As a budding young automotive journalist I had to prep myself mentally before test-driving the 2018 Ford EcoSport. And the reason is simple: I'm a country mouse, and this is a city mouse, clearly. Having tried a number of other more powerful and bigger SUVs within the Ford lineup, I had to reprogram my brain when driving this tiny SUV for a week. When you look that Ford’s utility roster, the EcoSport is a natural, even inevitable, product to have in there given the market trend for smaller urban utility models; but at the same time it is quite fundamentally different from its bigger siblings in terms of performance, road handling and interior finishing.
The EcoSport is not actually a new model – it’s just new to us. It’s been around in other markets since 2012. But Ford looked at the strong growth in the micro-SUV segment in North America and decided it couldn’t not add it here as well.
Its main rivals here in Canada are the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Kona and Honda HR-V. I struggled to think of something really interesting the EcoSport has to offer that the others don’t, apart from the all-wheel drive system available on some versions. I should point out here that the choice of drivetrain will decide what engine you get as well. The front-wheel-drive versions are available only with the 1.0L 3-cylinder engine. To get the all-wheel drive, you also get the 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder. In either case, Ford has twinned the engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
As I mentioned, this utility model is aimed at urban-dwelling drivers. It is not intended to be driven long distances or on the highway for any length of time. My average fuel consumption while driving the EcoSport SES (with the 2.0L engine) mainly on the highway between Montreal and the Laurentians north of the city left me extremely unimpressed. After one week my average was a pretty disastrous 9.3L/100 km. Yikes! For a pocket ‘ute, this seems just not good enough. The stop-start system didn’t seem to help save on fuel either; fortunately I could deactivate it since it’s pointless on a longer highway ride.
Fuel consumption aside, power was found to be wanting as well. As much as I conditioned myself to be ready for it, I thought that the “bigger” engine my tester was equipped with would do the job, at least. But I was almost apprehensive about merging into highway traffic, and felt like I wouldn’t be able to get up to the speed needed to keep up with the cars whizzing by me, let alone pass anyone if I needed to. I shudder to think about the 1.0L engine… that seems grossly inadequate for a vehicle of this size, even if it might reduce fuel use! To be fair, Ford has very explicitly marketed the EcoSport as a city car, best suited for traveling at low speed, over short distances, in traffic.
The EcoSport is built on the same platform as the Ford Fiesta, which tells you a fair amount about the conviviality of the interior. Although, you do feel like you’re at the wheel of a good-sized SUV when you’re driving; for that Ford deserves credit. There’s room for two children in back, preferably small ones. Sufficient to go do the groceries with the kids, but not much more than that really. As for the materials used, they’re nothing to write home about, what with the quantity of hard plastic used throughout the cabin. The seats, for their part, were quite comfortable.
One oddity I encountered has to do with the trunk. Instead of opening bottom up, it opens right to left! So, imagine you’ve parallel parked in the city, between two parked cars. Good luck trying to open that trunk – you can’t! For an SUV designed for city use, that’s really a weird one, Ford!
It’s not all bad with this micro-SUV, of course. Visibility is good the power sunroof is likeable, the excellent Sync 3 system is easy to use and provides its information clearly, the backup camera is of incredible resolution, and handling, as long as you don’t ask too much of the engine, is frankly quite good. The EcoSport is easy to steer, responsive and sticks to the road quite well, although the suspension lets you feel a little bit too much of the road’s imperfections.
In the end, I found nothing I could call exceptional about this vehicle. Ford will have to perfect its tiny SUV if it wants to conquer consumers in North America. Especially since, with the model as it is, you might think Ford’s strategy is to beat the competition with a bargain-basement price to match the product – but no! Its pricing is relatively high for its segment!