If you want to take the cute out of your little ute, if you need to flee all those tiny-truck thingies, try my deeply urban Ford Ecosport.
It will make you smile without ruffling your hair.
Stubby and thick with a rounded pug nose, the new Ecosport – the latest dinky entry in the subcompact crossover segment – looks squeezed and abbreviated.
Forget adorable round headlamps and precious hidden door-handles and bizarre body-sculpting, the pugnacious Ecosport makes no apologies for its clumsy, kind of stylistically belligerent profile — which I came to sort of like.
Besides, its big brother goes by the name “Super Duty” and weighs 7,000 pounds.
OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, but truck-centric Ford is uncharacteristically late to the subcompact crossover party – the fastest-growing segment in the industry – and plucked the EcoSport (pronounced echo-sport) from markets in South America and India.
Though the teen-ager blue Sport I had recently was a top-of-the-line Titanium model, it carried a skinny window-sticker of about $24,000, roughly $10,000 less than the cost of an average new vehicle.
Even with its, uh, international flavor — the truck-let is nearly as tall as it is wide – the Ecosport felt very Ford-like.
A bold, broad Ford grille, for example, dominated the Ecosport’s rounded front, along with large two-projector headlamps that swept grandly into the front fenders.
They shared front-end space with a short, slightly raised hood that flowed into an over-sized windshield and surprisingly graceful top.
The Sport’s sides, meanwhile, featured prominent – and familiar — character lines that sliced through the door- handles on their way to high-mounted wrap-around taillamps.
In back, the tailgate swung open from right to left, its latch cleverly recessed in the right taillamp housing.
Though Titanium models of the Ecosport ride on fairly meaty 205/50 tires wrapped around slotted 17-inch wheels, they got swallowed up by the Sport’s thick, stumpy body.
Small also ruled under the hood of my Ecosport, where a tiny turbocharged 1-liter three-cylinder engine churned out a commendable 123-horsepower through a six-speed automatic, but it needed a much bigger kick of EcoBoost.
While the engine stayed pretty smooth, mighty mouse demanded frequent outbursts to 6,500 rpm to push the 3,000-pound Ecosport to speed.
In the city, the three-banger did OK, launching the truck-let with a gentle shove and pushing it to 40-mph or so with relative ease.
If you summoned more power, the relationship got as strained as my last icy marriage. Sixty miles per hour arrives in 10.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver – two seconds slower than the Jeep Renegade or Honda HR-V.
Fortunately, the front-wheel-drive Ecosport can rely on a well-sorted automatic to provide frequent downshifts and hold the little engine in gear.
However, in another indicator of how hard the mini-motor is working, the Ecosport can muster only a modest 27-miles per gallon in town in fuel economy and 29 on the highway. (The larger, more powerful Ford Escape gets 30-mpg on the highway.)
Oddly, though, the little thumper is kind of pleasant to drive, flashing lots of personality thanks to a good European-feeling platform.
The steering, for instance, was go-kart quick and well-weighted, with decent road feel.
Although the ride was busy as a spring pothole-crew, its movements felt well-damped rather than harsh, and the suspension did a fine job of keeping the body in line.
Toss the Ecosport into a moderate-speed corner and its pumped-up little body leans some but doesn’t lose its composure. It may not have much zip, but it can zag.
So here’s the solution, kids: The Ecosport offers an optional 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 166- horsepower and all-wheel-drive. I say grab it.
Meanwhile, the interior – like the exterior – lacked pretension.
A deep black-plastic dashboard sloped gently down to a mid-dash dominated – no surprise here – by a display screen. Buttons and knobs controlled the stereo and climate systems.
As a Titanium model, my Sport also featured silver trim along the armrest and around door-pulls to break up the black, while a familiar Ford three-spoke wheel added some big-vehicle flavor.
I mostly ignored the tacky gray headliner, focusing instead on the Ecosport’s nice black-leather bucket seats that offered white stitching on the bolsters and pleated cloth centers.
As you might expect, legroom in back was limited, though head-room was ample, so you might want to consider limiting your friends to 70 inches or so in height.
We eat and drink less, too, incidentally.
Despite its lack of power and tardy arrival, the new Ecosport brings a bit of personality and presence to a segment that can use some, but it’s still a small truck facing a big fight.