Bringing a spork to a knife fight
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The 2018 Ford EcoSport is not a performance car and is not even interested in having fun. This subcompact crossover is made for A-to-B transport. Some folks are OK with that low bar. But can the EcoSport even accomplish that modest task?
Testing director Kim Reynolds found the EcoSport an honest commuter car with predictable understeer when cornering. He noted there wasn’t enough power to get anyone into trouble. But that’s about as strong as the praise gets.
Even in terms of running errands and commuting, the EcoSport falls somewhat flat. It rides fine when you’re on road surfaces that are as smooth as glass. But it tramlines the grooves on the road, tiptoes over small bumps, and crashes over big ones—while shaking the whole cabin. All-wheel-drive-equipped models may ride better, as they come with an independent rear suspension instead of the torsion beam found in our front-drive tester.
With 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque from its 1.0-liter EcoBoost turbo I-3, the 2018 EcoSport is one of the least powerful subcompact crossovers. You need to plan ahead when you’re passing and climbing up a steep grade, especially with five people on board. The torque that you do have is usable but it’s not enough for a vehicle that weighs 3,134 pounds (1,421 kg). The six-speed automatic doesn’t help much because it’s too fuel-economy-minded. Combine that with lazy throttle response—even in Sport mode—and the EcoSport feels even slower.
Road test editor Chris Walton called out the transmission’s odd gearing, which had closely spaced first and second gears, but then a tall third gear that causes it to “fall in a hole” during acceleration. There’s also a lot of front dive and rear lift during hard braking—followed by the car settling a few inches after releasing the brake pedal once fully stopped.
Given these limitations, the EcoSport isn’t fun to drive. Perhaps Ford knew that when giving it its name: The correct pronunciation is the numb-sounding “echo-sport,” rather than a chipper “eek-oh-sport.” There’s excessive body roll even when taking easy corners. Throw it into a turn at higher speeds, and it becomes obvious that this car is best left on straight roads. It doesn’t help that the steering is, as expected, light and uncommunicative. Competitors like the Mazda CX-3 and Hyundai Kona offer a sportier driving experience.
What does that mean when we take it out to the test track? Our tester, which was powered by a 1.0-liter turbo I-3 paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, hit 60 mph in 10.7 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 17.9 seconds at 77.2 mph (124.2 km/h), among the slowest in its class. On the handling tests, it finished the figure eight in 28.4 seconds with an average of 0.57 g and generated 0.79 g of lateral acceleration on the skidpad. Stopping from 60 mph took 120 feet, putting it mid-pack, shorter than the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR but longer than the Mazda CX-3 and Fiat 500X.
Does the 2018 Ford EcoSport make up for its lethargy by means of strong fuel efficiency? Nope. The front-drive model, which comes exclusively with the 1.0-liter turbo I-3, is EPA-rated at 27/29 mpg (8.7/8.1 L/100km) city/highway. Opting for all-wheel drive adds a 166-hp 2.0-liter I-4 but drops EPA fuel economy ratings to 23/29 mpg (10.2/8.1 L/100km). Our friends at EQUA Real MPG, however, did manage to yield 24.7/34.7 mpg (9.5/6.8 L/100km) from their tests, showing that the EcoSport’s efficiency takes a hit in heavy city driving.
Those figures are a few ticks behind the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and Hyundai Kona. The Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X are less efficient at 21/29 mpg (11.2/8.1 L/100km) with all-wheel drive (22/30 mpg (10.7/7.8 L/100km) for front-drive models) and nine-speed automatic, but they’re also more powerful.
Now, to livability. Because it’s a crossover, the Ford EcoSport has to be practical, right? Not quite. The cabin is intimate, which means despite having belts for five, you should limit occupancy to four adult passengers unless you want to feel squished in the back. The front seats are narrow and lack side support, especially for bigger adults. Interior build quality is not a strong point with a cabin filled with hard, brittle plastics. Even the soft, padded surfaces near where your elbows and forearms would relax (as well as those on the dash) feel cheap. Some of the panel gaps are wide enough to fit a (skinny) finger. On our test model, the upper panel dividing the driver’s door and the dash was misaligned.
Cargo carrying capability isn’t impressive, despite Ford’s claim that the 2018 EcoSport has 20.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and 50 cubic feet with them down. Sounds impressive for a subcompact, but the large hump in between the floor and the rear seat backs means it’s not easy to haul large, bulky items. There’s a three-level cargo floor that helps add an extra layer of flexibility, but there’s no getting past that this is a poorly packaged vehicle. The lack of a flat load floor, combined with the car’s narrowness and intrusions from the wheel well make the space you have less usable.
In comparison, the Honda HR-V has 23.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up and between 55.9 and 57.6 cubic feet with the rear seats down depending on the trim level. Honda’s standard Magic Seats and flat load floor also gives the HR-V unrivaled flexibility; it also has a hatch instead of the Ford’s side-hinged door, which makes loading and unloading easier. Sure, the HR-V is slightly larger than the EcoSport but even the Hyundai Kona, which is similarly sized as the EcoSport, has more usable space. The Kona’s cargo capacity checks in at 19.2 cubic feet with the rear seats in place and 45.8 cubic feet with them folded. But there’s a difference between numbers and actual usability—where the Kona wins because of its wider door opening, lack of intrusions into the space, and the car being slightly wider.
Millennials love their electronic devices, and the EcoSport’s infotainment system meets those needs. Ford’s Sync 3 is one of the best multimedia interfaces available, featuring a quick-responding 8.0-inch touchscreen, clear graphics, and a straightforward menu layout with most of the important functions easy accessible. The EcoSport’s diminutive interior means the touchscreen is in close proximity to the driver, eliminating the need to reach forward when using it. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work well, but you can’t have it operate alongside the main interface, hence there’s no way to play music from a flash drive and use Google Maps via Android Auto simultaneously. The nine-speaker B&O Play audio system (on Titanium trim and up) is one of the best in its class, featuring crisp sound and minimal distortions, creating a pleasant listening experience.
Our front-drive EcoSport Titanium ($26,784 USD as tested) provides a long list of standard features that includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, integrated navigation, ambient lighting, rear parking sensors, and automatic headlights. Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are the only driver assistance features available. Ford doesn’t offer automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control on any EcoSport model.
Although you get a generous list of features, there’s not enough to justify the 2018 Ford EcoSport over its competitors. Its tiny dimensions help it navigate the city, but it comes at a cost. The Honda HR-V proves you can have a practical small crossover that doesn’t skimp on space. The EcoSport is not as fun to drive as the Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-3. It also doesn’t ride well, due to a suspension that’s easily upset by road imperfections. If the EcoSport has a redeeming quality, it’s the multimedia system, which is a modern and user-friendly unit; however, many competitors have excellent infotainment systems, including UConnect 4 on the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X. The good multimedia system isn’t enough to tip things in the EcoSport’s favor; pretty much everything else about the car disappoints.
|2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium FWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$26,874|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||1.0L/123-hp/125-lb-ft* turbo DOHC 12-valve I-3|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,134 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||161.3 x 69.5 x 65.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||10.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.9 sec @ 77.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.4 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||24.7/34.7/28.4 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||27/29/28 mpg*|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||125/116 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.70 lb/mile|
|* hp/torque values achieved with 93-octane fuel; EPA results with 87 octane|