IAIN ROBERTSON

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Talk about getting it wrong, Ford of Europe has made a number of product errors over the years, suggests Iain Robertson, although its current hiccough might harbour more complicated brand ramifications.

 

You have to admire Ford Motor Company. It remains one of the largest automotive brands in the world and is responsible for the largest number of new vehicle registrations in both Europe and the UK over the past few decades. Yet, when it gets something wrong, the results can be catastrophic.

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Ford produces vehicles that have made an impact on many people’s lives. Think back fifty years and its Cortina was our nation’s best-seller by far. Through three generations of the Capri model, 2+2 coupe motoring was introduced to the masses in ‘The Car You Always Promised Yourself’. The word ‘Transit’ has become synonymous with load lugging commercials and there is scarcely a rock band, or High Street fruiterer, that has not been grateful for its carrying capacity, let alone every generic van rental business.

 

Yet, delve back into the late-1950s, in the US, and the much-vaunted Edsel sedan (and estate car), named after Henry Ford’s first son, was regarded with as much derision as David Icke in his most floatacious Yogic flying mode. For the car company that invented mass production, the cost in lost sales was disastrous.

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Ford has flirted with catastrophe in more recent times. Its original and most aptly-named model, the Fiesta-based Ka, got off to a dangerously faltering start, following its reveal. Unlike the Edsel, it was a brilliant model but it failed to capture immediate market interest, even though its subsequent iterations did catch on…until the Fiat 500-based alternative burst onto the scene and brought about a return to antipathy. We are yet to see a replacement.

 

Ford plays a force majeure game with many of its models. While straying into the avant-garde with its Escort replacement, the new Focus, which was admittedly a ‘big-seller’ (well, there were plenty of registrations at least), the more ‘normal’ Mark Two variant redressed the balance and increased the quality to (near-)Golf standards at the same time.

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While the company’s bread-and-butter offering has been the Fiesta for several years, since its late-1970s’ introduction, somehow, despite all of the expertise, despite the firm’s market ‘nous’, it has failed to capitalise on developing popular derivatives of one of its biggest selling model lines. Of course, internally, the company believes wholeheartedly in everything that it produces and woe betide the individual daring to rear his head above the parapets in opposition.

 

The first cock-up came with the Fusion, a pseudo junior-league MPV that should have led the market but which became the doyen of the disabled scene, acquired by more orange-to-blue badge-holders than any other marque, mainly due to the keenest-of-the-keen disposal pricing policies. It was more wooden in responses than the most splinter-laden Vauxhall of the same period. Naturally, having become the preserve of the car-needing but vehemently not car-loving generation, it was doomed to failure.

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Yet, to prove that its inherent arrogance, an attitude seldom dipped into since the early-1980s, knows no bounds, the EcoSport, which has to be among the least appropriate and least attractive model names of the past forty years, has also been through a ’bit of an Edsel moment’ since its introduction. What Ford is attempting to achieve with EcoSport, is not a new Electric Vehicle, nor even a mainstream model possessing any major Ecological remit. As to the Sport element, well, if looks are anything to go by, even with a snazzy handsome-bloke-fumbling-with-car-keys-in-his-swimming-trunks advertising campaign, this Ford has missed the boat.

 

The original iteration hung its spare wheel on its tailgate, like a latter-day Land-Rover, further adding to its slightly edgy sense of impropriety. Even the brochure highlights its approach and departure angles, as though EcoSport were the ‘second coming’ of a new generation of 4×4 SUVs…even though 4WD is definitely NOT on the menu, even as a premium priced option. Yet, as Nissan and other brands have proved, the day of the ‘look-alike’ is very much upon us and buyers are drawn to the ‘potential’, even if the product is devoid of actual capability.

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It did not take Ford long to appreciate that it got its sums wrong. Withdrawing it ever-so-slightly from the new car scene, without making too much fuss about it, it has re-introduced the EcoSport, albeit without the outside-suspended spare wheel carrier. Okay. It has also adopted the US-inspired snout of its major-league big brother, the Explorer, the world’s biggest selling 4×4. That would be sort of okay, had Ford not made its latest Explorer look more like a Land Rover Discovery, so the EcoSport now looks like that American model’s predecessor.

 

Yet, all of this big-country, big-chested outdooriness would be fine, were the model tested not powered by an asthmatic 1.5-litre turbo-diesel that would scarcely pull the skin off a rice pudding. It develops five horses more (now 92bhp) than the original unit but it is still lethargy in stretch-pants. As a result, its maximum velocity, aided by a tailwind and a downhill gradient knocks on the door of 100mph, while despatching the 0-60mph benchmark acceleration time in around-about 14 seconds, neither of which figures, although largely irrelevant for the first one, are going to set the heart aflutter.

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A modest CO2 rating of 115g/km is accompanied by an Official Combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg, which is also irrelevant, because I struggled to attain much more than 49.8mpg, quite a shortfall. While ‘market-priced’ at £17,395, again an irrelevance, due to the vast numbers of PCPs inherent to this sector of the new car scene, the price tag was bolstered by a Winter Pack (£230; including heated front seats and door mirrors, as well as a ‘Quickclear’ front windscreen), rear parking sensors (£210), rear privacy glass (£225) and the Panther Black paint job (£495), which make the invoice bottom-line a more serious £18,555.

 

The test model was in Titanium trim, which I had believed was one of Ford’s more up-market levels, although you would be hard pushed to tell. No sat-nav and no DAB radio, allied to only part-hide covered seats, seem to highlight more of a poverty status, therefore I question the value-for-money, for which Ford always used to be renowned. However, my biggest issue with the EcoSport is not its name but its confused stance. It is a neither one thing, nor the other machine. I can see it currying favour with the diminishing blue badge set (although current governmental cuts will mean fewer examples reaching that market segment), which loves the idea but lacks the will.

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You would not believe how long it is that I have been troubling Ford’s Press Garage to send me an example. To a certain extent, I can now comprehend its reluctance. Look, it is comfy enough. It is built sturdily. It even drives well. It is moderately inexpensive to live with. However, no amount of air-conditioned gloveboxes, or under-seat storage trays, or pushbutton starters are going to stop me from considering the EcoSport as Ford’s missed opportunity to capitalise on the compact-SUV market sector. It is supposed to be a Fiesta SUV. It is also supposed to be in one of the most hotly contested segments of the new car scene.

 

Conclusion:   The most distressing aspect of writing about the Ford EcoSport is that I wanted to be complimentary about the product. However, I shall not tell half-truths. While I have a lot of respect for this world giant of the motor industry and my opinions have been most supportive of it over the years, apart from the general pleasantness of the EcoSport, it actually possesses few saving virtues. For what it is worth, Ford needs to return to the drawing-board and reconfigure its Fiesta-based crossover, so that it CAN compete head-on with its competitors in the hotly-contested SUV scene. Ford needs a winner, not an ‘also-ran’.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).