SUVs dominate the automotive marketplace, and companies are seeking to fill the ever-expanding number of niches. Ford’s latest addition is the subcompact EcoSport, positioned beneath the Escape. The new EcoSport competes with the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, and Mazda CX-3; it was originally designed for developing countries and built in India.

And while it might look a little goofy, with its narrow, tall, upright body and seemingly tiny and dark colored wheels, it drives rather well. We just bought one, and here are our first impressions.

What we bought: 2018 Ford EcoSport SES all-wheel drive
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine; six-speed automatic transmission
MSRP: $26,740
Destination fee: $995
Options: $395
Total cost: $28,130 

How It Drives

Our 2.0-liter EcoSport, like most subcompact SUVs, has to work hard to merge on the highway.

The standard six-speed automatic transmission isn’t the smoothest, but it makes the most of the engine’s modest 166 hp with prompt downshifts. If you’re considering buying an EcoSport, we wouldn’t bother with the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine. We tested that small engine in the Ford Fiesta and Focus, and its meager power isn’t offset enough by good fuel economy to put up with it.

Handling is a high point for this subcompact SUV. With its quick steering and limited body roll, the EcoSport is much more engaging than most of its competitors. It handles more like a sporty car than a dull SUV. Yes, driving the EcoSport has been a pleasant surprise.

The ride isn’t too bad for the class, either. The ride in this wee Ford suffers from some jitter, but it’s tolerable.

Noise levels are also about on par for the segment. The EcoSport is calm enough for a highway cruise, barring the buzzy noise drivers get when the engine is revved.

2018 Ford EcoSport interior.

Inside

As you’d expect, the cockpit is narrow. The seats themselves are comfortable, though they could use more lumbar support. The rear seat makes for a rather upright posture, and legroom is very limited.

Getting in or out is super-easy—one of the bright spots of this car.

The rear hatch door, however, is hinged on the side and swings open (as opposed to a liftgate that swings up). This arrangement takes some getting used to. It doesn’t shield owners from the rain when loading or unloading, and it can affect a driver’s parking choices. The cargo area is small, as one might expect, but still useful.

All but the base S models get Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8-inch screen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone integration capability. The SES and Titanium models also come with Sync Connect telematics with WiFi hotspot capability. That system, and the rest of the controls, is a snap to operate and master. We found that the climate controls are a bit low on the dash, and the headlight knob is somewhat hidden and a far reach for drivers.  

2018 Ford EcoSport SUV rear.

Safety

Blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning is offered on higher trims, but neither forward-collision warning nor automatic emergency braking is available. That’s a shame.  

Bottom Line

The EcoSport may look odd, but it is not a penalty box to drive, despite certain inherent limitations for ride comfort and noise levels common to this segment.

But the $28,000 as-tested price for our EcoSport SES has us wondering what else could be bought for that money: a mildly optioned Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5 come to mind.

We’re still putting on the break-in miles and getting to know the vehicle. Look for our complete results in the weeks ahead.