Ford is one of the last automakers to introduce a subcompact SUV into the United States, but it still pulled off a first.
The 2018 EcoSport is the first car imported to the United States from India, one of several locations where the globally popular model has been built for the past few years. That means Ford can sell it here for a starting price of $20,990 and presumably turn a profit. Not something the smallest vehicles often provide automakers.
In fact, there seems to be so much wiggle room that Ford is launching the EcoSport with a $2,750 lease incentive on its tiny hood that runs through April 2. When you’re behind in the game, you’ve got to make a big play.
The EcoSport was thoroughly reengineered for U.S. duty and looks a lot like a shrunken head version of a Ford Escape. It’s pretty tiny, even among its diminutive peers, and solidly aimed at the single and empty-nester scenes. There’s plenty of room in the front seats, which provides a high perch, but you’ll need to get friendly with the dashboard if anyone is going to fit behind them.
The trunk is more impressive, and there’s a wide bumper in front of it that you can use as seat for tailgating. The tailgate itself swings open like a door instead of lifting up, which is an artifact from the overseas model that has a full-size spare attached to it. U.S. versions get a much lamer fix-a-flat kit instead.
Unfortunately, the hydraulically-assisted tailgate doesn’t have any stops for it like a passenger door does and it opens itself all the way if you let go of it. This means you need to give it a wide berth when parallel parking, so you'll have to pass on the impossibly small spaces if you're carrying any cargo that needs to be unloaded.
(Update: A Ford representative has since told me that the tailgate does in fact have stops built into its action. If so, I found them to be ineffective on the EcoSport that I tested.)
The EcoSport comes standard with front-wheel-drive and a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine that it shares with the Focus. An all-wheel-drive powertrain with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is available for around $1,500 extra, depending on the trim level, and is standard on the top of the line SES for $27,735.
A three-cylinder engine may sound odd, but this one runs smoothly. Its 123 hp is adequate, but hardly stirring, while a 29 mpg highway rating is the same as what the 166 hp four-cylinder delivers. Both engines get tow ratings, believe it or not, which are 1,400 and 2,000 pounds, respectively.
I found the steering to be a little vague and rubbery for a modern car, but it didn’t take too long for me to acclimate to it. The suspension is also very elastic, but in a better way.
The ride is cushy and the EcoSport laughs at potholes. You can probably thank its emerging market roots for this characteristic. It’s surefooted on the highway, however, and exceptionally quiet for a vehicle in this size and price range.
Ford does its cheap cars well, and digging around under the carpets and in the door jambs of the EcoSport doesn’t reveal any sketchy build quality, which can’t be said of every low-priced foreign car. That said, it doesn’t have crash test ratings yet and it only went on sale in January, so it’ll be a while before anyone can get a fix on its reliability.
All EcoSports get a standard backup camera, while high end models add rear parking sensors and a blind spot monitoring system. They also offer the latest version of Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, so you don’t get shortchanged on tech. The kids have gotta be connected these days, after all.
It has a Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and also Alexa integration that I didn’t get to try because the iOS version was in the middle of an update when I had the vehicle. (It was completed the next week, of course.) Among other skills, you can use it to remotely start and unlock the EcoSport, which can also be done via the FordPass app.
Aside from that ─ and the whole country of origin thing ─ the EcoSport doesn’t really break any new ground. It just fills a hole in Ford’s showrooms that keeps getting bigger as consumers continue to shift from small cars to small SUVs. It should keep plenty of them from going to the next dealership down the block, and if things work out, turn them into loyal customers that will buy a bigger, more expensive Ford the next time they come around.
2018 Ford EcoSport
Base price: $20,990
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door front-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 1.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 123 hp, 125 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 27 city/29 hwy
This article has been modified from an earlier version to clarify pricing.