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2018 Ford EcoSport

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 2/20/2018 JOE LORIO

2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium

If the SUV has become the vehicular avatar of suburbia, then all those hulking Ford Expeditions and their ilk are the McMansions of the highway. But every trend must produce a countertrend—in real estate, that’s the tiny-house phenomenon, whose devotees reject the ballooning size of the American tract house. In the automobile market, one might draw a parallel with mini-utility vehicles, which, even more so than tiny houses, are exploding in popularity. They were the fastest-growing segment in 2017, and Ford has now entered the burgeoning category with the subcompact EcoSport. 

The EcoSport truly embraces the tiny ethos. It’s 16.8 inches shorter in length than an Escape and rides on a 6.7-inch-shorter wheelbase. Even within its competitive set—which includes the Jeep Renegade, the Honda HR-V, and the Chevrolet Trax, among others—the EcoSport is the runt of the litter. The Ford’s wheelbase is the shortest of the group, and most of its competitors are at least a half-foot longer overall.

Although the EcoSport is new to us, it’s not a new vehicle. Its minuscule dimensions are likely due to the model’s originally being designed for the South American and Indian markets. This generation has been sold elsewhere since 2012, having just been treated to a mid-cycle update along with some modifications to get it ready for sale in the United States. The model is built in Romania, Brazil, Russia, China, and Thailand—our cars will come from a factory in India.

What, Me Hurry?

Most versions of the EcoSport come standard with a turbocharged 1.0-liter inline-three that musters 123 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 125 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. It drives the front wheels; if you want all-wheel drive, you’re upgraded to a non-turbo 2.0-liter inline-four that’s good for 166 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 149 lb-ft at 4500. Both engines use a six-speed automatic.

The car we drove had the turbocharged three-cylinder and front-wheel drive. The combo can hold its own in ordinary city and suburban driving, but more urgent calls for acceleration are met with a shrug. Under nearly all circumstances, the EcoBoost three-cylinder’s gritty warble is your constant companion. That the EcoSport uses a six-speed automatic rather than a CVT (as found in several of its rivals) is to its advantage, however. The conventional automatic cuts down on high-rpm droning, and this gearbox has no qualms about dipping into its lower ratios—with only 125 lb-ft of torque on hand, it can’t afford not to.

Despite the engine’s small displacement and the EcoSport’s diminutive size, when it comes time to belly up to the gas pump, the EcoSport drinks like the big(ger) boys. Its most economical powertrain, the turbo three with front-drive, can’t break 30 mpg on the highway: EPA ratings are 29 mpg highway and 27 city. With the four-cylinder and all-wheel drive, the city figure drops to 23 mpg while the highway number stays the same. The much larger Escape with a 1.5-liter turbo four and all-wheel drive is just 1 mpg behind the all-wheel-drive EcoSport in both measures. And the front-drive, 1.5-liter Escape actually beats the EcoSport on the highway (with 30 mpg), although it’s 4 mpg lower in the city. Looked at another way, with the same 1.0-liter/automatic combination as the front-drive EcoSport, the Ford Focus returns the same 27 mpg city but 38 mpg on the highway, a whopping 9 mpg better. A couple of additional gears in the automatic no doubt would help the EcoSport on the highway.

The EcoSport’s decent ride is a pleasant surprise in a vehicle with such a short wheelbase. On our example, 17-inch wheels were wrapped with 205/50R-17 tires, and their forgiving, all-purpose nature no doubt helped take the edge off bumps. The suspension manages a reasonable degree of body control, and the steering weights up appropriately once you get beyond parking-lot speeds. Although there’s nothing energetic about the EcoSport’s responses, they’re not particularly sluggish, either. The wee SUV simply goes where you point it, and of course it’s a cinch to maneuver in tight confines. There is a firmer chassis setup that comes standard on the SES model, which we did not drive.

What’s in the Box

Of course, engaging driving dynamics generally are not a high priority in this segment; instead, these vehicles are far more about versatility and features. Even buyers who are going small don’t necessarily want to skip the niceties or the latest technology. The EcoSport’s feature content is about midpack. At a starting price of $20,990, the base S is modestly equipped, with a backup camera, two USB ports, and a basic version of Sync—and, curiously, it’s the only variant where you can get a jaunty, rear-mounted spare tire ($185). The SE, at $23,900, adds a raft of equipment including a power sunroof, automatic climate control, proximity entry, push-button start, satellite radio, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, roof rails, rear parking sensors, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and Sync 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Optional on the SE are blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, 17-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, and Sync Connect with apps and a Wi-Fi hotspot. For $26,735, the Titanium includes most of the SE’s optional equipment, along with leather and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. The $27,735 SES skips the fancy audio system and swaps in cloth-and-leather seats, shift paddles, and the firmer suspension. It’s also the only model to come standard with the four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive; they’re optional on the other trim levels for $1500. Forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, and lane-departure warning are not on the menu for any of the four trim levels.

The interior finishes on our Titanium-spec example were unremarkable—acceptable, not overly cheap. The SES cabin has a bit more personality, with copper-colored trim and copper stripes on the seats. The 8.0-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback looks good, and the home screen is able to display audio and phone info simultaneously with a map. The screen’s swipe and pinch-to-zoom functionality are intuitive, and yet there are welcome knobs for volume and tuning. It’s part of a simple dashboard with straightforward controls.

The driver’s chair is supportive and comfortable, but the forward view is impinged slightly due to the rear corners of the hood that rise up to meet the wide A-pillars, creating blind spots that are unrelieved by the little triangular windows ahead of the door glass. Visibility to the rear isn’t great, either, but the available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert helps. Back-seat space is tight, but the bottom cushion is high up off the floor, a saving grace that makes the rear perch barely habitable for adults. Still, the dearth of kneeroom is severe—so much so that tall drivers might not be able to slip a shopping bag onto the floor behind their seat.

The EcoSport’s cargo hold is accessed via a side-hinged door (the release is hidden in the right taillight) and offers a class-competitive 21 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 50 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded. For reference, a Honda HR-V has about 15 percent greater cargo volume. A removable false floor can be positioned higher—lining up with the folded seatbacks and making for a shallow, hidden stowage area underneath—or lower, adding a couple of inches to the cargo-area height. The rear seatbacks (split 60/40) fold easily once the seat cushions are flipped forward.

The EcoSport’s modest accommodations, modest power, and unfortunately modest fuel economy are tempered by its approachable technology, versatility (the availability of all-wheel drive is not a given among the competition), and fairly low cash outlay. Ford’s entry in this segment is unabashedly at the tiny end of the spectrum, but perhaps that will be a plus for those who reject the notion that you should drive more car than you really need.

Specifications >VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback

BASE PRICES: S FWD, $20,990;

S AWD, $22,490;

SE FWD, $23,900;

SE AWD, $25,400;

Titanium FWD, $26,735;

SES AWD, $27,735;

Titanium AWD, $28,235

ENGINE TYPES: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 12-valve 1.0-liter inline-three, 123 hp, 125 lb-ft; DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter I-4, 166 hp, 149 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 99.2 in

Length: 161.3 in

Width: 69.5 in Height: 65.1 in

Passenger volume: 91 cu ft

Cargo volume: 21 cu ft

Curb weight C/D est: 3050–3350 lb

Performance (C/D EST):

Zero to 60 mph: 10.0–10.5 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 36.0–40.0 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 17.0–17.6 sec

Top speed: 110 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY:

Combined/city/highway: 25–28/23–27/29 mpg

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