Foreign Exchange: Ford’s Global Compact SUV, the 2018 Ford EcoSport, comes stateside and we had the opportunity to take it for a weekend in Lake Placid, NY. Check out the review!
Remember the “Tracker”? It was that tiny SUV that popped up in the mid-90s, was about as long as a loaf of bread and came in a two-door convertible variant under about four different badges. Maybe you remember the first generation Toyota RAV-4 with its bulbous (see: fat) exterior design and dinky personality? Perhaps the Isuzu Amigo? The Suzuki Vitara?
Clearly, the American market isn’t unaccustomed to smaller SUVs, but the offerings we’ve gotten have often been experiments in “micro” or couldn’t be taken seriously as contenders for any practicality titles. But as gas has gotten cheaper and engines become more efficient, the small car market in the USA has warmed up again: the Fiat 500X, Nissan Kicks, Honda HR-V, Chevy Trax, among others have entered a ring that the venerable Ford Escape no longer competes in. Enter the Ford EcoSport for 2018.
Unlike the small SUVs of yesteryear, the 2018 Ford EcoSport adopts Ford’s mainstream design language: class-appropriate proportions with occasional European quirks like an A-pillar side window, a nearly 90-degree upright hatch that opens to the left, and wheel wells pushed to the very corners of the car (not because its cute, but because the car demands the stability this design affords). The result is a tidy ute that actually looks like a small SUV, not a car on stilts like some of its competitors.
On American roads, the EcoSport sticks out as a truly compact SUV that looks and feels distinctly different than the timid-looking HR-V and bionic-looking Toyota C-HR. Those cars continue to treat the subcompact segment as some sort of design playground (remember the Nissan Juke? You know exactly what I’m talking about). Seeing the EcoSport in the line-up of huge SUV’s during our trip to Lake Placid (more on that here) was… charming: here’s this skinny, new kid playing in the same game as the veterans. Ford’s sensible design will capture those truly interested in a subcompact that can do some work without drawing a lot of attention. It can tow up to 2000 lbs (among the largest payload in its class) plus seat five.
Inside, drivers and passengers alike are treated to a full-size interior with partial leather seats plenty of nooks and crannies for storage- such as “map pockets” facing rear passengers (handy for storing a snack or cellphone), a cubby above the glovebox, plus a whopping eight cupholders.
The large, upright touchscreen plays host to most of the EcoSport’s technology kit- from Bluetooth pairing, a decent Satnav, voice-activated controls that actually work, and more. Seriously- voice controls became my favorite thing about the car- being able to have multiple people speak and give addresses in one go was impressive. Not even my BMW can handle a simple “turn off the radio” without having a fit. The Bluetooth connects and reconnects with no issue or user-imput (it just works) and the navigation voice is relaxing and the directions are usually announced in time (unlike Lexus’ extra-laggy system). You can control the ambient lighting (up to eight colors) as well as check on car and road conditions and use the HD back-up camera.
Only a few troubles with the infotainment system. First, in order to cancel a route, you must interact with the screen twice, once to initiate the cancel and again to confirm it. Would a better way be a timeout? Like, do nothing for 15 seconds and the route is canceled? Second, you cannot enter an address or set up Bluetooth by hand while driving, but you can do just about everything else. However, you can communicate an address by voice at any time. As voice actions and touchscreens (and the inherent lack of tactical feedback) mound up as preferred approaches, it might be time to start designing these systems in more meaningful and less distracted ways. All A/C controls are via tactical buttons and the steering wheel is outfitted with cruise control and a number of multi-use buttons. Side view mirrors include blind-spot warning systems.
The version we were driving- the EcoSport Titanium- comes with heated seats with three intensity levels (very appreciated in the icy Lake Placid climes), heated steering wheel, two USB ports, plus single-zone climate control. The base EcoSport S comes with the USB inputs as well as Ford’s well-designed SYNC interface. The Titanium came with a sunroof, but we didn’t use it (too cold).
The view from the front windscreen is good (and nighttime, the EcoSport has fog lamps that truly flood the road), and windows are large all around, unlike some of its competitors who bury rear passengers behind tiny portholes. The rear seats split 60/40 with collapsible headrests, a sophisticated design detail that adds to the “finished” character of the EcoSport.
A note on storage: the EcoSport, with the rear seats down, took two pairs of full-length skis with no issue- piling additional luggage in and placing items on the included cargo management system and the EcoSport was an ideal ski companion. Removable rugs made it easy to clean after our runs. We didn’t need to use the included roof rails.
The EcoSport comes with a 1.0L turbocharged, direct injection engine. In the mountainous territory, the FWD design was okay because we didn’t take it off-road, but the 1.0L engine definitely needed to play catch-up sometimes with jumping into 4,000 RPMs at times. It felt like the little engine that could- but made me drive a little more responsibly. On curvy mountain passes, the EcoSport’s wide stance gave it that essential stability that made it pretty thrilling to drive. It’s a smooth go, but the handling is pretty tight, it walks around corners rather than run, and that’s a good thing for an SUV this size. Not once did I feel diminutive or vulnerable. The EcoSport looked and felt as capable in the mountains as anything else. It held its own on the highway too, maintaining 75 MPH with ease and darting around slower cars- even playing tag with an Audi R8.
Gas mileage in the EcoSport is okay. With a 10-gallon tank and my driving style (getting trained on German cars- stereotypes apply), I didn’t expect the EcoSport to do perfectly in this space at no fault but my own. Highway cruising balanced out the numbers; we managed 25 on the highway and 21 in the mountains. Anytime I went punchy, the EcoSport responded with a deep and heavy pull on the RPMs, almost begging me to chill out.
For the rest of the week, Ford EcoSport played nice in NYC- darting through traffic, squeezing into the most improbable of spaces, and hauling around the New York International Auto Show (on now until 8 April!) with ease.
We recommend the 2018 Ford EcoSport for people who have a penchant for practicality and seek a conservatively-styled small SUV with the top tech and clever interior outfit. For comparison, The EcoSport’s most similar domestic competitor is the Chevy Trax. The top-of-the-line Trax comes with AWD, but only a 1.4L engine, with a price of $27,795. The EcoSport starts at $19,995. Titanium (as tested) is $25,880. A top-of-the-line Ford EcoSport Titanium comes in with 4WD and an excellent 2.0L engine at $27,330. See it here.
See my first real ski trip recap here, featuring the Ford EcoSport as our trusty companion.