NEWPORT BEACH, California — Multi-million dollar beachfront properties and subcompact crossovers are not a common combination, but the Canyon Ridge Metallic 2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium didn’t look completely out of place when I pulled up at the curb. Though it looks slightly angry from the front—a case of Napoleon complex?—the 161.3-inch-long EcoSport is well-proportioned and fairly stylish for a vehicle that starts at just $20,990.
The 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine doesn’t pack much of a punch, putting down just 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque that’s distributed to the front wheels by a well-programmed six-speed automatic. But with only 3,021 pounds of subcompact crossover to move, it’s almost enough. Almost. According to Motor Trend’s testing, 60 mph comes after a whopping 10.7 seconds, which isn’t going to make merging onto the freeway fun for anyone. Meanwhile, rivals like the Mazda CX-3 (which, at about 2,800 pounds, is also slightly lighter) and Hyundai Kona (which has a similar curb weight as the Ford) offer over 20 extra hp and lb-ft from their base engines, significantly improving alacrity—and the Kona can also make passers-by snap their necks over its appearance, but for all the wrong reasons.
Despite the absence of a cylinder and shortage of power, the EcoSport’s fuel economy numbers of 27/29 mpg city/highway aren’t any better than those of its rivals—another blow against the downsizing trend. The leader here is the Honda HR-V, which also weighs about as much as the Ford but achieves 28/34 mpg city/highway from its 141-hp 1.8-liter four-banger when it’s paired with a CVT.
Ride and handling are firmly adequate. The EcoSport handled the bumps and potholes of Los Angeles without cracking spines or teeth, but there’s no sporting pretense here despite the name. Same goes for the steering, which is quick and light but devoid of feel. If it’s driving dynamics you want in your subcompact crossover, the Mazda is the one to choose.
On the inside, there’s ample room for front occupants and the cabin is well-appointed for the price. However, the rear seat is short on space; rear legroom measures in at a cramped 36.7 inches, though it’s not completely shin-crushing for taller passengers, provided the front occupant scoots forward a little bit. This spatial shortage also means that fitting a rear-facing child seat in the back could prove a challenge.
What isn’t manageable, however, is the lacking rear headroom. With just 37.5 inches of it on offer, my 6’4” self only fits back there if I go Headless Horseman, which obviously is not possible without a fatal injury that gets copious amounts of blood all over the EcoSport’s black leather. Those needing less than a six-footer’s vertical clearance will likely be fine. The HR-V, by comparison, offers 38.3 inches of rear headroom and 39.3 inches of rear legroom.
Cargo volume is about midpack for the class, measuring in at 20.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 50.0 cubic feet with them down. However, the packaging of the EcoSport doesn’t make for a flat load floor, with the folded seatback sticking up several inches, making it more challenging to load larger objects. Additionally, the short overall length predictably limits the length of oversize gear—I was barely able to fit a 6’ shortboard without folding the front passenger seat, though this is a common challenge with subcompacts in general. Fortunately, the EcoSport comes standard with roof rails, so it will be easy to add crossbeams and a roof rack for carrying surfboards, bicycles, skis, and the like.
Despite its shortcomings, the EcoSport is not a terrible choice for an urban runabout. It’s shorter than all of the aforementioned competitors by several inches—the Kona’s length measures in at 164.0 inches, the CX-5’s at 168.3 inches, and the HR-V’s at 169.1 inches—which gives it the ability to squeeze into all but the smallest of street spots, a handy attribute in parking-impacted areas of cities like Los Angeles and New York.
I also appreciated the EcoSport’s side-hinged tailgate. The hinge is on the left side of the car, so the open tailgate will be between you and traffic. More importantly, it won’t be over your head, so you won’t have to worry about a cranial injury while loading or unloading cargo. Additionally, the top of the plastic rear bumper is flatter and extends further out than those of most other crossovers, making it easier to use as a bench or a step.
Another strong argument for the EcoSport, at least in Titanium trim, is the B&O Play audio system, which is one of the better setups I’ve sampled in a non-premium vehicle and offers more fidelity than the average Bose system. Ford’s Sync 3 system works well enough, too. It’s better overall than those offered by Mazda and Honda, especially given that Honda’s doesn’t feature a volume or tuning knob, while the screen is larger and crisper. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, too.
In all, the 2018 Ford EcoSport is not a perfect vehicle, but it’s not without its merits. If you’re looking for an engaging driving experience, it will certainly leave you disappointed. But if you just want a practical vehicle that you’ll be able to park at 7 pm on a Friday without having to walk three blocks, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Just be sure to get that roof rack if you lead an active lifestyle.
2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium Specifications
|ENGINE||1.0L turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3/123 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 125 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD crossover|
|EPA MILEAGE||27/29 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||161.3 x 69.5 x 65.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||10.7 sec|