Ford EcoSport fails to make its case against excellent competitors

By Jim Prueter

(November 21, 2018) Today, 70 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. are non-sedans; most of those are SUVS. Consumers are flocking to SUVs and pickup trucks, and manufacturers are busy filling that demand with new products of all sizes. To that end, earlier this year Ford began selling its first subcompact crossover utility vehicle in the U.S., EcoSport (pronounced “echo-sport”).

While certainly “new” to the U.S., the EcoSport isn’t completely new, having been sold globally since it was introduced in South America some 15 years ago. The second-generation iteration was launched in 2012 as a 2013 model. In addition to India, Ford plants in Brazil, China, Romania, Russia and Thailand also crank them out.

While other competitors in this subcompact market like the Mazda CX3, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade and others are well into their product life cycles, Ford is arriving late to the party and previously had nothing smaller to sell than the Escape. EcoSport is off to a somewhat decent start and has been selling 5,000 to 6,000 each month since January.

Starting at $20,990 for the base S trim there are three additional up-level trims offered: SE, SES and Titanium. The SES is offered as an all-wheel-drive only model while the other trim levels come as standard front-wheel drive.

EcoSport comes with a choice of two engines. The base 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder delivers 123 horsepower; you will only find that engine in the front-wheel-drive versions of the vehicle. If you choose all-wheel-drive, your EcoSport will be powered by a 166-horsepower non-turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission available.

Ford provided me a 2019 EcoSport Titanium for a week of test-driving. It listed at $29,080, including all-wheel drive with just a $450 cold weather package as an option. 

That’s a lot of greenbacks, especially when you consider this is an entry-level subcompact vehicle, but know that Ford and their dealers are offering big discounts to make that price more desirable.

Visually, the EcoSport looks a lot like the Escape at least from the front doors forward. The rear styling however looks a bit peculiar, narrow, upright and abruptly cut off making it look especially stubby and not nearly as sturdy or as substantial as the Escape.

The front style mimics that of its larger Ford SUV siblings the Escape and Edge. From the side the 17-inch wheels look good but seem small given the EcoSport looks tall. Out back, the EcoSport looks attractive, and has something we haven’t seen since an early generation of the Toyota RAV4: a rear cargo bay door that swings to the side from right to left rather than a conventional rear lift gate. We really didn’t mind it so much especially since it opens so you can load from the curb side. But it will be problematic if another vehicle is parked fairly close to the back of the EcoSport.

At just 161.3 inches in overall length, it’s the shortest of the subcompact SUVs and seemingly lacks the edgy styling attitudes that will resonate with millennial and other youthful car shoppers.

Inside, my EcoSport test vehicle was solid black with heated leather trimmed seats and void of visual design features or delightful elements to make it hip or youthful like a Mini Cooper, Jeep Renegade, Hyundai Kona or Fiat 500X for example. For that you would have to move up to the SES, which adds colorful trim accents to the vehicle shift area, door panels, and seats with contrasting stitching colors and seat stripes.

Interior materials of hard plastic about the upper door panels, lower instrument panel, and center console area look cheap, but designers did add soft material on the forward-facing sections of the instrument panel.

Slipping behind the wheel, I was more than surprised at the ample amount of head and legroom. At 6-6, I’m a big guy and I found the seating position excellent and at least as generous as in the Escape. Seat bolstering is good, even the bottom cushion. To be sure, it is narrow inside — almost Smart Car narrow — because it’s a narrow vehicle. Visibility can be challenging given its wide front A pillars, and small rear and back side windows.

Rear seat room is tight and while Ford calls it a five-passenger vehicle, you’ll struggle trying to accommodate three adults across the rear. Even four people in such a small vehicle chews up room for almost anything else. There’s just 13 cubic feet of cargo behind the second row, which is less than half that of the Escape. But there is an adjustable cargo hold floor back there to help accommodate a bit larger purchase from the Home Depot.

On the road, there’s just not a lot of power, even with our larger engine Titanium model and its 166 horsepower. Negotiating the various mountain elevations in Arizona required pedal to the metal flogging mostly all the time, and then you’re greeted with a loud, buzzy engine noise that’s not a pleasant driving experience. The power should be fine for urban city driving but you’ll be mostly disappointed putting it through its paces on the freeway or interstate. There just isn’t much “Sport” in the EcoSport.

The ride is firm and longer travels will be fatiguing. On the plus side, it handles city traffic with aplomb, it’s easy to drive and park fitting parking spaces most vehicles will have to pass up.

Unfortunately, the EcoSport falls well short of our expectations of advanced safety features. Features like automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning aren’t available at all. Even features like rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring are only available on mid-trim and above models.

Overall, the Ford EcoSport is one of the less desirable vehicles in the subcompact crossover utility vehicle segment. It isn’t terrible and can actually be fun to drive with its easy driving and handling characteristics but class leaders in this segment and price do it much better like the excellent Hyundai Kona, sporty Mazda CX-3, safety technology of the Nissan Kicks, and premium class Buick Encore.

Most of the class rivals perform better on the road — faster, quieter, better fuel economy and more fun to drive. Most also have much nicer interiors, offer more standard features for the money and are simply more upscale.  The EcoSport offers no real advantages over the worthy competitors in this class of vehicle.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $20,990 - $27,875
Price as Tested: $29,080
Powerplant: 2.0-Liter 166-horsepower 4-cylinder engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 23-MPG City – 29-MPG Highway – 27-MPG Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: 4 out of 5 possible stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Where Built: Chennai, India

Competes With:
Buick Encore
Chevrolet Trax
Fiat 500X
Honda HR-V
Hyundai Kona
Jeep Renegade
Mazda CX-3
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Nissan kicks
Subaru Crosstrek
Toyota C-HR