AUTO REVIEW: 2018 Ford EcoSport Subcompact SUV Arrives Late, Struggles to Compete

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Ford EcoSport
2018 Ford EcoSport subcompact SUV (Ford)

Ford is playing catch-up with the 2018 EcoSport subcompact SUV, but it’s a long way behind. The EcoSport just went on sale in the United States, but it’s a face-lifted version of an SUV Ford’s been selling in other parts of the world since 2012. Most of the competition is newer, with equipment that reflects it.

Adding to the challenge, the EcoSport competes with established subcompacts like Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek. A couple of new competitors, the Hyundai Kona and Nissan Kicks, go on sale shortly.

Clearly, subcompact SUVs were not Job 1 at Ford Motor Co. That’s somewhat understandable. They’re popular in other parts of the world, but sell in relatively small numbers in the U.S., where customer tastes lean toward compact and midsize SUVs like the Ford Escape and Explorer, respectively. Ford sold 308,296 Escapes in 2017, and 271,131 Explorers in the U.S. last year.

Among other subcompact SUVs, the Subaru Crosstrek sold 110,138 in 2017, the Jeep Renegade notched 103,434 sales, and the Chevy Trax, which may be the EcoSport’s most attainable competitor, notched 79,289.

Despite those modest numbers, subcompact SUVs are a meaningful class of vehicles.

Ford’s arrival so late to the party in its home market is indicative of the indecisive leadership that led to the company’s recent management turmoil.

Behind the Wheel

2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium FWD

Front-drive, five-passenger subcompact SUV

Price as tested: $26,080 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: Two out of four stars

Reasons to buy: Price; easy to park; smartphone compatibility

Shortcomings: Lack of common features; noisy interior; side-hinged tailgate

How Much?

Positioned below the compact Escape, the EcoSport is Ford’s entry-level SUV. Prices start at $19,995 for front-drive and $21,495 for all-wheel drive. A 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine that produces 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque is standard. A 2.0L four-cylinder that produces 166 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque is standard on AWD models and the sporty SES trim level. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

I tested a nicely equipped Titanium with the 1.0L with features that included power driver seat, locks and windows; push button start; blind spot alert; 8-inch touch screen; 675-watt 10-speaker B&O Play audio; Apple CarPlay; Android Auto; two USB ports; voice recognition; 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel; and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

It stickered at $26,080. All prices exclude destination charges.

EcoSport prices are in the middle of its competitive set.

Ford builds the EcoSport at seven plants around the world. U.S. models come from Chennai, India.

Competitive Base Prices

(excluding destination charges)

(Automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive models where available)

Ford EcoSport Titanium FWD: $25,740

Chevrolet Trax Premier AWD: $27,300

Fiat 500X Lounge FWD: $25,515

Honda HR-V EX-L w/navi FWD: $25,140

Hyundai Kona Ultimate 1.6L DCT: $27,400

Jeep Renegade Limted FWD: $25,645

Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited AWD: $26,295

Source: Autotrader

Outstanding Features

The EcoSport is attractive. The model Ford’s been selling around the world got a nose job and other styling tweaks to make it look like the bigger, better-selling Escape this year. The modern three-bar grille and LED accent lights give it a substantial appearance. The overall look is consistent with other Ford SUVs, though the EcoSport’s small size becomes apparent in profile. At 161.9 inches long, and with a 99.2-inch wheelbase, it measures smallest in the segment. Nearly a foot shorter than a Ford Fiesta subcompact sedan, the EcoSport is incredibly easy to park.

The EcoSport’s 20.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 50 with the seat folded flat are among the largest in the segment. Only the HR-V beats the Ford on both counts, and the Crosstrek is the only other to top 50 cubic feet with the seat down.

Ford’s research said buyers wanted phone compatibility, so a lot of work went into making the EcoSport’s interface. Sync voice recognition is standard, and all models but the base S have either a 6- or 8-inch touch screen to accommodate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both of the touch screens have pinch and swipe functions.

The Downside

The EcoSport’s greatest shortcoming probably lies in the safety features competitors offer that it doesn’t: Depending on the vehicle and model, you can find the following in other subcompact SUVs:

Lane departure alert and assist; front collision alert; pedestrian detection; automatic emergency braking; adaptive cruise control; 360-degree camera.

The EcoSport does offer antilock brakes, traction control, blind spot alert, parking assist and 10 air bags, but it lacks the safety and driver assist systems that more recently developed vehicles offer.

The EcoSport feels less refined than most of the competition. Interior noise is quite noticeable, both from the tires and engine. The steering doesn’t provide much feedback.

Rear legroom is limited, and the side-hinged tailgate is less useful in tight parking spaces than the roof-hinged tailgates all the competition has.

While the 8-inch touchscreen in my EcoSport Titanium is a nice touch in this class of vehicle, it did not respond as quickly as the best systems.

Specifications as Tested

Engine: 1.0L turbocharged 12-valve 4-cyl.

Power: 12 @ 6,000 hp rpm; 125 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 99.2 inches

Length: 161.3 inches

Width: 69.5 inches

Height: 65.1 inches

Curb Weight: 3,021 lbs.

Where assembled: Chennai, India

Facts and Figures

The 1.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine’s 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque are the lowest output in the segment. There’s noticeable engine vibration at low engine rpm, and under hard acceleration for highway merges. The stop-start system that shuts the engine off at stoplights to save fuel felt a bit slower and more noticeable than leading competitors’.

The EcoSport’s EPA fuel economy rating falls in the middle of the pack. It scored 27 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 28 in combined driving.

The key combined figure matches the Trax, but trails the HR-V, Kona and Crosstrek. It beat the 500X and Renegade. Fuel economy ratings for the Nissan Kicks, which will only offer FWD, aren’t available yet.

Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings

(Automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive models)

Ford EcoSport 1.0L FWD: 27 mpg city/29 highway/28 combined. Regular gasoline

Chevrolet Trax Premier AWD: 25/33/28. Regular

Fiat 500X Lounge FWD: 22/30/25. Regular

Honda HR-V EX-L w/navi FWD: 28/34/31. Regular

Hyundai Kona Ultimate 1.6L DCT FWD: 28/32/30. Regular

Jeep Renegade Limited FWD: 22/30/25. Regular

Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited AWD: 27/33/29. Regular

The Verdict

The EcoSport could have established Ford as an early leader in the subcompact SUV market if U.S. sales began when it was new. Back then, features like a touch screen and Wi-Fi hotspot would have set the standard for the segment.

Hitting the market in 2018, the EcoSport feels like a placeholder, introduced to give Ford dealers an alternative to popular vehicles from other brands until the automaker introduces an all-new and fully competitive subcompact SUV in two or three years.

Key Features on Vehicle Tested

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes;, stability control; driver and passenger knee air bags; front-seat side air bags; curtain air bags; fog lights; halogen headlights; LED signature lights; rear vision camera; grille shutters; capless fuel filler; power windows, locks and side mirrors; push button start; voice recognition, Apple Car Play; Android Auto; 8-in. touch screen; power sun roof; 4G LTE Wi-Ffi hot spot; two USB ports; 110v and 12v outlets; 60/40 split flip and folding rear seats; ambient lighting; automatic climate control; power driver seat; manual tilt and telescope steering wheel; cruise control; B&O Play audio; hill start assist; blind spot alert; rearview camera; Sirius satellite radio.

Options: 17-inch aluminum wheels; heated steering wheel; windshield wiper de-icer; front and rear floor liners.