National Post (Latest Edition)

New tech, features keep it competitiv­e

- Peter Bleakney in St. John’s, N.L.

With Ford of North America recently announcing its intention to sell pretty much nothing but trucks, SUVs and crossovers in the future, the 2018 EcoSport is another nail, albeit a small one, in the coffin of the traditiona­l family car.

This tall hatchback with the tiny footprint is hardly new, but in Newfoundla­nd vernacular, it certainly “comes from away,” having been initially developed for the Indian and South American markets as a 2012 model.

Arriving in Canadian dealership­s now, our EcoSport (pronounced “echo-sport”) is built in India, and comes in four trim levels — S, SE, SES and Titanium. Base engine for the S, SE and Titanium is a 1.0-L EcoBoost turbocharg­ed three-cylinder making 123 horsepower and 125 poundfeet of torque.

For $2,500 you can upgrade to all-wheel-drive paired with a 2.0L naturally aspirated four pushing out 166 hp and 149 lb-ft. Both engines have auto start/stop and are hooked up to a traditiona­l sixspeed automatic transmissi­on. The sporty SES gets the AWD/2.0L combo as standard kit.

Published fuel economy for the EcoSport is not outstandin­g. The front-drive 1.0-L is pegged at (L/100) 8.8 city/8.1 hwy/8.4 combined, while the all-wheel-drive 2.0-L gets a rating of 10.2 city/8.0 hwy/9.3 combined.

The base EcoSport S with the 1.0-L starts at $22,099 and includes 16-inch alloys, rear-view camera, auto headlamps, cruise control, hill-start assist, two smart-charging USB ports and Sync interface with a 4.2-inch screen. The volume trim will be the $25,099 SE that adds moonroof, heated front seats (six-way power driver’s), proximity key with push-button start, auto climate control, reverse sensing, roof rails and the excellent Sync 3 with 6.5 touchscree­n — the latter bestowing upon the car Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM, AppLink, valet mode, HD radio and (coming later) Waze integratio­n. Also available is FordPass Connect and a Wi-Fi hot spot for up to 10 devices.

The SES at $29,399 ups the swagger with unique exterior trim and 17-inch alloys, orange interior highlights, partial leather seats, eight-inch touchscree­n with navigation, blind spot detection, seven-speaker audio, sporttuned suspension and more.

If you desire near-luxury in a small package, the Titanium ($28,599 start) does its best to check those boxes. Highlights include leather, 17-inch alloys, a pretty decent 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, eight-inch touchscree­n with navigation, 110-volt inverter, BLIS, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting and Cold Weather Package (heated mirrors, heated steering wheel, wiper de-icer). The Cold Weather package is available on the SE and SES for $350.

The subcompact crossover segment is growing in rabbit-like leaps and bounds, and the Ford EcoSport certainly qualifies. It casts a smaller shadow than all of its competitor­s, like the Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. This makes for darn good maneuverab­ility as I discovered while exploring the exceedingl­y narrow lanes that thread their way through The Battery, a colourful collection of tiny homes clinging to the rocky face of the entrance to St. John’s harbour.

The 1.0-L EcoBoost three-pot is an eager little unit whose midrange turbo push does a decent job of moving this tiny ute along. The six-speed auto is tuned to keep the engine spinning below 2,000 rpm on light-throttle loads, but it is quick to downshift when you need some urge. As would be expected, the EcoSport equipped with the 2.0-L and AWD is a tad more lively (not by much) but noisier when your foot meets the firewall — which happens quite often in either configurat­ion when looking to pass or merge on the highway.

For having such a short wheelbase, the EcoSport has a commendabl­y smooth ride, although it will get a bit pitchy over some surfaces. Handling is fine, the steering nicely accurate, there is a sense of quiet solidity to this ute that belies its size. Highway cruising is a pretty relaxed affair, and in the strong crosswinds we experience­d here in Newfoundla­nd, our Titanium didn’t get pushed around.

Outward visibility is pinched in the back, and somewhat impeded up front by the thick A-pillars. Cabin quality is what you’d expect of an older-gen Ford — it’s no real step up from the current Focus or Fiesta. That said, all the controls are human-friendly and the eightinch touchscree­n with navigation (a $1,750 upgrade for the SE) is perched within easy reach.

No one buys a tiny crossover for back-seat legroom, but the EcoSport is particular­ly skimpy. Tallish humans spending any time back there will become intimately familiar with their kneecaps. Headroom isn’t too bad, though. Ford includes pre- and post-family millennial­s, along with emptyneste­r baby boomers, among the EcoSport’s target demographi­c. In other words, the rugrat-free.

There’s quite a bit of utility baked into this tidy muffin. The unique side-hinged “swing gate” with two stop points opens to reveal 592 litres of cargo space behind the second row. There’s a clever tri-level load floor and a big recess moulded into the gate. Folding down the second row opens it up to 1416 litres. Aside from the cavernous Honda HR-V, the EcoSport’s cargo area is classcompe­titive.

In the world of tiny crossovers, the Ford EcoSport maybe a somewhat aged prospect, but it offers plenty of current tech and is certainly an equal-opportunit­y offering. If you want the AWD/2.0-L combo in the base S, it’s on the menu. Conversely, a loaded 1.0L front-drive Titanium can kiss $30,000. Yikes. As Ford predicts, the SE will be the sweet spot.

 ?? PHOTOS: PETER BLEAKNEY / DRIVING.CA ?? The 2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium won’t get pushed around — even in the strong crosswinds of Newfoundla­nd.
PHOTOS: PETER BLEAKNEY / DRIVING.CA The 2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium won’t get pushed around — even in the strong crosswinds of Newfoundla­nd.
 ??  ?? The 2018 Ford EcoSport SES — at $29,399 — gets the AWD/2.0-L combo as standard kit.
The 2018 Ford EcoSport SES — at $29,399 — gets the AWD/2.0-L combo as standard kit.

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