Robust In-Car Tech, Lacks Advanced Safety Tech
Drinks Fuel Like A Larger SUV
Although the 2018 Ford EcoSport is new to the U.S. market, it’s not a new vehicle. The wee-size crossover SUV first emerged more than a decade ago in Brazil. The current model has been on sale around the world since 2012.
Ford desperately needed a subcompact SUV to compete in a market segment that has become seismic in consumer demand and thus, the EcoSport. The subcompact segment includes the top-selling Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Toyota CH-R, Jeep Renegade and Hyundai Kona.
The 2018 EcoSport model is built in Romania, Brazil, Russia, China and Thailand—our car hailed from Ford of India, the first U.S.-market car to come from that country. It’s sold in S, SE, SES, and Titanium trims, with a choice between front-drive, turbo-three cylinder models and all-wheel-drive versions with an inline-four-cylinder engine. Prices start from just above $20,000, and approach $30,000 in all-wheel-drive SES editions.
With a name that begins with Eco, I think it is unforgiveable that neither engine can crack 30 mpg on the highway. The EPA rates the 1.0-liter, front-wheel-drive EcoSport at 27-mpg city and 29-mpg highway; the 2.0-liter four is rated at 23 city/29 highway. Not only is that 29-mpg rating worse than every single one of the EcoSport’s four-cylinder competitors, it’s lower than the 30-mpg estimate for the larger, more powerful Ford Escape.
Two Engines Offered
The 2018 Ford EcoSport is one of the few subcompact SUVs to offer a choice of engines, each mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The first is a turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder base engine that powers all EcoSport models with front-wheel drive. This little 123-horsepower power plant with 125 pounds-feet of torque is sluggish at best. Some global markets might be fine with that kind of lackluster go-juice, but most Americans with their longer driving distances aren’t going to be impressed.
Enter the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder upgrade with a more robust 166 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque. That’s still only just enough for the EcoSport, but it is close to a good balance for the crossover’s needs in most driving situations. If you want the 2.0-liter with the AWD upgrade, be prepared to pay an extra $1,450.
Man, This Thing Is Really Small
The 2018 Ford EcoSport is the runt of the subcompact SUV liter. It’s 16.8 inches shorter in length than an Escape and rides on a 6.7-inch-shorter wheelbase. The Ford’s wheelbase is the shortest of the group, and most of its competitors are six or more inches longer overall.
Unmistakable as the little brother of the Ford Escape, styling isn’t exactly the EcoSport’s trump card. It looks a bit too tall, a bit too narrow and a bit too boxy at the back. The nose and cabin appear normally sized, but its rear ends abruptly. A traditional grille and front lights mask the EcoSport’s very tall front end, except when it’s seen in profile view.
Because the 2018 Ford EcoSport was originally designed to have a spare tire mounted to its rear, the back door swings open to the side, rather than using a traditional roof-mounted hatchback design. The swing-out design means you won’t be able to open the door all the way in parallel-park or backed-in situations.
A Look Inside
Throughout most of the interior the EcoSport shows its age with the materials that are used. Hard plastics line just about every surface, with some questionable cut lines and panel gaps on the dashboard and doors. The seats are narrow and not very supportive, though individual rear head- and legroom numbers are about par for the course.
There are, however, a number of clever storage solutions inside the EcoSport, with small cubbies for your phone or wallet in the doors and passenger-side dash. There’s even a small slot where you can rest a phone horizontally, just ahead of the gear selector and, conveniently, right next to the EcoSport’s two USB outlets. Plus, there are welcome knobs for volume and tuning.
In the rear, the little EcoSport offers a class-competitive 21 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 50 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded.
In Car and Safety Tech
A high point in the 2018 EcoSport is its tech-focused interior. Technology is based on Ford’s Sync 3 system, with a relatively simple menu structure and quick response to inputs. The voice controls work well, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and upper trim levels have an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot. A 4.2-inch infotainment screen is standard with a 6.5-inch or 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation available as upgrades on higher trim levels.
Driver assistance features and active safety systems are near to non-existent in the 2018 Ford EcoSport. A rear view backup camera is standard as is Ford’s roll stability control system. A blind spot monitor and a reverse sensing system are both available on certain trims, but you won’t find forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, blind spot and lane-departure warning.
Driving the Ford EcoSport
Where the 2018 Ford EcoSport really strutted its stuff was when driving around town. Its tiny size, wheels pushed to the corners and high ride height translated to easy maneuverability and agile handling. It wasn’t as sporty or fun to drive as some rivals, perhaps, but it was definitely easy to get around in. And, the little Ford did a respectable job of absorbing road bumps and imperfections at in-town speeds.
A big demerit however, were the enormous A-pillars restricting my view out of the front at street corners. Visibility to the rear wasn’t great, either, but the available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert helped.
The EcoSport’s decent highway ride was a pleasant surprise in a vehicle with such a short wheelbase. The suspension managed to deliver a smooth, compliant ride and a reasonable degree of body control. Steering was quick and direct with a decent amount of feel and grip in curves was also fairly impressive.
Although there was nothing energetic about the EcoSport’s engine responses, they were not particularly sluggish, either. The wee SUV simply went where I pointed it while the six-speed automatic clipped off quiet and unruffled shifts.
In the real world, our test drive model easily held the EPA’s estimate of 25-mpg average during a week’s worth of driving 276 miles as a family hauler and general runabout.
The 2018 Ford EcoSport isn’t a bad car, but it’s just not the one I would recommend. It delivers an experience that puts it at the lower end of the subcompact pack. Alternatives from Honda, Hyundai and Mazda offer better fuel efficiency and nicer driving dynamics in a far more well-rounded package.
Although it features a good amount of cargo space and a user-friendly optional infotainment system, the cons more than outweigh the pros for this subcompact SUV. Despite its moniker, the Ford EcoSport has only so-so fuel economy and it really isn’t sporty to drive.
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Our previous staff evaluation—Steve’s Road Trip in an EcoSport
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