You may recall that earlier this year Ford made the decision to phase out all of its cars in North America except for the Mustang. We were supposed to get a ruggedy wagon called the Focus Active, too, but a certain President of the United States of A Certain Place managed to kill that. The result is a Ford lineup of just trucks, crossovers, and SUVs. Oh, and Mustangs. It’s left the Ford EcoSport as the last little Ford for America, and while it’s not terrible, it’s really just a wheeled reminder of how irrational people and cars are.
(Full Disclosure: Ford loaned me a 2018 EcoSport Titanium for a week with a full tank of rich, creamery gasoline, and I called it an “eeco-sport” the whole time and they never even knew it.)
I don’t think it’s possible to really review the EcoSport without considering it in the context of the closest vehicle it’s replacing: the Ford Focus five-door hatch. Both vehicles start at right about the same price. With both in Titanium trim, the Focus starts at $24,470 and the EcoSport starts at $25,880. And both vehicles essentially do the same job: moving up to five people and their crap around, on a daily basis, with comfort and ease.
For entirely illogical and irrational reasons, people have somehow collectively decided that they prefer taller vehicles with bigger wheels and a higher driving position. There’s no real, logical benefit to any of these qualities, and, in fact, you can argue that a taller vehicle impairs handling, makes the vehicle more susceptible to crosswinds, forces people to buy more expensive tires and lift their stuff higher to load it into the car. I’ll add that I don’t think these crossovers look any better than cars, either, but that’s more subjective.
Look, it’s useless to really try and scrutinize this, because the only real answer is that people and the cars they choose to buy have never been subject to rational decision making, and that’s both one of the most wonderful things about automobiles in general and one of the most frustrating.
In the case of the EcoSport, I’d put it in the latter category.
I can see no good reason why anyone would choose an EcoSport over a Focus hatch. Hell, even the name is stupider, and that’s true if you follow Ford’s demands. The company is adamant that it’s pronounced “echo-sport” as opposed to “eeko-sport.”
I’ll go into more detail about the EcoSport here, but as I do so, I’m going to try to keep the comparisons with the Focus hatch going, in an attempt to see if we can’t figure out some reason beyond a collective mind-boner for driving six inches higher off the ground.
I like strange-looking cars. I always have, and I always will. With that in mind, I found myself sort of liking the EcoSports peculiar, bloated, scared-pufferfish proportions, but even my twisted mind couldn’t really find the car attractive.
It’s both bigger and smaller than you’d expect—it feels inflated and bulging, but park it next to a full-sized SUV and you’ll realize that its scale is really pretty diminutive.
The result is something that feels bulky, but actually isn’t and I’m not really sure that’s a positive. It’s kind of like if you stuck a Scion iQ in an enlargenator for, oh, 30 seconds or so.
I think I’m okay with the stumpy, pug-dog look of the EcoSport in profile and from the rear, but I just can’t find a way to like the punim on this thing.
It’s snarly and agressive, which I know is what people seem to want, again, for no good reasons, but in context of this car it just comes off looking cranky and petulant, especially when seen in full context of the rest of the car.
There’s some details I like, like the lack of stupid fake air intakes and how you can sort of read the upper and lower light assemblies as one large lamp bisected by a body panel, but I just can’t find this thing really attractive.
Let’s look at it next to a Focus hatch:
Is the crossover more attractive than the car? I don’t think so, but, clearly, there’s a lot of people who do.
Ideally, the interior is where you’re going to spend the most time with your car, so it’s pretty important. The EcoSport, as a crossover, benefits from the general perception that crossovers have more room for people and stuff and activities involving some combination of people and stuff than regular cars do. Is this true?
Well, it’s easy enough to find out, thanks to Ford’s own numbers, which have sworn to uphold the truth. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Focus: Interior passenger volume: 90 cubic feet. Cargo area behind back seat: 23.3 cubic feet. Front headroom: 38.3 inches, front legroom: 43.1 inches. Rear headroom: 38 inches, rear legroom: 33.2 inches.
- EcoSport: Interior passenger volume: 91.1 cubic feet. Cargo area behind back seat: 20.9 cubic feet. Front headroom: 39.6 inches, front legroom: 42.9 inches. Rear headroom: 37.5 inches, rear legroom: 36.7 inches.
So, really, it’s pretty much a wash, with the Focus coming out a bit ahead on cargo area and the EcoSport a bit ahead on rear legroom. But the idea that the crossover design provides appreciably more interior room I think is just a myth.
So, if you’re not getting any more room in there, what are you getting? That room is a bit higher off the ground, and for a lot of people, that’s what they want: to be sitting a bit higher off the ground.
The actual design and materials used inside the EcoSport is pretty decent, and I think Ford’s interior design is generally good. The EcoSport’s tall and narrow proportions did sometimes make the car feel more cramped than it should.
There’s a good array of storage pockets and cubbies in there, and the (optional) sunroof does help keep the interior feeling open and airy.
I did especially like one detail of the interior design: where most dashboard plastic textures tend to mimic natural things, like the grain of leather, I liked the modernist-abstract pattern the EcoSport used.
It’s subtle, but I thought the overall effect was quite nice, and I appreciated it when I bothered to look closely at it.
I think the biggest puzzle with the interior has to do with the cargo area, and how you access it. I sort of mean puzzle literally, because it took me forever to figure out how to get into the cargo area from the outside. I was, like an idiot, looking for some kind of recognizable handle, only to realize that Ford’s designers were having some fun with me, hiding the handle inside the right-side taillamp:
I wasn’t expecting to find a handle there because I was expecting the rear hatch to open up, like, you know, a hatch does. But it’s not a hatch! It’s a door, and it opens like this:
Now, I love this sort of thing on early Jaguar E-Types, but I’m not so sure I like it on a car like the EcoSport. Using it in the real world, I think there’s some real drawbacks to the side-opening door.
Specifically, a side-opening door, especially one as big as this, limits from what side you can load your stuff into your car. It takes up a lot of room to the rear of the car, so if you’re backed near a wall, you may not even be able to open the door enough to get access to the cargo area; hatches usually don’t extend out as far.
There’s also the very real benefit a hatch has in the rain. When you’re loading luggage or groceries or whatever when it’s raining, an open hatch creates a nice dry little porch area that lets you deal with loading your car without getting soaked. A door offers no such advantage.
I was confused enough at the decision to make a door instead of a hatch that I reached out to Ford to try and find out why this decision was made. Here’s what they told me:
“Since EcoSport has a lower roof than larger SUVs, a top-hinged tailgate would impede head room when loading/unloading cargo, so the swing gate was the solution. It also creates more access the roof even with the swing gate open, so you can load/unload cargo into the back and onto the roof at the same time.
Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other “Echo” sport questions!”
First, thanks for the pronunciation reminder, there, and second, I’m, uh, not convinced. The Focus is even lower, and yet it somehow manages to have a hatch and more cargo room behind the rear seat.
As far as the advantage of being able to load cargo onto the roof simultaneously with loading into the rear, I’m not really sure I, or, really, anyone, considers that a worthwhile tradeoff.
Man, I have to be honest, I really wasn’t crazy about driving this thing. I had the 2.0-liter inline-four engine that makes 166 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque, and while those seem like adequate numbers for this sort of car, I thought the throttle feel was, well, sort of terrible.
I actually had to check to see if the EcoSport used a CVT, because the odd hesitation and awkward power delivery felt like the sort of characteristic CVT unpleasantness.
It’s not a CVT, though, it’s a six-speed SelectShift® (whatever the hell that means—I guess it’s better than NoChoiceShift®) automatic. It just somehow feels CVT-like.
Handling-wise, it’s basically fine and predictable, but you can’t ignore that the car is tall and narrow, and you can feel crosswinds. It doesn’t feel as planted as, say, a Focus does. Since I’m still on this kick about comparing it to a Focus, I have to say I prefer the way the Focus drives and handles. The Focus is about 100 pounds lighter, it’s closer to the ground, the throttle feels better—it’s just a more satisfying experience.
I do have one nice thing to say about the EcoSport mechanically, though: it’s the first car where I actually think the engine cover adds some benefit.
If you have to check or add oil to the car, the engine cover makes it incredibly easy, with a very obvious dipstick and an integrated funnel in the engine cover for filling the oil! This I like.
About the same, really. The Focus gets 24 city/34 highway/28 combined, and the EcoSport gets 27 city/29 highway/27.9 combined. So, it’s at least good to know that for whatever silly reasons crossovers are more popular than cars, it doesn’t look like, at least in this case, they’re any less fuel-efficient.
The verdict is, fundamentally, I just don’t get it. The EcoSport offers no real advantages over the Focus five-door hatch. Okay, it’s got AWD (4WD as the badge on the back declares) and has a standard roof rack, but you can get a roof rack for the Focus and let’s be honest, nobody is going to be off-roading an EcoSport.
There’s no appreciable difference in interior room, it’s worse to drive, it doesn’t look as good, and the rear door makes loading cargo much more awkward.
These all seem like steep prices to pay for sitting a little bit higher up off the ground while you drive and projecting some illusion of eternal readiness for an apocalypse or whatever the hell it is people think crossovers make them seem like.
It’s not so much that the EcoSport is all that bad, really, it’s just a vehicle designed around a lot of compromises for a goal that’s fundamentally useless.
I’d say if you really like modern Fords—and there’s some real reasons why you should—get yourself a nice Focus hatchback before they’re all gone, sacrificed on the altar of the god Crossoverius, lord of Sitting High and Other Bullshit.