Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Ford EcoSport

At the start of the year, the 2018 Ford EcoSport arrived, fashionably late, for the subcompact crossover party. But Ford’s announcement at end of April – that it was culling its lineup of sedans – puts a big responsibility on the shoulders of this little vehicle. It’s now poised to be the company’s entry-level model, taking up slack from the Fiesta and the Focus. So can the EcoSport handle the pressure, or is that too great a task to fit in the hatch?

Well equipped, with impressive fuel economy, and with good road manners, starting from $22,099.

The EcoSport we’re getting is the second generation of this nameplate, even if it’s the first time it’s come to Canada. The first-gen was a Ford of Brazil product, in production from 2003 until 2012. The second-gen EcoSport was first shown in India before launching in Brazil later in 2012. That vehicle, based on the Fiesta’s Ford Global B-car platform, spread outside of South America, to Asia and Europe before finally arriving in Canada this year.

At 1,756 mm wide, 1,646 mm tall, and with a 2,520 mm wheelbase, the EcoSport comes within 35 mm of the Chevrolet Trax in each of those major dimensions. But at 4,097 mm long, it’s 160 mm shorter overall. The dimensions are similarly close to the Honda HR-V. Compared to its sibling the Fiesta hatchback, the EcoSport has a similar footprint but more headroom front and rear. Plus, its 592 L of cargo space is a massive 170 L larger. In the front, there is plenty of room for the driver and passenger, but adult passengers may have trouble in the rear seat with both head- and legroom.

The EcoSport gets an EcoBoost, arriving with a 1.0L three-cylinder engine standard. And that’s an Echo-sport with an Eek-o-boost, just to make sure you’re on the right page with the current Ford pronunciation guide. That engine gets automatic stop-start to save fuel at lights and sends power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic. The little engine that could makes 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque.

While that number might not sound like a lot, the three-cylinder EcoSport tips the scales at as little as 1,370 kg. Almost sprightly for this size of crossover. The engine pulls surprisingly strongly, although the automatic is hesitant to let the engine spin to high rpm. Not that it needs to, as a quick downshift and a sporty-sounding whoosh from the exhaust accompanies requests for full throttle. Low rpm and steady-state throttle openings, cruising at speeds around 80 km/h, for example, can cause the engine to lug and strain. Exercise your right foot a little more, and the noise goes away. Despite its size, and being positioned as the base engine, the three-pot is actually the quieter of the two powertrain choices.

Optional on S, SE, and Titanium trims, and standard on the new, sportier SES trim is a 2.0L direct-injected four-cylinder that comes packaged with intelligent four-wheel drive. It boosts power to 167 hp with 149 lb-ft of torque. The trade-off for that is a hit on the city and combined fuel economy numbers. The 2.0L gets 10.2 L/100 km city, 8.0 highway to the one-liter’s 8.6/8.1. The engine feels strong in this vehicle, delivering power that’s in the pointy end of this class. It stays quiet in most driving situations, if slightly louder than the base engine. It revs more freely than the 1.0L, and takes on more of a growl with high throttle openings and high rpm.

The base Ec – like “ek”, and yes I’m going to try and make that stick – gets 16-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo with Ford’s Sync infotainment on a 4.2-inch display, acoustic glass, and a whopping eight cup holders. It can also be had with a sweet tailgate-mounted spare on the side-opening hatch. But that retro (and kinda cute) spare tire option is only on S trim vehicles. The side-hinge hatch sets the EcoSport apart from anything else in the segment, and having that protection from traffic when you’re unloading is handy. It’s not ideal for long objects that you would otherwise hang out of the open rear door, but those items are probably better suited to the roof rack. Or a delivery truck.

SE adds a moonroof, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped wheel, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. Titanium brings 17-inch wheels, body-colour trim, perforated-leather front seats with heat for both and power adjustment for the driver, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with B&O Play premium audio, navigation and Sync 3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The SES trim is the sports model. It gets the big engine standard, along with a sport-tuned suspension and paddle shifters. The interior has leather-trimmed heated buckets with unique orange strip-trimmed cloth. And that might sound tacky, but it’s a cool look and it really works to brighten up the interior in what can be a very drab segment. The SES also gets the 8.0-inch screen with Sync 3, CarPlay, and Android Auto, but not the B&O audio of the Titanium.

Ford expects most buyers to get the SE trim, and it has done those buyers a solid. Want a heated steering wheel, heated mirrors, and a wiper de-icer? Of course you do. Ford is making those part of a $350 option package that also includes all-weather floor mats. No need to get the top trim to keep your fingers warm next winter. The same pack is also on SES.

Titanium and SES come with blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, and rear parking guidance. SE buyers can add those features with a Convenience package that also adds ambient lighting, the larger infotainment screen, and a 110-volt AC power outlet. 1.0L models can tow up to 636 kg, and 2.0 models can pull 909 kg.

On the winding and pot-holed backroads around St. John’s, the EcoSport’s South American roots show. The suspension absorbs bumps on roads – ones that are starting to crumble – with impressive comfort. Body roll is well controlled in curves, and while this will likely never feel as sporty as something like a Fiesta ST, the EcoSport handles itself well.

The EcoSport arrives in Canada a little late to the subcompact crossover party, but it arrives well equipped, with impressive fuel economy, and with good road manners, starting from $22,099. It should be able to ek out Ford’s crossover sales.

Pricing: 2018 Ford EcoSport

2018 EcoSport S FWD: $22,099
2018 EcoSport S AWD: $24,599
2018 EcoSport SE FWD: $25,099
2018 EcoSport SE AWD: $27,599
2018 EcoSport SES: $29,399
2018 EcoSport Titanium: $28,599