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Ford has joined the small crossover crowd with the new Ecosport. The firm is the latest of an increasing number of manufacturers to cash-in on the trend for such models - a segment it expects will swell by 50% over the next five years.
It's new for the UK and Europe, but the Ecosport (pronounced 'echo sport' by Ford) has existed in various guises in overseas markets since 2003. It sits on the Fiesta platform, so pumped-up off-roader looks aside, it's essentially a taller version of the best-selling supermini; you can tell from behind the wheel because the cabin is all but identical, save for a higher seating position.
That said, build quality is a little shy of the Fiesta's: the cars at Ford's test-drive event weren't quite production ready, so a few rough edges were to be expected, although a production-ready version on static display didn't seem much better.
The Ecosport sells itself further back, though. There's a surprising amount of leg and headroom for rear-seat passengers, more so than in any direct rival, but the trade-off is a so-so boot of 333 litres with the rear seats upright.
They don't fold flat either, nor does the boot open in a conventional fashion, due in part to the spare wheel mounted on a boot door that hinges sideways rather than upwards, which is a bit of a practicality handicap.
In its favour, the Ecosport is about as good to drive as the current crop of small crossovers get. The tried-and-tested Fiesta platform does it no harm and creates a supple ride with responsive handling. The only downside is a bit of excess wind noise caused by the big wing mirrors.
BusinessCar sampled the 125hp 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol and 90hp 1.5-litre TDCi diesel variants, each of which is expected to account for around 40% of sales. A 110hp 1.5 petrol is also available and expected to account for the remaining 20% (or less) of overall sales, although it is the only engine available with an automatic gearbox.
A 1.0-litre petrol might sound out of place in what at least looks like a small 4x4, but it's the sprightliest of the lot and the most enjoyable to drive. Real-world economy is suspect in such small petrol units though, and fleets are more likely to covet the new 1.5-litre diesel engine, which is a little noisy and pulls well enough, but runs out of puff quite early on in the rev range.
Ford isn't expecting vast amounts of fleet sales from the Ecosport, but it does think the car stands a fighting chance in the salary-sacrifice channel. While it matches the Nissan Juke and beats an equivalent Peugeot 2008 on cost per mile, the Renault Captur makes a better financial case and has superior equipment including satnav.
From a taxation perspective, all of the aforementioned rivals have much lower emissions and better fuel economy than the Ford, too.
Model price range
Service, maintenance and repair
Vehicle Excise Duty
Cost per mile
BIK 20/40% per month
Boot space min/max
Spacious and good to drive but bettered by rivals in some areas