Last year was my tenth in the car scribbling and road testing business. Feels like a long time, although working somewhere like Autocar – alongside people who’ve been at it three- or four-times as long in some cases – you soon realise it isn’t.
But it felt like a long time this morning in particular, driving the Ford EcoSport. I don’t think I’ve driven a genuinely bad new car from Ford in those ten years.
There have been high points (current Fiesta, outgoing Mondeo, any Focus you care to mention) and not-so-high ones (current Ka, Fusion perhaps). Nothing poor, though. Didn’t think Ford was capable of it, to be honest.
I’ve certainly driven a bad Ford now. The EcoSport is easily the worst new Ford of the current crop, and may even be the weakest introduction the company has made in longer than a decade.
More seriously for Ford, there’s probably not a worse compact crossover in the class that you could spend your money on. Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Mini Countryman, Vauxhall Mokka, Kia Soul, Citroën C4 Cactus, Peugeot 2008; I’d take a Dacia Duster over this.
The 1.5-litre TDCI diesel EcoSport’s specific shortcomings will be the subject of a full Autocar road test in the not-too-distant future. It’s also a car we’ve already reviewed in preliminary fashion, and which you can read about here.
Suffice it to say now that it’s below the class standard in just about every way we assess these things: performance (plodding), refinement (rough and thrashy), handling (poor basic road-holding and ESP tuning), ride (noisy and unsettled), economy (struggles to 40mpg) and material quality.
You find flimsy, hard, rough, poorly finished plastics throughout the cabin, and the seats are hard and flat. The diesel engine’s terrible. The car’s fairly well-packaged, but that’s the solitary semi-compliment you might pay it. To these eyes it even looks dated and ill-proportioned.
Originally engineered by Ford US and a big-seller in last-gen format in South America, the current EcoSport is built in India for the European market.
The reason that an Indian-built Ford, designed and engineered to meet tastes and requirements a long way removed from ours, is now on sale in what’s routinely acknowledged as the most sophisticated market in the world, is the ‘One Ford’ manufacturing philosophy.
Championed by now-departed boss Alan Mulally, it dictates that the company should have truly global models, rather than catering separately to European, American and Asian markets with similar-but-unrelated ones.
So far, ‘One Ford’ has brought us a new Focus (good), a new Ranger pickup (also good), a new Kuga 4x4 (which I like, but others don’t) – and its most contentious product may yet prove to be the new Mondeo, which we’ll drive in October.
In the EcoSport, however, it’s foisting a car onto European buyers that’s simply not good enough – and not right for the requirements of Ford’s European clientele, either.
The EcoSport’s an important car to boot. Few parts of the European market are growing as fast as the supermini crossover segment, and Ford has ambitions to lead the European SUV sales charts with its new-breed 4x4s within a couple of years. It won’t with sub-standard models like this, that’s for sure.
The more important question is how long Ford’s reputation for unrivalled ride and handling amid the volume brands will survive in the ‘One Ford’ era?
A lot of people in the European car industry credit Ford with the invention of modern chassis development, and few have been better exponents of it these last 25 years.
To me, it seems a competitive advantage the company can ill-afford to lose – and, right now, it’s being risked.