Ford EcoSport — Driving small

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The 2018 Ford EcoSport is misnamed — it's not particularly economical and it isn't exceptionally sporty. But the sub-compact crossover, which entered the U.S. market this year — several years after being introduced in Europe — has a lot going for it in a growing and competitive segment. And it plugs a hole in Ford's ever-expanding crossover SUV lineup after the company announced it was casting off its passenger cars.

The EcoSport is small crossover a foot-and-a-half shorter than the compact Escape, here-to-fore Ford's smallest utility vehicle. Its smallish size is apparent inside with 20.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats compared to 34 cubic feet in the Escape.

But the EcoSport still has more carrying capacity than most vehicles in its class with 50 cubic feet of space with the rear seat cushions pushed up and the seatbacks folded. The diminutive EcoSport will also haul and/or tow 2,000 pounds.

It carries the styling cues of Escape with a hexagonal front grille, slanted headlights, pronounced wheel arches and a character line from the front fender through the door handles and into the wrap-around taillight. In profile, despite its small size, it does a good job carrying the Ford crossover theme. Part of its European heritage is on display with its uncommon-for-North America rear swing gate. We would prefer a standard liftgate.

There are two engine options. The base is a turbocharged 1.0-liter 3-cylinder making 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The upgraded engine is a 2.0-liter four cylinder making 166 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque. Both are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Neither engine offers much in the world of modern performance, but we strongly recommend ordering the 2.0-liter which is paired with all-wheel drive and can be added to all trim levels for around $1,500. It will be the best $1,500 you will spend if purchasing an EcoSport.

While we don't expect cutting-edge acceleration from any subcompact crossover, the EcoSport rides just on the edge of adequate. It works just fine around town with a sprightly demeanor up to about 35 mph. But merging with fast-moving traffic and passing from 50 to 70 mph requires a healthy push on the accelerator pedal. To underscore this point, the 2.0-liter has been measured at around 10 seconds from 0-to-60 and 17.5 seconds at 80 mph in the quarter mile — one of the slowest times we've encountered this year.

At the same time, gas mileage is rated at 27 mpg city, 29 highway and 28 overall for the 1.0-liter and 23-29-25 for the 2.0-liter. These are very average numbers for a vehicle that weighs just over 3,000 pounds with the 1.0-liter and 3,327 pounds with the 2.0-liter.

Where EcoSport is surprisingly impressive is in its ride and handling. Light on its feet, it corners smartly and goes where it's pointed. Short, even for its class, this CUV delivers a comfortable ride for a vehicle with a skateboard-length wheelbase. And it does a decent job of soaking up pavement imperfections.

Inside, EcoSport's cabin can hold its own within its segment. Fit and finish is fine. There is lots of plastic, but that's expected in this class. The seats are sufficiently comfortable. But rear-seat legroom is worse than stingy. For those wanting some color inside, the SES adds orange trim throughout the cabin, making it more visually interesting.

The EcoSport comes in four trim levels — S, SE, SES and Titanium — starting at $20,990. The crossover tops out at $28,325 including destination charge for the top Titanium trim with AWD, which is the model we drove.

The base S has such standard goodies as 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, hill start assist, full power accessories, a rearview camera, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system with two USB ports, and a driver information center. But to get things that most people expect these days you will have to move to the SE trim starting at $23,991. That brings keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, upgraded driver information center, six-way power driver's seat, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with the Sync 3 interface, satellite radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Although Ford hasn't put a priority on safety — something that most other manufacturers are doing in a big way — it has made available the two most important safety features to us — a backup camera and blindspot monitoring. Rear parking sensors are also standard. However, not available even as an option are such things as automated emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Base price: $20,990; as driven, $28,795
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 166 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 149 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 99.2 inches
Length: 161.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,300 pounds
Turning circle: NA
Luggage capacity: 20.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 50 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 13.6 gallons
EPA rating: 23 city, 29 highway, 25 combined
0-60: 10 seconds (estimated)

The Good
• All-wheel drive available at every level
• Larger engine available at every level
• Above average cargo space for segment

The Bad
• Advanced safety not available

The Ugly
• Below average fuel economy