The EcoSport is a fun little SUV, but it would have been better as a hatchback.
SUVs are king and cars are dying out. The landscape has changed so much; even Toyota’s own RAV4 outsold the mighty Camry. Ford has clearly taken notice, and has decided to by 2022. Cars like the Fusion and Fiesta will soon disappear, and SUVs like the 2018 EcoSport will take their place. The EcoSport (pronounced "echo" sport) is a sub-compact SUV, and the smallest in Ford’s lineup. Since the Fiesta will be killed off in the USA after 2018, the EcoSport will Ford's smallest car offering moving forward.
The EcoSport started off as a Brazil-only model back in 2003, but later became popular in Europe, where small cars are all the rage. Due to the boom in SUV popularity, Ford has decided to bring its tiniest SUV over to the US market. Ford isn’t the first to offer a sub-compact SUV in this market. The EcoSport will jump into battle with models like the Chevy Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, and Toyota CH-R. These tiny SUVs don’t offer a lot of space, but are great for budding families who live in tight, rural areas and desire a bit of ground clearance and ride height.
Among the competitive set, the Mazda CX-3 stands out as one of my favorites with its handsome looks, fun driving characteristics, and upmarket interior. In two of these three categories (fun driving and upmarket interior), the EcoSport does give the CX-3 a run for its money. My tester was a 2018 EcoSport Titanium trim, with a tasty $395 Candy Blue paint job. The Titanium trim starts at $25,880, and still delivers a remarkable amount of equipment considering the diminutive price tag. Inside, Ford has done a fine job making the EcoSport feel like a high quality product. There are still plenty of hard-touch plastics, but everything you rest your hands on is covered in soft leather.
The Titanium trim also rolls in a ton of convenience and safety features including: single-zone automatic climate control, leather seats with power driver seat, leather steering wheel and shift lever, sunroof, blind-spot monitoring, intelligent keyless access with pushbutton start, eight-inch Sync3 touchscreen with voice activated navigation, and B&O Play premium audio by Harmon. My tester also came with the $450 cold weather package, which adds floor liners, headed mirrors, heated steering wheel, and de-icer. The base engine is an interesting choice for the US market, a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder EcoBoost mated to a six-speed direct-shift automatic.
Fortunately, the old dual-clutch PowerShift automatic is not offered in the EcoSport. You can search “PowerShift lawsuit” to find out why this is good news. A 1.0-liter engine doesn’t sound like much to motivate the 3,100-pound SUV, and as you’d expect, it isn’t. This little motor is good for 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque and a 0-60 mph sprint in around 11.5 seconds. Tire squeal isn’t something you’ll have to worry about when launching this car, and although I never had more than two adults in the car at a time, the EcoSport would likely struggle with four adults on board. Fortunately, Ford does offer a more powerful engine option.
The larger larger, 2.0-liter non-turbo engine with 166 hp and AWD adds $1,450 to the price, and results in slightly lower fuel economy. The EPA rates the 1.0-liter EcoSport at 27-mpg city and 29-highway, and the 2.0 at 23-mpg city and 29-mpg on the highway. Thanks to a smooth stop-start system and a relaxed driving style, I was able to eek out an average of 30.8 mpg with mostly city driving. The EcoSport can only really be driven one way: slowly. Mash the throttle, and the little engine tries to deliver speed, but it never really comes. None of the SUVs in the sub-compact category are rapid, so the EcoBoost’s lack of oomph isn’t a deal breaker.
It may be slow, but the EcoSport is still a hoot to drive. Essentially a tall Fiesta, the little crossover has inherited some of the Fiesta’s outstanding driving characteristics. The steering is extremely involving, and provides plenty of feedback to the driver. In fact, it's exactly what you’d want in a hot hatchback, but it almost feels out of place in this tall-riding SUV. The steering is fun on a back road, but requires too much input on the highway, resulting in a tipsy ride. The EcoSport feels like it has inherited the heart of a sporty hatchback, but Ford retroactively muted the experience to transform it into a more comfortable daily driver.
A future ST version could bring back more of the excitement, but I’d much rather see Ford bring the Fiesta ST back from the grave. The EcoSport doesn’t have a sport mode; instead it offers an S position below drive on the transmission. I didn’t notice much of a difference in S mode, aside from slightly higher engine rpms. Ford also included a pseudo-manual shift mode with a rocker knob on the shift lever, but it takes so long to initiate a gear change, it isn’t really worth using. After driving the EcoSport for a week, I have arrived at one question – what the heck was wrong with just having the Fiesta?
The EcoSport is a fine SUV, and comes very close to matching the Mazda CX-3 on interior feel and fun, but it can’t match the CX-3 on looks. The styling isn’t offensive, but it looks a bit like an Escape that has been left in the sun for too long. On the inside, the EcoSport isn’t cavernous, but it does offer more space than a Fiesta. The rear seats offer 36.7-inches of legroom and there is 20.9 cubic feet of space behind the second row. Cargo space increases to 50 cubic feet with the second row folded, and the rear seat bottoms can be lifted up to provide a flat load floor. Compared to the Fiesta hatchback’s 25 cubic feet of storage, the EcoSport starts to make sense.
Sitting in the back seat will be difficult for larger passengers, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to fit three people back there. Drivers who carry people and cargo often might want to consider stepping up to the larger Escape, albeit with less equipment, for the same price. The EcoSport is not a bad SUV, quite the opposite in fact. My collegues warned me this might be a soul-crushing week, but the EcoSport proved to be a rather fun companion, even with a measly three-cylinder engine. Despite its charm, the EcoSport is still a difficult sell for American consumers for a number of reasons.
There is a reason why the Ford F-150 is by far the best-selling vehicle in the US market. Americans value space, power, and road presence, and the EcoSport is lacking in these categories. If you're the type of person who likes to have their engine deliver power right when you asked for it, look elsewhere. Likewise, the involving steering is great for someone who enjoys driving, but a normal commuter might find it tiresome. The EcoSport is an SUV for a very specific buyer – one who needs a compact car with good ground clearance. The EcoSport is a charming SUV that partially delivers on the "sport" side of its name. It just leaves me thinking - how much better is the European Fiesta?