Ford EcoSport

Ford’s new green mini-SUV is something of an acquired taste, writes Kevin Hackett.

The Ford EcoSport handles and drives well, but is hampered by a lack of power at crucial points, its rear-seat room and boot space. Courtesy Newspress
The Ford EcoSport handles and drives well, but is hampered by a lack of power at crucial points, its rear-seat room and boot space. Courtesy Newspress

You’re unlikely to see too many Ford EcoSports in the UAE, but head over to India and the streets there are apparently full of them. Our country has been in a love affair with huge SUVs since the genre came into existence back in the early 1970s and a mini-SUV like the EcoSport just won’t cut it in a nation where size clearly matters when it comes to what car you drive. But, as I’ve always said, size isn’t everything.

It’s a soft-roader, the EcoSport, a sort of pumped up Fiesta with awkward looks thanks to its short yet rather tall physical dimensions. And it’s built in India, from where Ford intends to break it into other markets such as Europe and across the Middle East.

I have to confess, when Ford’s PR man contacted me to see if I wanted to test this car, I was unaware it even existed. But I homed in on the “sport” of its nomenclature and immediately said yes. So when it was delivered to me, I was slightly taken aback by its appearance. It’s short – really short – and really tall. Not wanting to appear shallow or unappreciative, I took the keys and mentally steeled myself for the Dubai-to-Abu Dhabi commute with the serious off-roader machines that tend to make sharing the roads a misery at the best of times.

If it was squashed, made a bit longer, wider and shorter, it would probably be quite attractive, because Ford’s current design language is on the button – and it isn’t entirely down to the Aston Martin rip-off front grilles, either. But once you’re sat inside you can forget about all that and pretend that you’re in a Fiesta with extra headroom. You could probably wear a top hat and still have room to spare.

While the overall look of the EcoSport’s cabin is very similar to that of the Fiesta, the materials used to trim it aren’t of the same quality. The plastics are textured but hard as nails, which Ford has shied away from using in recent times in its quest to be viewed as a premium brand. The version I’ve been loaned is the more upmarket, Dh80,000, Titanium spec, which has leatherette upholstery. To sate the appetites of Europeans, a Titanium X variant will have actual leather and 17-inch alloys in place of the 16s here, but there’s probably no point offering that trim in the Gulf. The base model comes in at Dh58,000 and that might seem like good value until you consider that Renault’s charming, larger and better looking Duster starts at Dh49,900.

The EcoSport isn’t quite as roomy inside as its looks suggest. Boot space isn’t hampered by a spare wheel (it’s attached to the rear, side-hinged door) but it’s still fairly mean. Ideal for transporting tall plants home from the garden centre, perhaps, but its shallowness would prevent much in the way of luggage storage beyond that. Up front, it’s fine, with room aplenty for the two occupants, but the rear bench would struggle to accommodate three adult passengers because of its narrow girth.

One thing, apart from its styling, that Ford has been getting right for some time now is the way its cars drive. Since the Focus arrived in 1998, Ford has made some of the sweetest-handling mass-produced cars available anywhere, so perhaps the EcoSport can outshine its rivals on the road.

There isn’t much “sport” on offer here, it has to be said, and if I were still in the UK I might be tempted to contact my local Trading Standards officer. Foot down, flat out, the car seems to run out of puff just when you need that extra poke for overtaking or getting out of the path of some looming Land Cruiser loony. No, this car is far more eco than sport and, as such, is more suited to the urban drive than the open highway. But that’s not to discredit it in any way, because it really does ride extremely well.

Its steering is direct and precise – a joy to use. When you tackle tight roundabouts or other bends at speed (it does get there eventually), the EcoSport exhibits practically zero body roll, despite its height and narrow track, and it soaks up the region’s roughest roads with aplomb. Evidently, Ford hasn’t allowed this little pretender to go without what has made its cars so great and, in this regard at least, it outshines pretty much anything that could be considered a rival.

Perhaps, if it had been equipped with a four-wheel-drive power train, the EcoSport could have carved a niche for itself on the dunes, but its rugged stature and generous ground clearance are a bit wasted here. But then that would have added weight and cost, the last things that this little car needs. As it is, it’s an acquired taste in many respects, but there’s no denying that it leaves a sweet taste in the mouth as you’re driving it.

khackett@thenational.ae

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