Pedro Arrais review: Tiny Ford EcoSport offers big value

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Ford finally addresses its absence in the booming subcompact crossover market with the introduction of the 2018 EcoSport, its smallest offering.

It really is a puzzle as to why Ford took so long before importing the EcoSport. It has been sold around the world since 2012 and is currently in production in factories in Brazil, China, India, Romania, Russia and Thailand.

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In Canada it is available in four trim levels, starting at $20,985. I drove the SE model, with a $24,999 list price.

The EcoSport is just the latest entrant in the hot market. For the past few years, more and more competitors — such as the Chevrolet Trax, Kia Soul, Honda HR-V and others — have gotten a head start in the entry-level segment.

So the EcoSport provides something to offer many first-time buyers who have decided to skip a hatchback for the larger carrying capacity of a crossover or SUV.

I guess the first thing buyers will see is a very conventional boxy shape. While some competitors have gone out of their way to make their offerings more distinctive to step out from similar offerings, the EcoSport almost blends in with the scenery.

With a total length of 4,096 millimetres and a 2,519-mm wheelbase, the EcoSport is the smallest vehicle in the subcompact segment.

For comparison, the Nissan Kicks — last week’s tester — is almost 200 mm longer and has a 100-mm-larger wheelbase.

Despite the difference, Ford designers have managed to create 1,415 litres of cargo capacity (with the 60/40 split back seats folded down), one of the largest in the segment.

The real head-scratcher is why Ford chose to equip the EcoSport with a left-hinged rear door when everybody else has a top-hinged hatch.

In the past, manufacturers chose to install a hinged rear door on SUVs because they were stronger — enough to handle the weight of a spare tire mounted on them.

If you have ever tried to open a hinged door when parallel parked, you will instantly understand why the rest of the world uses top hinges.

The real surprise is under the hood, where a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder resides. Yes, you read that correctly — a three-banger.

This engine was last seen in the Fiesta. That actually makes sense, as the EcoSport sits on the same platform as the Fiesta.

But while 123 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque might have been adequate for the small Fiesta, the small engine now has to haul 220 more kilograms in a less-aerodynamic body.

Transport Canada lists the fuel consumption at 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 8.1 on the highway.

Despite the modest numbers, Ford says that, when properly equipped, the EcoSport’s maximum towing capacity is 635 kilograms.

The good news is that you can opt for a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 166 hp and 149 lb.-ft. of torque, which is close to what the rest of the competition has to offer.

Either engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The EcoSport comes standard with front-wheel drive. If you choose all-wheel drive, you will automatically be upgraded to the larger engine.

The combination of a short wheelbase and a simple suspension results in a ride that is a notch below the competition.

The interior is attractively trimmed, with soft-touch materials where one would expect hard plastic at this price point.

The driver is presented with a logically arranged instrument binnacle and controls in all the usual places. The climate controls are separate from the infotainment screen, lower on the console.

My tester had a Convenience Package, which included a navigation system and an eight-inch touchscreen (with swipe and pinch-to-zoom capacity) perched atop the centre console. The package also includes Ford’s Sync 3 system, with voice activation and seven speakers.

With the FordPass application, owners can locate and remotely lock, unlock or start their vehicle with their smartphone. The vehicle can also be turned into a Wi-Fi hotspot, with the ability to connect up to 10 devices.

On the safety front, the package adds a blind-spot information system and rear cross-traffic alert to the standard reverse sensing system (on the SE model).

Potential buyers can choose from 10 different colours — that might be a record — with a tan or black interior.

There is no doubt the 2018 Ford EcoSport will be welcome at Ford dealerships. It comes with several unique features that are meant to appeal to a growing market segment that is searching for a small crossover/SUV instead of a hatchback.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Subcompact crossover/SUV, front engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: Turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, 123 hp at 6,000 r.p.m., 125 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,500 to 4,500 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,096; width, 1,765; height, 1,647; wheelbase, 2,519

Curb weight (kg): 1,370

Price (base/as tested): $24,999/ $28,639 (includes $1,790 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Convenience Package $1,750

Tires: 205/60 R16 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 8.6 city/ 8.1 highway

Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance

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