REVIEW: 2019 Ford EcoSport SES – This New Entry-Level Crossover Model Makes It Hard To Miss Cars

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As Ford moves to quit selling small family cars America, it will be the EcoSport and other crossovers that Ford expects will fill the void. Here’s our take on the EcoSport.

What is it? 

The Ford EcoSport is a subcompact crossover that will take the place of the now discontinued Ford Focus car in its lineup. The EcoSport has the same 90 cubic feet of passenger volume that the now-discontinued Focus compact car had, and about the same cargo area as the Focus hatchback. The EcoSport is taller than a small compact hatchback car, and its cargo area is much larger than a sedan with a similar footprint. The EcoSport also has optional AWD (on any trim) and thus, is more of a “true crossover,” than say, a front-drive-only model like the Nissan Kicks or Kia Niro.

Pricing and trims

The base EcoSport S starts at about $21,000 before Ford discounting and has SE, Titanium, and SES trims. A fully-loaded SES can top $28K before Ford’s discounting. AWD, which Ford calls “four-wheel drive,” adds about $1,600 to the price of the lower trim models and is included on the SES trim. Adding in AWD also adds the larger of the two engines. Just for comparison, we priced out the 2018 Ford Focus hatchback and found that it both started and ended at a higher price than the EcoSport. The perception that crossovers are more expensive than cars depends on which car you compare. The Focus sedan did start lower, at about $19K. The Focus Titanium sedan we tested in 2014 had a price of $25,500.

We tested the fully-loaded EcoSport SES AWD trim, which had an as-configured price of $28,370 including the delivery fee, but before any Ford discounts. Ford’s online pricing model is unusual. It has an MSRP but then automatically offers $2K off that price. Be sure you check with your local dealer for details on discounts and fees.

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Safety

The Ford EcoSport since it has not yet been tested by IIHS. However, in the limited, and lower speed crash tests conducted by NHTSA, thus far the Focus is doing well with a running score of 4-stars (out of five). The EcoStar also does not have automatic emergency braking, despite being in its second year of production.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Our tester had the larger of the two EcoSport engines and we cannot comment on the smaller, 1-liter engine. The 2-liter engine we tested is more than adequate and the automatic transmission has paddle shifters and a sport setting to make using it for sporty drives easier. We flogged the EcoSport on a closed course with a Team O’Neil Rally School instructor yelling “Faster, Faster, Now BRAKE!” in the passenger seat and we came away impressed with the mostly hidden capabilities locked away in the EcoSport.

When we tested the EcoSport’s AWD system on an ice-covered slalom ending in a steep uphill section, we found the EcoSport’s AWD and traction control to be outstanding. Even better, the all-season Bridgestone Ecopia tires were good in the snow. Not as good as dedicated winter tires, but they were predictable in turns and had decent forward progress traction. We ran the EcoSport back to back with a new Ford Ranger 4X4 and a Ford F-150 Raptor. We’d be lying if we said the EcoSport was the most capable vehicle, but can honestly report it was one of the most fun.

Interestingly, the EcoSport has zero fuel economy penalty compared to the Ford Focus when both have front-wheel drive. This, despite being seven inches taller. AWD does have a penalty of course, but at just $150 per year in fuel costs, it is hard not to justify adding the feature if you live where snow is common.

On-Road Ride and handling

In the context of small affordable family crossovers, the EcoSport is fun to drive and one enjoys a high sensation of speed, like in a small sporty car. You feel like you are going faster than you are. The EcoSport has no bad habits on the road, but it is a very direct-steering vehicle. Small inputs make the vehicle turn a lot.

Seating

The seats of our EcoSport tester had power adjustment and manual headrest tilt and manual lumbar. For the price point, this is a good setup and we found the EcoSport’s seats very comfortable. Ford also makes the most of the legroom area and our right knee had more space than the dramatically larger Nissan Murano we had tested the week prior to the EcoSport. The EcoSport features a tilt and telescoping steering wheel which makes getting comfortable even easier.

The rear seats are small. That is the price for buying into this segment. In order for anyone to sit behind the front passengers, the front seats must be moved forward about six inches. We would consider a vehicle this size to be one in which the rear seats are considered temporary only. A child seat would work if there was just a driver in the vehicle and buckling in a child would be easier than in a small car due to the added ride height. If you need a true five-seater the Ford Escape is the vehicle to consider. We loved that the EcoSports rear headrests dropped down out of sight when not in use.

Cargo

The EcoSports has an unusual cargo area. The hatch swings outward being hinged on the passenger side. During our time with the EcoSport, it caused us zero problems. In fact, when we pulled up to the curb at our local transfer station (dump), the hatch worked great, swinging out of the way. We won’t point fingers, but there have been small crossovers in the past that had the hinge on the wrong side for America.

The EcoSport has 21 cubic feet of cargo area behind the rear seats and 50 cubic feet when the second row is folded. That volume compares closely to the volume offered by the popular Subaru Crosstrek which offers 20.8 / 55.3 cu ft. Unfortunately, there is no spare of any kind in the EcoSport SES and the tires are not run-flats.

 – Your automaker stole your spare. What’s the plan when things go wrong?

Infotainment and controls

Fords infotainment system was top-notch but bear in mind that we tested the top trim. The phone we synched was instantly recognized and we connected to Android Auto with zero issues. The native navigation in a vehicle at this price point is great, but we think Ford could delete that and save drivers a few dollars given the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The audio system worked very well. Presets are simple to set and displayed exactly how you want them to be. We found navigating the Ford menu tree easy and intuitive. It would be hard to imagine how this system could be topped. Ford has been a pioneer in infotainment for decades and the hard work shows.

Overall

Ford is still making the economy model 2019 Fiesta which starts at under $16K. We see the value of a truly affordable small vehicle in any automaker’s portfolio and hope Ford opts to keep it. However, as the crossover craze moves forward with building momentum, entry-level and affordable subcompact cars are going to have a very tough time selling against equally-priced, equally fuel efficient, but more practical crossovers. Ford sees this. So does every automaker. Ford’s new EcoSport is a step ahead of many competitors and we liked that Ford didn’t simply create a tall car model and pretend it was a crossover. With AWD available on every trim, and standard on the SES, Ford has a true small crossover priced exactly where its Focus previously was. With the EcoSport having many advantages and no disadvantages compared to the outgoing Focus, it’s easy to see the appeal this new model has to buyers on a budget.

Test Vehicle Note: Our media test vehicle was a 2018 model year EcoSport. There have been only very minor changes to the EcoSport for the new model year. Prices mentioned reflect Ford’s current price structure.

 

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham