Small crossovers are red hot sellers with a mix of passenger space, a tall cargo area, a high seating position and good gas mileage. After running around the rest of the world since 2003, the Ford EcoSport is finally making its debut in the U.S., just in time to cash in on the new trend.
Upgraded EcoSports come with Ford’s 2.0-liter direct-injection I4 making 166 hp, but the one we’re testing today hides the newest EcoBoost engine under its diminutive hood, a three-cylinder, 1.0-liter turbocharged powerplant making 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. That’s good for an EPA rating of 27 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The question then becomes, does it have enough power and capability to satisfy your average American driver? We’ll get to that in a minute.
The EcoSport measures 161.3 inches from end to end, about a foot and a half shorter than Ford’s next smallest crossover, the Escape. It’s about the same width and height, but the EcoSport has a wheelbase that’s 6 inches smaller. Compared to others in the segment like the Hyundai Kona, Chevy Trax, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V—it’s within a few inches except for length, where the Hyundai has an extra 3 inches, the Chevy about 6 and the Mazda and Honda have about 8 extra inches. All three have about 20 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 90-100 cubic feet of passenger space, so that won’t be the differentiator.
The base EcoSport S comes with a handful of standard features including two 12-volt outlets, power mirrors, windows and door locks, keyless entry, the Sync system and a rearview camera, among other things. This Titanium model gets extras like premium sound, satellite radio, heated leather seats, push-button start and Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment. Optionally our tester came with 17-inch wheels and the cold weather package with heated steering wheel, sideview mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer. All of that rang up to a total of $27,075, which seems like a lot of dough for a subcompact, crossover or no. All-wheel drive tacks on $1,450, but also brings with it the bigger engine.
The EcoSport looks and feels small. I parked it next to my wife’s Escape and it looked like “Honey I Shrunk the Crossover” with both Escape bumpers clearly visible behind the edges of the tiny commuter. The trick piece on the exterior is the side-hinge rear door that swings out left using a handle on the right taillight. I tried to yank it up when I first discovered it and was pleasantly surprised with the barn door action. That's an easier way to access the back for smaller drivers. There’s no stretching to close it either. Speaking of that rear storage area, when I was transporting the toddler seat, sans toddler, it fit in the back with the seats upright and the tonneau cover in place, and that’s not a small piece of cargo.
Inside the EcoSport looks very modern with rubber covered knobs, a clean and spartan dashboard and leather trim over the shift knob and steering wheel, which also features quick controls for the radio and infotainment. The Sync 3 screen does have that tacked-on look, just protruding from the dash, but it is very reachable in this small car and system works way better and quicker than it ever has before.
The front seats don’t give a ton of lateral support, though this isn’t a corner carver anyway, but they are comfortable on the rear end. With the front seat in place for my 5-foot, 10-inch frame, there was about 5 inches of legroom behind me. Thankfully I didn’t have to tote both boys, one in a child carrier and one in a toddler seat, but it would have been tight, even with the shallower toddler seat behind the driver. Heck, it’s tight in my wife’s Escape; I wouldn’t want to live with this car if I had a family of four. One kid maybe, behind the passenger seat for sure.
The good side of being small is that the EcoSport handles like a small car. That means easy parking, easy three-point and U-turns and a general tossability that you won’t really feel in an Escape or anything else a size bigger. The steering ratio is on the quicker side and the weight is just right for this car. Even though I’d rather sit low, the higher seating position does make it easy to place the corners of the EcoSport, for those few times that you do want to nail an apex. It feels light behind the wheel and a suspension that leans toward the stiff side accentuates that a bit. Make no mistake, these are good things. A small car that handles like a small car is better than a softly sprung, rolly-poly, heavy-steering vehicle that tries to pretend like it’s more luxurious than it is. Forgetting the high-ish as-tested price, the base EcoSport comes in at just over $20K with destination.
Now we can talk about the teeny little baby elephant in the room, or under the hood: this screaming little sewing-machine three banger. I liked this engine in the Focus. Mini Cooper has one too, and I found that agreeable as well. This one though, in this car, feels just a little underpowered for daily use. Strike that, it only feels underpowered during passing maneuvers. Getting off the line comfortably does take a 75-percent press on the right pedal, but any aggressive moves on the freeway are going to require a full stomp. S mode, which basically just changes the throttle position sensor and gear change timing, is better, and requires less preplanning. If one bought this car and only drove it in S mode, that would probably be fine. It only weighs about 3,000 pounds overall, but I’d really like to try the 166-hp 2.0-liter. The six-speed auto is fine, and I did use the buttons on the gear shifter a few times to drop a gear when needed for highway work, or just for fun.
This EcoSport and its competitors all start at around $20,000. I think the Mazda probably looks the best, the HR-V might be the best inside, but the Ford, along with the new Hyundai Kona, could be considered the jack of all trades here. It looks good, it has decent ground clearance so you won’t be worried over big potholes or during gentle, gentle off-road work, and I found my observed fuel mileage to hit near 24 miles per gallon combined. And I was not going easy. I spent more time near redline than near idle.
The Buick Encore ($24K-$31K) dominated the segment in March, followed by the Jeep Renegade ($19K-$26K). I still like the CX-3, HR-V and EcoSport better than those. Still, if you’re looking to buy in this segment, you should test drive the whole range — If you’re not yet a family of four, and don’t plan to be for a little while, you’ll see the appeal. Everyone else does.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $26,735
As Tested Price: $27,075
Powertrain: 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 123 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 125 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,021 lb
Fuel Economy: 27/29/28(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Options: Cold weather package ($340)
Pros: Fun to rev up and toss around; good gas mileage
Cons: A lot of money for a small amount of space