2018 Ford EcoSport Review
What do you do when a vehicle class explodes in popularity (say, the small SUV segment) but you won’t have a modern competitor to field for a few more years because it is still in development? Most companies would bide their time and hope that customers will still be looking for little crossovers when the new model is finally ready for the road.
If you’re Ford, however, a company whose name is synonymous with “SUV,” impatience gets the better of you. You pluck a model that was introduced back in 2012 and designed for other global markets out of India, you give it some minor tweaks, call it new, and slot it in as a placeholder until your “real” model arrives. Ta-da!
When it comes to the 2018 EcoSport, Ford has nothing to lose. It’s costing them a relative pittance to upgrade the EcoSport for American consumption, ship it to the States from the factory in India, and to market the vehicle to consumers who are rabid for small SUVs.
It’s now up to you to decide whether you want to consider the EcoSport, which competes with a passel of other small crossovers such as the Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Subaru Crosstrek.
For this review, I evaluated an EcoSport SES with all-wheel drive (AWD) and without any options. The price came to $27,875, including the $995 destination charge.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2018 Ford EcoSport, it’s helpful to understand who buys small SUVs and what they like most and least about them.
J.D. Power data shows that small SUVs are popular with women, with 55% of buyers being female. Their median age is 54, and they enjoy an annual median household income of $80,425.
Small SUV buyers primarily identify themselves as price buyers, followed closely by practical buyers. More than half prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company, a finding that should favor Ford and its new EcoSport, even if the SUV is actually built in India.
Low maintenance costs, good reliability, and quality are very important to small SUV buyers, who strongly agree most frequently that these three vehicle traits influence their purchase decision. Surprisingly, 86% of them strongly or somewhat agree that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and strong acceleration, characteristics that are uncommon in the segment.
Buyers say their favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, visibility and safety, and seats. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the climate control system, storage and space, infotainment system, engine/transmission, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2018 Ford EcoSport performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
Tall, stubby, narrow, tiny, not cute. You wouldn’t think that all of these adjectives could be used for a single car model, but you’d be wrong.
The EcoSport is only 161.3 inches long. In comparison, it’s only 7 inches longer than the Mazda MX-5 Miata 2-seat roadster, and is in fact the shortest of the small SUVs. So, if you live in the city, this is a good thing.
But at the same time, its height is similar to those other models, most of which are proportioned in a more conventional manner. The result is an ungainly look, the EcoSport resembling the chubby Ford Fiesta that it is.
My EcoSport SES was decked out with lower-body grey cladding, which hinted at ruggedness, and wore 17-inch dark grey wheels. That’s a good wheel size for a small vehicle, but they somehow appeared undersized for the oddly swollen bodywork.
My test vehicle’s sticker price was $27,875, but few people will actually pay that much, given all the rebates and incentives that Ford offers to move the EcoSport off dealer lots.
Still, the MSRP of the top-of-the-line SES version is hardly that of a traditional starter car. That’s why it’s important to remember that the starting cost of a base EcoSport S is just under $20,000. That better explains the abundance of cheap, flimsy plastics around the cabin.
In the SES, the all-black color scheme was dressed up with streaks of orange on the upholstery, along with orange plastic dashboard trim that nearly matched the test vehicle’s exterior paint color.
The driver’s seat in the EcoSport is comfortable, with enough power adjustments to find a good driving position. Hopefully, you have small, nimble hands to be able to squeeze them between the seat bottom and the door panel to reach the seat controls. The front passenger’s seat has a manual height adjuster, which is a plus.
Like the front seats, the rear seats position occupants nice and high, and the seatbacks are soft, which is helpful since passengers will likely be jamming their knees into them. Don’t think about putting three people back there. It’s very narrow, and they won’t like you very much.
Climate Control System
Thanks to well-marked controls, the test vehicle’s single-zone climate system was intuitive and easy to use, but at the SES trim’s price point, you would expect a dual-zone system.
Heated front seats are available with Titanium trim, and a heated steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer, and heated side mirrors are also available for the EcoSport, all nice touches for people who live in cold winter climates.
During testing, temperatures were moderate, never cresting 80 degrees. This weather did not require use of the heater, and did not tax the air conditioning system.
Ford makes its latest version of the Sync 3 infotainment system available in the EcoSport, and it’s easy to learn and use.
Separate power/volume and tuning knobs make sense, and the 8-inch floating tablet-style screen looks huge in this narrow vehicle. Crisp graphics and simple inputs characterize the system, which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone-projection technology.
Sync Connect provides a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and a Ford Pass smartphone app allows for remote checking of vehicle status. The EcoSport also supplies free MyKey programmable technology that helps to promote safe driving habits in teenagers.
My test vehicle also had a navigation system using crisp, clean graphics and a voice-command system that worked flawlessly.
Storage and Space
Customers love crossovers in part because of the additional utility they provide. The EcoSport delivers 20.9 cu. ft. of space behind the second-row seats, but it’s a shallow, tall, narrow space.
Plus, the EcoSport uses a side-hinged tailgate instead of a traditional liftgate. That makes it hard to access the cargo area if someone is parked close behind, such as when parallel parked on a city street or when the vehicle is left in stacked parking.
Fold the rear seats and you’ll create 50 cu. ft. of volume.
Visibility and Safety
The EcoSport’s thick windshield pillars impede upon visibility. For example, if you’re rounding a left turn you must peer around the left pillar to see what it is blocking from view. Tiny inset windows opposite the side mirrors aren’t useful, either. At least the EcoSport’s generous hip point height positions the driver higher than in a typical car, thereby delivering upon a chief attribute of crossovers.
No matter which trim you get, you won’t be able to access the latest in active safety technologies. The EcoSport can’t be equipped with automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, or lane-keeping assist. All trim levels except for the base S variant get a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, though.
As of this writing, the EcoSport has yet to be crash-tested by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 166 horsepower motivates the EcoSport SES. It’s loud and acceleration is slow, forcing the driver to leave plenty of room to merge with the flow of traffic. This is an “upgrade” over the turbocharged, 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine that is standard in the EcoSport.
At least the 6-speed automatic transmission unfailingly sent the motor’s meager power to the AWD system through the best gear.
Third-party publications have timed the EcoSport running from zero to 60 mph in just a squeak under 10 seconds, but that feels like an eternity when you’re trying to get up to speed merging onto a freeway where cars are zipping along doing 75 mph or more.
The EPA says that I should have expected 25 mpg from the EcoSport in combined driving conditions, but I averaged 22.8 mpg on my test loop. That constitutes a disappointment.
Equipped with a fuel tank measuring 13.6 gallons, this means that you’ll visit your friendly gas station every 275 miles or so.
Fuel economy has consistently been a source of aggravation for small SUV buyers, and the EcoSport is no exception.
Driving around a crowded metropolis, you realize the appeal of small vehicles. You can park in between two behemoths that pudge out of their spaces with no issues. A 3-point turn becomes a simple U-turn.
In suburban America, where I was continually surrounded by the aforementioned behemoths, the EcoSport’s diminutive size is a little bit unsettling, especially when you can feel the wind shear off a 3-ton vehicle whooshing past you on the freeway.
Buyers in the small SUV segment like their vehicles to deliver lively dynamics. To that end, Ford includes a sport-tuned suspension with SES trim, but my EcoSport still exhibited more body roll around corners than I’d prefer. It felt downright tippy and bouncy when taking turns, tempering any enjoyment of the road.
The steering, though, is reasonably direct. The brake pedal needs better modulation, however, as it’s quite abrupt upon application.
Admittedly, I’m not an admirer of the subcompact crossover genre, mostly because they’re too expensive for what the consumer gets. In theory, consumers choose something like a Ford EcoSport because they can’t afford something larger. And if cost is the primary consideration, you can almost always get more for less by choosing a car instead of an SUV. Cars get better gas mileage, too.
Aside from that, Ford’s “new” EcoSport falls behind its competitors when it comes to safety features, drivability, and utility. This is an older design, created for people who live in other parts of the world, dressed up a bit to appeal as best it can to Americans until Ford can roll out a more competitive small SUV.
If greater cargo flexibility is important in a new vehicle, you have lots of options. Various automakers are building a range of appealing hatchbacks and wagons, most of which deliver equal practicality and greater value than a small SUV.
But if you must have an SUV, and you want a Ford SUV, and you want a new rather than used SUV, and the EcoSport is what you can afford, well, this is the right vehicle for you.
Plus, it has an excellent infotainment system.
Ford Motor Co. supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Ford EcoSport review.