Sorry for the clickbaity headline, but the 2018 Ford EcoSport that we just drove for a week is really only missing one thing to be quite enjoyable – some power. And some handling. And good brakes. OK, that’s several things, but you get them all in the ST packaging. We’ve already seen that a Ford Edge ST is coming, so purists be damned, let’s embrace the sporty crossover.
Also, let’s not beat around the bush and address the elephant in the room – Ford recently walked back on producing cars to focus on trucks and SUVs. Focus…that was an unfortunate choice of words. R.I.P. little buddy (and your little’r buddy, the Fiesta). So this EcoSport could be all that represents “small and sporty” (aside from something called the “Focus Active” whatever that is) for the Ford lineup outside of the Mustang. At least until gas gets expensive again. Which isn’t all that bad, because I found myself sort of enjoying the EcoSport after a week of daily driving through Washington D.C.
I’ll get to what I enjoyed in a moment, but first some history. While it is brand new to the U.S. market for 2018, the EcoSport has been around since the 2004 model year! That’s right, the compact SUV/CUV/whatever has been produced in Brazil in various forms for fifteen years! The first generation, built on the Ford B3 platform (home to older small Fords like the Fiesta MK5, as well as the Mazda Demio/2, etc.) lasted a staggering 8 years, replaced by a second iteration back in 2012. They sold over 700,000 back in 2011, that’s a lot. It has endured a bunch of Ford engines up front including a 1.0L supercharged Zetec, 2.0L Duratec, and 1.4L diesel Duratorq engine. Naturally they were all FWD with a manual as standard. Ah, the good ole days.
Gen 2 arrived for the 2013 model year and was much more global, built on the B2E platform. You may remember that platform in such cars as the 6th and 7th generation Fiesta, the Ka, the B-Max, and the Transit Courier. Engine choices include the 1.0L 3-cylinder EcoBoost, which our Titanium trim test car had, as well as a variety of others including Ford’s naturally aspirated 2.0L 4-cylinder. Interestingly the 3-cylinder is inherently unbalanced so a deliberately unbalanced flywheel is fitted to compensate.
That generally catches us up to today, with this Ruby Red Metallic Titanium FWD EcoSport.
The first thing that the EcoSport has going for it is its size. It manages to be both big and small, a nice party trick that most vehicles can’t manage to accomplish. Obviously being a crossover-type car, it looks taller than a normal non-crossover-type car. Not all that great for handling purposes, more on that in a bit, but as you saw in our participation in the Trail Trek Tour, it can help from a ground clearance perspective.
On to the styling perspective, the EcoSport isn’t bad looking. The Titanium trim model looks pretty upscale for its price-point, $25,880 to start, and our tested came with body colored door handles, some extra chrome bits, as well as the very pretty $395 Ruby Red paint color. And it’s a hatchback, people love hatchbacks! Actually a niche market of us enthusiasts like hatchbacks, people actually like tall crossovers. So one would think that since this is both, enthusiasts would like it. But enthusiasts don’t like tall hatchbacks, which this also is. So, there’s that.
In the end, you either love it or hate it, Ford is betting it’s the former for most since they are investing in so many SUVs and crossovers.
I only had one glaring complaint for the EcoSport’s interior. The straight out of the early 90s automatic shift lever. Just look at that.
I haven’t seen a less attractive shifter in some time. Well the actual lever isn’t terrible, but the base is about as basic as it gets. PRNDS (RIP L) and some plastic. It’s like the interior design folks just forgot to design it and grabbed an old part from a 1992 Tempo (note, I Googled that after I made the joke, and it’s not far off…).
The rest of the interior is pretty nice, I actually like the screen perched up on top of the dashboard. In contrast to the luxury European automakers who keep tacking iPad-looking screens up on top of the dash, this actually looks a bit more integrated. Ford’s Sync 3 system is pretty user friendly, although I’ve never been in the #SyncSucks camp that many of my colleagues have been in for years. After owning an early system in a 2011 Mustang GT and testing them over the years, I have never thought they were any less crappy than other manufacturers systems. Most of which aren’t great. The large touchscreen with some redundant buttons (OMG volume knob!!) worked quite well.
I also liked the area directly below the screen; the geometric shaped vents and nicely organized climate controls round out a pretty nice looking dash. The seats are covered with perforated leather, or at least are “leather trimmed” and look the part. Lateral bolstering wasn’t amazing, but they were nicely adjustable and pretty comfortable on long drives of an hour or more.
From a practicality standpoint, the EcoSport has the best of both worlds. As I mentioned, it’s both large and small. Driving it, it felt small and easy to maneuver and park, but I was able to squeeze a decent amount of stuff in the back since it is so tall. The door swings out, and if you could have seen my daughter and I trying to open it for the first time, you would make fun of us. I wish I had it on video, it’s great YouTube fodder.
“Car expert stymied by hidden door handle”. Here it is.
This looks broken!
Like most Fords, the Titanium model is towards the top of the EcoSport range, with only the beefier looking 4WD SES model coming in above it. This version as equipped with the pricier paint and a different set of wheels is still under $25,000, which is pretty impressive. Comparing that to a lot of small hatchback options on the market, you get a decent amount for your money.
So back to the whole ST thing. I know, I’m a stereotypical enthusiast reviewer, there are many of us out there, but the only issue I had while driving the ST was lack of power, handling an brakes. The 1.0L EcoBoost is dog slow. Like less power than my 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX slow. Curb weight is pretty low, just over 3100 lbs., but 123 horsepower is just not enough. You can opt for the 2.0L EcoBoost for $1,450 and bump up to 166 hp, which would help. You can’t help wonder if Ford will do an EcoSport ST, since they are doing an Edge ST. If so, I’m looking forward to taking it for a spin.