Ford EcoSport Compact Crossover: Forbidden Fruit First Drive

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Last year, Nissan sold over 230,000 examples of its Juke compact crossover worldwide. MINI sold over 100,000 Countryman and Paceman models. Kia moved nearly 400,000 Sportage crossovers.

The message here is that subcompact and compact crossovers are big business. Ford knows this, which is why its new EcoSport (pronounced "Echo-sport") is to be sold in Europe and the Far East, as well as its home markets in South America.

U.S. sales are unconfirmed--and as yet, unlikely--but we got behind the wheel for a first drive in Barcelona, Spain.

Europe is a key sales arena for subcompact crossovers like the EcoSport. As well as the aforementioned Nissan Juke, the Ford is up against Renault's new Captur, the Peugeot 2008, the Opel Mokka and several more over the next few years.

As subcompact cars themselves improve--as anyone who has driven Ford's Fiesta will attest--crossovers based on these cars improve too, offering levels of comfort, performance and equipment far greater than small cars of the past. Throw in pseudo-off road styling, the extra utility of a raised seating position and highly-efficient small engines, and their popularity isn't at all surprising.

Brazilian origins

Unusually for a modern Ford, it's been designed not in the U.S, nor Europe, but by Ford's team in Brazil.

This is where the original EcoSport was developed and sold, on the market since 2003. With raised suspension and chunky body styling it was designed to take on tough roads, yet small engines and a Fiesta-sized footprint meant low running costs and ease of use.

The new EcoSport follows that trend, with a platform donated by the current-generation Fiesta.

It's just over 1.5 inches longer than a Fiesta but its raised ride height, 8-inch ground clearance and chunky body styling make it look much bigger in the flesh.

Unusually for a modern crossover, the EcoSport also features an externally-mounted spare tire, which does add several inches to the car's length--accounted for by the reverse parking sensors, we're told. Due to this, the car has a side-hinged tailgate rather than the typical top-hinged hatchback design.

These details and the car's relatively narrow footprint do lend the EcoSport an ungainly look--neither as sleek as the Fiesta it's based on nor as sophisticated as its European rivals.

Those impressions continue into the cabin, where the design is all Fiesta but the execution less impressive. The plastics are hard and shiny, and the car's SYNC display graphics seemingly a few generations behind systems used by other companies. Mercifully, your regular contact points--seats, wheel and gear shifter--all feel up to standard.

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