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2018 Ford EcoSport: How Does Ford’s Newest SUV Size Up to the Competition?

It’s been on sale in South America and other parts of the world for 15 years, and now a freshly updated version of Ford’s tiniest SUV is finally in showrooms here in the United States. The 2018 Ford EcoSport is built off the same B-segment global platform as the Fiesta subcompact car.

In the EcoSport’s case, the term “SUV” could really stand for spacious urban vehicle. Despite a high-set hexagonal grille, bulging wheel wells and a face that could pass for an adolescent version of the Ford Edge’s or Escape’s dimensionally, the EcoSport is really a tall hatchback. The junior Ford SUV is just 1.6 inches longer nose to tail than the Fiesta hatchback and nearly a whopping foot and a half shorter than the compact Ford Escape. The EcoSport’s abbreviated carriage is readily apparent when you view it in profile. That enables it to zip through little holes in traffic and park in tiny bits of real estate that would confound larger vehicles.

And apparently, that’s exactly what a growing number of younger, more Millennial, more urban buyers are looking for. Ford is the latest automaker to dip a toe into the mini-SUV pond, which last year grew to more than 560,000 sales in the United States. It’s got a lot of company: The last time we looked, the cast of players was expanding rapidly. There’s the Kia Soul, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Fiat 500X and Nissan Juke and Rogue Sport — with several more entries on the way from both mainstream and luxury brands. Ford is the first automaker, however, to bring a product assembled in India to these shores.

Even though the EcoSport’s subcompact footprint is hatchback-car small, it’s got the SUV height advantage working in its favor, towering some 7 inches over the Fiesta. There’s the slightly elevated driving position that SUV buyers covet and nearly as much headroom as in the larger Escape. Five passengers can fit in a pinch, but four is the practical limit for a trip of more than just a few miles. The EcoSport’s a bit narrower than the Escape, shaving two to three inches from the compact SUV’s hip and shoulder room measurements, and cargo space behind the rear seat is some 38 percent less than the Escape’s. But if you think about it, the EcoSport’s 20.9 cu ft. of cargo room is roughly equivalent to that in a full-size sedan’s trunk or the space behind the third row seats of the much larger Expedition, Explorer or Flex. Fold the EcoSport’s back seat down and the space jumps to 50 cu ft., which is more room than is offered in the slightly larger Chevrolet Trax.

Also of subcompact size is the 2018 Ford EcoSport’s powertrain design. There are four EcoSport models, base S, mid-level SE, lux Titanium and sporty SES, the first three powered by a 123-horsepower 1.0-liter EcoBoost 3-cylinder engine. Available only with front-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic, the 3-cylinder is plenty ample to shuttle the 3,000-lb base EcoSport around an urban landscape. With an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon city/29 mpg highway, however, fuel economy could be better. The lighter, more aerodynamic Focus sedan with the same 3-cylinder gets a 38 mpg hwy rating. On demand 4-wheel drive and a 166-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is standard on the EcoSport SES, also with a 6-speed automatic, EPA rated at 23 mpg city/29 mpg hwy. In both cases, the EcoSport’s boxy shape, while maximizing interior space, doesn’t help move it through the air at highway speeds.

An interesting design detail is the EcoSport’s cargo door, which is not a typical lift gate but a door that pivots open to the curb side like the first-generation Toyota RAV4. In other markets with roads even worse than ours, the door carries a full-size spare; U.S. versions eliminate the spare (ostensibly to improve rearward visibility) in favor of a tire inflator kit with sealant goop. However, dealers will offer an accessory rear door-mounted spare tire kit.

Prices have just been announced. Starting at just $19,995 (plus $995 destination) the base S comes well-equipped with SYNC, a 4.2-inch infotainment display, air conditioning, a backup camera and 16-in alloy wheels. Upgrading to the $22,905 SE nets SYNC 3 with a 6-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a power moonroof, automatic A/C, and SiriusXM. The $25,740 Titanium brings a 9-speaker HARMAN B&O Play stereo, an 8-in touchscreen with voice-activated navigation, leather seats and 17-in alloys. And the $26,740 SES includes the larger 2.0-liter engine, intelligent AWD, sport suspension and blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring.

Apparently, small SUVs are becoming a big thing.

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