It was January of 2012 – almost seven years ago – that Buick introduced its Encore, the company’s U.S. take on a small Opel crossover, which is built in South Korea. Introduced to showrooms the following fall, Buick’s subcompact Encore may not have invented the category (I’ll give that to Suzuki, largely ‘cause I like referencing Suzuki), but has done a huge amount to popularize the category here in the States. The Encore sold…and sold…and sold, and continues to sell well despite any number of competitors (including Chevrolet’s Trax) entering the segment. Of more importance to this is Ford and its newish Ecosport entering the segment; with it, we think Buick’s Encore will continue to sell well.
It was over the last year that we first started seeing the Eco(rhymes with ‘echo’)sport. Long available in other markets, its small footprint seemed about right for our urban-oriented 20-somethings, but the initial impression was similar to our take on the day-old donut or week-old bread: the small Ford’s freshness date had expired. A year later it remained on our ‘don’t review’ list, but given the scarcity of Ford product in regional press fleets the decision was made to ‘man up’ for a week with Ford’s smallest crossover.
The Ecosport’s footprint is perfect for your intown driving and apartment parking. With an overall length of just over 13 feet, you can put it just about anywhere, and with its high(ish) hip point and reasonable amount of glass, you can actually see where you’re putting it. Its small exterior proportions, however, make for a claustrophobic interior. Headroom is decent, but your hips and shoulders don’t enjoy any sense of space, and neither do your legs. And the notion that the rear seat is appropriate for three passengers is completely ludicrous. Completely. Ludicrous.
Under the hood you have your choice of an underachieving turbocharged three with 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, or an available 2.0 liter inline four delivering 166 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque. The turbo three is a fine powertrain in Ford’s Fiesta, where the curb weight of the Fiesta hatch is 2,500 pounds, some 500 less than the Ecosport. Saddle it with the crossover’s 3,000 pounds, however, and it is gonna be wheezy – and you don’t want wheezy. You’re better served, we think, by opting for the 2.0 liter four, which is more capable of comfortably handling you, a partner and your large dog.
In defense of Ford’s Ecosport, we like the nimble feel and relatively composed platform. Given its height and short wheelbase, you’ll not confuse this with the aforementioned Fiesta, but then, you’re not buying a crossover to go autocrossing. At an as-tested price of $25K, however, there’s a lot of Ford Escape you can buy for similar money, and the Escape will deliver far more transportation value.
If on a Ford showroom and needing space for four, along with the utility of a hatch and folding rear seat, I’d jump into a Fiesta ST faster than you can say ‘hot hatch’. And if I wanted a subcompact crossover for roughly the same money, I’d head for the Mazda, Hyundai or Kia showroom. With the advent of a ‘baby Bronco’ in the not-too-distant future, Ford’s subcompact Ecosport will be on the marketing back burner, faster than you can say ‘back burner’.