by Frank A. Aukofer

If you happen to have a Madras skirt, shorts or a shirt, you can match it with the 2018 Ford EcoSport SES, which was made in the same place.

Madras clothing, as many older folks recall and a few younger ones have discovered, is made from lightweight summertime cotton with plaid or patterned designs. It is named for the mega-city on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, which has been renamed Chennai.

Ford EcoSport

The EcoSport is actually an international vehicle, a small four-door crossover sport utility vehicle. Though the version sent to the U.S. comes from Chennai, the EcoSport also is manufactured Romania, Russia, China, Thailand and Brazil.

That’s why it looks odd to American eyes: tall, sort of squished front to back and with a side-opening fifth door instead of the more familiar tailgate. A plus: it opens correctly for right-hand drive countries, hinged at the left and opening from curbside on the right. Other small crossovers with side-opening doors, like early Honda CR-Vs, opened the opposite, requiring loaders to stand out in traffic.

Ford EcoSport

The EcoSport is part of a proliferation of mini-sized crossovers that includes the Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Toyota CH-R, Nissan Kicks and Mazda CX-3.

At just 13 feet 5 inches long, it is shorter than other small crossovers and even some hatchbacks like the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. It is just a few inches longer than BMW’s all-electric i3. Still, it manages 91 cubic feet of space for passengers and 21 cubic feet for cargo, which is equivalent to a midsize sedan.

However, on the EcoSport space is not allocated well. There’s plenty of room and comfort up front, but the second row comes up short on knee room, which would force the driver and front passenger to move their seats forward simply to accommodate those in back.

Ford EcoSport

Once you divvy up the space, rear-seat passengers get generous headroom to go with the short knee room. Outboard passengers, as usual, fare the best while the unfortunate in the center position must contend with cramped foot space and an uncomfortable cushion.

The basic S version, with a $20,990 price tag, comes with a 123-hp, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that delivers 125 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It also is available with other trim levels but was not driven for this review, likely because it is more suited to the byways of Bangkok and Bengal than Milwaukee or Miami.

Instead, the tested EcoSport was the SES model with all-wheel drive. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes a more Yankee-friendly 166 hp with 149 lb-ft of torque, also with a six-speed automatic transmission. On the SES, the automatic was enhanced by a manual-shift mode that included steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.

ecosport-trunkThat combination transforms the Eco-Sport into an entertaining urban runabout of a size that can dodge traffic and park easily almost anywhere. The main downside is lackluster fuel economy — just 23/29/25 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycles.

With a $27,735 price tag, the SES comes well-equipped with rear cross-traffic alert, navigation, blind-spot warning, pushbutton starting, motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed cloth upholstery, heated front seats, the paddles for manual shifting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

More important from the driver’s standpoint is a stiffer suspension system for improved handling. The EcoSport SES handles curves without much lean and cruises steadily on freeways. Safety equipment does not include collision warning, automatic emergency braking or lane-departure mitigation.

Ford EcoSport

The tester’s price tag placed it at the top end of the mini crossover class. Comparably equipped competitors sell for less, though the new all-wheel drive Hyundai Kona Ultimate has a higher price tag of $29,775.

However, an all-wheel drive Honda HR-V has a sticker price of $24,660. The new Nissan Kicks checks in at $22,205 and the Toyota CH-R sells for $24,060. However, both the Kicks and CH-R have front-wheel drive.

Ford has announced that it will bail out of sedans, which means the demise of the subcompact Fiesta, compact Focus and midsize Fusion. It will concentrate on trucks, no surprise because its F-Series pickups have been best-sellers for four decades.

Because of the current buyer infatuation with SUVs and crossovers of all sizes, shapes and price classes, the EcoSport likely will continue to anchor the bottom of the Ford lineup, which includes the Escape, Edge, Explorer and Expedition.

Ford EcoSport

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford EcoSport SES four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 166 hp, 149 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:13 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/25/29  mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,735.
  • Price as tested: $27,735.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Ford EcoSport

Photos (c) Ford