Pack it with bikes

The Ford EcoSport 4WD Is a Solid City Car for Adventurers


September 28, 2018 Cars By Photo by Henry Phillips
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Ford’s latest addition to the mini SUV family is the EcoSport (pronounced ‘echo’ sport). This is a car built to get city dwellers out of town for the weekend: it’s small yet capable, squeezing into tiny parking spots that are normally saved for the town’s smart cars. Its roof is slightly lower than a typical compact SUV, but you still get that elevated feeling from the road. The backseat leaves much to be desired, but for young adults without kids and other couples, this economy car could fit all the right boxes. While the car has technically been around in Europe and South America since 2003, this is the first year that it was presented to the U.S. market.

The Good: It’s small yet mighty, and packs a heavy punch in terms of storage. The middle seats fold down so you can easily fit two bikes in the trunk. The roof rack rails with crossbars provide an added layer of storage that urbanites will appreciate. Getting in and out of the car is a breeze thanks to extremely upright seating that’s plenty comfortable for long car rides. “If you have an Alexa account and have the Ford and Alexa app on your phone you can ask Alexa what’s the forecast [while driving],” Joe McCarty, brand manager for the Ford EcoSport says. “The flip side is that from your phone and Alexa device you can say ‘Alexa, start my car’ and it’ll start remotely. The 110-volt conventional outlet in the backseat is key, along with the two USB ports in the front seat.

Who They’re For: There are two main targets for the EcoSport. “First is millennials, who want a good-looking car that’s capable, affordable and able to stay connected to the social scene,” McCarty says. Young adults that are starting to have children need a car that’s going to grow with them. “The other end is empty nesters or baby boomers who do not need [that much space in a car], so they downsize,” McCarty says.

Watch Out For: The swing-out tailgate — it opens horizontally rather than vertically, like a hatchback — making it difficult to parallel park and access cargo. When parking you have to leave some space behind you, or there’s no chance you can get inside. If you have a parking spot, garage or driveway, this isn’t an issue.

Anyone sitting in the front seat who is 5’10” or taller will have to push back the seat, removing any leg room that once existed in the second seat. While the back seat could work for car seats and small children with short legs, as soon as your kid is out of a booster, you’re going to have to find a car with more legroom.

Alternatives: As the category of small SUV continues to grow there are many alternatives out there with better fuel efficiency and slightly more space in the backseat (albeit not that much). EcoSport only gets 27 mpg in the city and 29 mpg highway, which is less than all the others here. Other comparable sub compact cars include the Honda HR-V, the Chevrolet Trax or the Mazda CX-3.

Review: My first thought when I checked out the Ford EcoSport was that it looked like a large SUV that was smooshed. I imagined two large chocolate chip cookies on either end, squeezing the EcoSport between them like it was vanilla ice cream. What I quickly realized was that its looks are practical: it was a breeze to parallel park thanks to the compactness.

Before I headed out through the tunnel to New Jersey I set up my phone and navigation, which took no longer than five minutes. The eight-inch screen pops out of the console in an abrupt way, which makes it great for easily checking the next turn and not so great for those design-minded. The wifi hotspot — somewhat unusual to find in this price range — was a saving grace as well. “Technology is a key tenant of this vehicle [so the car is] packed with it,” McCarty said. The SYNC 3 infotainment system worked great with CarPlay from Apple, calling out my next turn. If you have an Android phone, the system should work just as well, McCarty shared.

Packing for a weekend away proved to be more difficult than I anticipated since it took me way longer than it should have to figure out how to open the trunk. I gathered my parents to help with the job. It took several walks around the car with flashlights in hand to try and figure out what button to press for the trunk. There’s no lever on the driver’s side, nor is there a button on the key fob. Finally, I just gave up and watched a YouTube video and quickly realized that Ford hid the release in the right taillight. Clever, but I couldn’t help but wish that there was a hatchback opening so I didn’t have to swing out the trunk door every time I wanted to get something in or out.

Navigating through city streets and the Lincoln tunnel and over George Washington Bridge was a breeze with the EcoSport. It’s agile and easy to steer, with plenty of feedback. While I am definitely not looking to get a car in the city, the EcoSport showed me just how easy it can be — as long as you find the right parking meter.

Once I got out of the city, the three-cylinder turbocharged engine left something to be desired. The roar of the engine was not a delightful purr, but rather an intense noise that was definitely not welcome. I avoided speeding up quickly to try and eliminate any noise issues.

The car I tested included the cold weather package ($2750), Preferred Equipment Group 300A ($320) and a four-wheel drive. The cold weather package included heated side view mirrors, steering wheel and seats. While the 68-degree weather might not seem like perfect testing conditions, the rain and mist combination that plagued the weekend produced plenty of mirror fogging.

The car’s shining moment occurred when I decided the car could be a great way to get bikes up and out of the city. The back seats fold down flat and with their front wheels off, two bikes fit in the back of the car. There was still room for a change of clothes (for post-biking), a pump and all the snacks and fuel two people could need for a 50-mile ride. I was impressed with how much the back seat could store and can see why the EcoSport would work as a workhorse for carrying all your adventure gear of choice to the great outdoors.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a car that will get you in and out of a city comes with four-wheel drive, powerful wifi and an easy-to-use in-house computer, the Ford EcoSport is for you. If loading up your trunk every weekend to get out camping, biking, hiking and all the other activities that are so much easier to do out of the city is your goal, the EcoSport makes it easy. As a beginner, entry-level car, it has many redeeming qualities, especially for young families or those with infants, but it’s worth investigating more if you’re not willing to spring for the add-ons.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The EcoSport’s modest horsepower delivers feeble acceleration. And the transmission has to work hard to make any meaningful progress, resulting in frequent and uneven shifts. A stiff and jittery ride detracts from the driving experience, as does the buzzy engine and road noise that contribute to an uncomfortable cabin din. The vehicle’s 24 mpg overall is unimpressive for such a small SUV.” — Consumer Reports

• “The EcoSport tries to blend the economy-minded traits of subcompacts and the sporty-lifestyle attributes of crossovers. While this mini-ute is neither very economical nor sporty, it is surprisingly useful. It can tow up to 2000 pounds and has a high seating position as well as appealing infotainment options featuring both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On the downside, the back seat is cramped. In addition, the EcoSport is painfully slow no matter the engine choice and fuel economy is poor.” — Eric Stafford, Car and Driver

• “That said, the EcoSport’s on-road manners are a pleasant surprise. Even with my Titanium tester’s upgraded 17-inch wheels, the tiny Ford delivers a smooth, compliant ride. Small pavement imperfections are easily soaked up by the nicely tuned chassis, and the EcoSport’s pothole suppression is probably the best in its class. Steering response is about average, and overall levels of feedback are pretty low, but none of that is unexpected in this size and price class. The dynamic doll of the group is still the Mazda CX-3, and you’ll find more overall powertrain refinement in the Honda HR-V and Hyundai Kona, but I’d definitely rather drive an EcoSport over a Chevrolet Trax or Toyota C-HR.” — Steven Ewing, CNET

Key Specs

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed auto with select shift
Horsepower: 166
Fuel Economy figures: EPA Estimated City/Highway: 27/29

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Meg Lappe

Meg Lappe is Gear Patrol's Creative Project Manager, coordinating across teams to bring all our creative projects to life. She can typically be found running around.

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