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2018 Ford EcoSport: The little SUV that can

2018 Ford EcoSport (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Without much ado -- at all -- Ford launched a new teeny-tiny SUV called the EcoSport. It’s been hanging out at auto shows for a few months. But there was no big reveal or press launch.

It was, one day, simply there.

An interesting way to introduce an all-new utility to the US market, where SUVs these days are all the rage. Especially since this little vehicle has a lot going for it.

Design

The EcoSport looks a lot like an Escape that got shrunk in the dryer. It has a lot of the same design elements and horizontal lines. Even the shape of the nose looks similar.

However, the EcoSport does have a couple of quirks you can’t find on the Escape. The first of which is how you open the tailgate. There’s a lever hidden in the left taillight. Plus, rather than hinged at the top and opening upward, the tailgate swings open. Wide. Too wide if you’re backed into a garage.


Other than that, there’s nothing particularly spectacular about the exterior design.

The interior is clean and simple with intuitive buttons and dials for the controls on the center stack. The available 8-inch infotainment screen is affixed to the top of the dash, and I’m still trying to decide if it blends well or if it looks like it’s tacked on.

Another thing I’m still undecided about: visible exterior trim that enters the cabin on the A and B pillars. When I asked people on social media what they thought, I got a variety of answers from unfinished to cheap to retro.

The test vehicle was a Titanium model with reverse stitching on black leather seats that added an air of refinement to a vehicle that tops out around $28K.

Ride & Handling

I have to admit I was skeptical about a vehicle that has a 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine. I am an aggressive driver, and I need that instantaneous acceleration to merge well in urban traffic.

Even though the EcoSport only delivers 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, I found it had a nice off-the-line start, which is really good for city driving. I didn’t notice any hesitation turning into traffic, and I was able to merge fairly easily without the fear of being hit.


The highway merges are a bit slower, but still an unexpected surprise for a 3-cylinder engine. I’d have no problem recommending this powertrain to anyone.

If, however, you do need more power there is an available 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine that delivers 166 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque. This engine is standard on the top-tier SES trim, but available at every other level.

One interesting thing to note: If you do opt to add this engine, it is only available with all-wheel drive, and it increases the price by $1,591. While AWD is available at every trim, it is only available with the 2.0-liter engine. You cannot get AWD with the 1.0-liter engine.

Overall, I found the EcoSport to be peppy and maneuverable, and I thought any road or ambient noise that entered into the cabin to be on par for a vehicle at this level.

Fuel economy

This is where the EcoSport trips up a bit.

EPA estimates that fuel economy should ring in at 27 mpg for city driving and 29 for highway driving. I got nowhere near that in the 150 miles I put on this vehicle.


In fact, when I was driving in the city alone, I was hard pressed to hit 12 mpg – and that was with leaving the auto engine stop/start on. It was only once I took a 2-hour drive on the highway that the MPGs started to climb and I topped 20 mpg.

My final combined fuel economy was less than 23 mpg.

Tech & gadgets

For such a small vehicle, it has a lot of available features. The EcoSport comes equipped with Sync, and offers a lot of connectivity such as a 4G LTE hotspot that accommodates up to 10 devices, Alexa integration, Waze integration, FordPass and Sync Connect.

If you get a trim other than the base S, EcoSport will have Sync3, which offers embedded navigation, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and enhanced voice recognition.

I played around with CarPlay during the test period, and while I’m still not a complete fan, I found that as long as I stayed within the Apple environment of texting, maps and phone calls, it worked fairly well.


The enhanced voice recognition was a huge part of that. I didn’t feel as though I had to shout at the car for it to understand me, and since CarPlay mirrors your iPhone, all the controls on the home screen are familiar and easily tapped.

Apple maps is still a huge fail for CarPlay, but a lot of the other glitches are starting to get worked out.

Trims

The base engine for the lower three trims is the 1.0-liter EcoBoost. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is available but only when also paired with AWD.

S ($20,990): This trim comes standard with remote keyless access, 16-inch alloy wheels, Sync with a 4.2-inch display, rear-view camera and 2 smart-charging USB ports. This is the only trim that offers an available full-size spare that will be mounted to the rear tailgate.

SE ($23,991): This trim adds features such as a moonroof, heated front seats, 6-way power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, reverse sensing system, Sync3 with a 6.5-inch touch screen, SiriusXM radio, passive entry and push-buttons start.


Titanium ($26,874): This trim has all the features of the SE model and adds the 8-inch touch screen, navigation, 17-inch wheels, Sync Connect, a 10-speaker Harmon B&O Play audio system, leather seats, rain-sensing wipers, HD radio and heated side mirrors.

SES ($27,874): This highest-priced trim comes standard with the 2.0-liter engine and AWD. It has all the features included with the SE trim and it adds a sport-tuned suspension, distinctive grille, blind-spot monitoring, a 7-speaker audio system.

Because the test vehicle was a Titanium model, it didn’t have – or offer – a lot of options. It added the Blue Candy Paint ($395) and the 17-inch painted machined aluminum wheels ($470), but that was it.

As-test price was $27,739.

Safety

While you won’t see a lot of the high-end semi-autonomous tech on the EcoSport, there are a fair amount of available features on this vehicle designed to keep you out of harm’s way. A rear camera is standard, and available features include the reverse park aid, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.


Because the EcoSport is so new, it hadn’t been rated by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at the time of posting this review. However, if you click on NHTSA or IIHS, you can do a search and see if that’s changed.

Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.

New for 2018

EcoSport is all-new for 2018, and even though it’s an entry-level SUV, it has a lot of neat high-tech features, including Alexa and Waze integration and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

A few of my favorite things

Though it took me a while to find the tailgate release, I thought it was cleverly placed in the taillight.


For a compact entry-level vehicle, I loved the large number of available high-tech features. I find this to be a huge win, since Ford doesn’t make you opt for the biggest and most-expensive vehicles to get the coolest technology.

Another bonus: Voice commands work flawlessly. It was very easy to maneuver through the controls with only my voice, enabling me to keep my eyes on the road.

I also appreciated the up-front, easy to access USB ports. Both my husband and I were easily able to plug in to charge at the same time.

What I can leave

I’m not really a fan of the tailgates that open out instead of up. It requires a huge amount of space since the door swings wide, and if you are backed into a garage or parking space, you won’t be able to open the door without hitting the wall or car parked behind you.

Though I understand this was done to accommodate the available full-size spare on the S trim, an upward opening tailgate is much more space efficient.

I’d also like to point out the rear legroom is pretty much nil behind someone who’s an average-sized driver or passenger. So if you’re going to be carrying back seat passengers often, you might need to look for something a tad larger.


Another point of contention: Fuel economy. Though I averaged 22.3 mpg in combined driving, this is well below the estimated combined average. Plus, when I was driving in the city only, I averaged around 12 mpg – not great for as small as the EcoSport is.

It was only once I took a 2-hour highway trip that my miles per gallon started to climb.

The bottom line

Though the EcoSport has a couple of quirks I’m not fond of, overall I was surprised and impressed by this tiny SUV. It has excellent cargo volume, decent ride and handling and a really peppy 3-cylinder engine.

I love the fact that you can get the AWD and up-level engine at any trim, and if you want to completely deck out this vehicle with every option, you’ll top out around $30K. Once again, Ford proves that small and entry-level don’t have to be synonymous with cheap.

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