2018 Ford EcoSport SES 4WD: Global traveler

The EcoSport — pronounced “Echo-sport” — is a tough little city car — load it up, beat it up, fill it up and do it again.

Ford’s smallest SUV crossover is a global traveler sourced from Brazil and built in India for a North American market eager for these subcompact sit-high, priced-lower vehicles.

The 2018 EcoSport — pronounced “Echo-sport” — is among the many foreign-born small crossovers being brought into the U.S. Each has its charms, its own demographic target and its exceptions. Competitors include the Nissan Kicks, Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500L, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V.

Ford’s teacup-class EcoSport is the shortest in this lot with a wheelbase of 99.2 inches and a total length of 161.3 inches. It is almost 17 inches shorter than Ford’s compact Escape crossover and it is about 7 inches shorter than the Nissan Kicks.

The upright cabin architecture maximizes interior space, but driver sightlines are complicated at the windshield pillars for cornering views and over the shoulder at the rear corners.

But the EcoSport is available with Ford’s Intelligent 4WD (an automatic, on-demand system) and two engine choices. Its stubby, baby-boot styling is an upright environment with a tall 39.6 inches of front headroom and substantial cargo capacity of almost 21 cubic feet to 50 cu. ft. with the 60/40 back seat folded.

And because it is a global vehicle, the EcoSport has a few things not typically seen in the competitors. Among them, a 12-volt plug notched into the right-side base of the rear passenger seat, a very tall back seat and a left-side-hinged tailgate.

Cabin controls are clearly arranged and easy to access.

The EcoSport is sold in S, SE, Titanium and SES trim levels in front or AWD with a six-speed automatic transmission. Starting prices range from $20,900-$27,875, including the $995 freight charge from Chennai, India. Today’s tester is the top-line SES 4WD with no options.

The front-drive SE will be the value package (1.0-liter engine, moonroof, 16-inch wheels, fabric upholstery) with the $1,295 convenience package of useful urban upgrades (currently discounted by $500), which include a 110-volt AC power outlet, 10-color ambient lighting, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, seven-speaker audio system with 8-inch touch screen and voice-activated navigation. As equipped, the total of $25,290 was further trimmed by a lease incentive of $3,550 to a reasonable $21,740.

A variety of cash incentives also has been available for all trim levels. Among them: $2,000 cash back; 0 percent financing for 60 months with $1,000 bonus cash; $750 college student; $500 first responders and military appreciation.

The basic front-drive EcoSport is paired with a turbocharged, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine with 135 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. It has fuel economy ratings of 27 mpg city, 29 hwy, 28 mpg combined on 87 octane.

Four-wheel-drive models are upgraded with a 166-hp, direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 149 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm. Its mileage ratings are 23/29/25 mpg, but the best I achieved in city driving was 18 mpg.

The interior seems well reworked for North American function, such as a pair of charging USBs and a 12-volt plug in the small charging area on the shifter console.

I’ve tested the three-cylinder engine also used in the Ford Fiesta and it works well enough for the price point as basic transportation. It’s hard to say how well the engine hefts the heavier EcoSport.

It’s a stout little SUV at 3,300 pounds, but despite its blunt shape, short wheelbase and tall center of gravity, the ride quality is tough but not harsh. Its four-wheel disc brakes are a hardware upgrade (11.8-inch vented rotors front, 10.7-inch solid discs rear) from some competitor that use rear drums and front discs.

The non-turbocharged 2.0-liter is quick off the line with no hesitation to grab a gear when needed. The six-speed automatic gives a quick response, but at highway speeds there is more engine noise than giddy-up on hard acceleration.

Ford EcoSport packs all of its features and style into a vehicle that is nearly a foot-and-a-half shorter than Ford Escape.

The upright cabin architecture maximizes interior space, but driver sightlines are complicated for cornering views at the windshield pillars and over the shoulder at the rear corners. But there is smart use of space carved out for storage nooks, cubbies and bottle and cup holders. Large visors slide and the SES has lighted and covered mirrors. The SES also breaks up the black plastic with copper trim elements and seat stitching.

The rear swing gate, however, seems less space efficient than a liftgate. There is no spare tire, just an inflator system.

The little center armrest has a padded top and a deep storage box, but the whole assembly feels flimsy.

 The interior seems well reworked for North American function, such as a pair of charging USBs and a 12-volt plug in the small charging area on the shifter console. The Sync3 infotainment system also allows a Wi-Fi hot spot to keep passengers’ devices connected, too.

The back seat is subcompact with not much legroom if there is a tall driver. But the tall seat height allows good footroom. The best role for the slim center position (with a head restraint that can be lowered) is as the fold-down armrest with cup holders. There are no grab handles, but it does have the largest coat- or dry-cleaning hooks I’ve seen in a car.

The 60/40 split back seats flip and fold and with the two-level adjustable cargo floor form a flat load space.

The 60/40 folding back seat flips and folds to integrate a two-level adjustable cargo floor, which forms a flat load space. The rear swing gate, however, seems less space efficient than a liftgate.  There is no spare tire, just an inflator system.

The swing gate’s plastic handle feels flimsy and might not fare well over time after being baked or frozen in climates. There also is a lot of lightweight plastic lines and connectors under the hood, which might not be durable in wintry climates.

There will be compromises when an automaker shops among its lineup of global vehicles and pulls one from South America to be a savior in North America. It is a smart business plan to source an established vehicle and its engine choices, but such a small transplant can be challenged on the diverse American roadways with equally diverse drivers.

But four-wheel drive gives the EcoSport an edge: load it up, beat it up, fill it up and do it again.

2018 Ford EcoSport SES 4WD

  • Body style: subcompact, 5-passenger SUV crossover in front- or AWD
  • Engine: 166-hp, direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 149 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-spd automatic
  • Fuel economy: 23/29/25 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Fuel tank: 13.6 gal.
  • Cargo space: 20.9-50 cu. ft.
  • Front head/leg room: 39.6/41.1 in.
  • Rear head/leg room: 37.5/36.7 in.
  • Length/wheelbase: 161.3/99.2 in.
  • Curb weight: 3,300 lbs.
  • Turning circle: 35.1 ft.

FEATURES

  • Standard SES equipment includes: smartkey entry with push-button ignition, moonroof, leather-and-fabric upholstery, acoustic-laminated windshield, active grille shutters, fog lights, halogen headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, 2 12-volt plugs, power windows and side mirrors, 7-speaker audio system with Sync3 infotainment and 8-inch touch screen with voice-activated navigation, rearview camera, 4-wheel disc brakes (11.8-inch vented rotors front, 10.7-inch solid discs rear)
  • Safety features include: 8 air bags, roll stability control, blind-spot information with cross-traffic alert (SES)

PRICING

  • Base price: $27,875, including $995 freight charge
  • Options on test vehicle: none
  • Where assembled: Chennai, India

    Ford’s new EcoSport is a Brazil market transplant that is made in Chennai, India, for North America.

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