Yesterday I outlined how Hyundai’s Venue may signal the start of a new crossover segment aimed at buyers looking for something other than a subcompact sedan or hatchback. In that piece, the Hyundai executive claimed that the Venue is the first of its kind. Is it though? The Ford EcoSport, which arrived in America early last year, is essentially the same size as the Hyundai. But it hasn’t been treated like a vehicle in a different segment than models like the Chevrolet Trax or Honda HR-V. Far from it. There is no consensus on the Ford EcoSport. Some reviews pilloried the crossover while others liked its overall package. What gives?
The most cynical take on the EcoSport is that it is a vehicle suited for developing nations and little else. There is merit to that argument, but it doesn’t take into account the recent influx of entry level mini crossovers that have arrived to essentially replace their subcompact sedan and hatchback counterparts. Nissan and Hyundai are clearly trying to sell products positioned underneath the subcompact crossover segment. It’s a new trend that is a little hard to fully grasp due to all the rapid changes that have occurred over the last several years. But think back to 2009. Subcompacts had yet to firmly enter the market, and compacts were still sparsely equipped vehicles aimed primarily towards price conscious shoppers. Americans couldn’t conceptualize those vehicles through a contemporary lens because they simply didn’t exist back then.
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And that brings us back to the EcoSport. The Ford is currently the smallest crossover like vehicle available to Americans, and it will be until the Venue arrives at dealers this fall. Compared to its next largest competitors, the EcoSport is shorter in overall length and it also boasts a shorter wheelbase by at least several inches. That last detail is critical, because a shorter wheelbase will greatly impact how a particular vehicle handles road imperfections.
And the Ford’s ability to respond to potholes and other things is exactly what some critics felt was ultimately a demerit for the crossover. Car and Driver reviewed the EcoSport and felt that it came up short when compared to models like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. But those are significantly longer vehicles with more substantial wheelbases. Other publications have felt differently, which further complicates things. Consumer Reports purchased their own EcoSport last year and liked its overall handling:
“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.”
You can spend about an hour or so reading up on reviews of the EcoSport from all the major print and digital publications and come to the conclusion that there is no consensus on the little crossover in regards to its handling or its size. Some feel the EcoSport is unrefined and choppy on all but the smoothest pavement while others think it offers a sophisticated and engaging drive. Certain reviewers feel the EcoSport is too small for its own good while other critics have found that its cargo capacity is greater than some of its larger competitors. The lack of consensus on the Ford really illustrates the idea that the EcoSport may simply belong to a different segment altogether.
Despite their bipolar impressions of the EcoSport, the automotive press did offer similar opinions about its pricing and the available safety features. Pretty much everyone agrees that the EcoSport is priced far too high for what it offers. Take for example our featured model, which is an SES, the most expensive trim in the EcoSport lineup. It’s MSRP is $28,270.
For about the same money you can get a Ford Escape SE AWD with partial leather seats and forward collision warning, which is not available on the EcoSport.
Of course that doesn’t take into account any sort of incentives, and a cursory search of EcoSport deals yield some pretty substantial discounts. This screenshot comes directly from Ford’s official site, meaning you could walk right into a Ford dealer today and get $5,000 off without even asking.
Another EcoSport flaw is the rear hatch. It opens horizontally, which makes sense for markets where a spare tire is necessary, but for everywhere else the opening becomes a liability in tight spaces. Plus, Ford dropped the rear mounted spare tire for all American models entirely, so you can’t get it even if you wanted to.
Yes, Ford’s smallest crossover is flawed. But that doesn’t mean it’s a dumpster fire on wheels. And I’m not suggesting that Ford predicted the genesis of a crossover segment below the subcompact category and introduced the EcoSport accordingly. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It was probably inevitable that someone was going to introduce a crossover that didn’t quite neatly fit into one segment. My conclusion is that the EcoSport makes a lot more sense now that the Hyundai Venue has been introduced. Criticisms like intrusive road and wind noise and driving dynamics that aren’t class competitive are less valid if the vehicle in question is in a different class. Would you admonish Toyota for not making the Corolla as quiet as the Accord or Altima? No, because there are substantial differences between the compact and midsize sedan segments.
It will be interesting to see how these fledgling crossover segments develop over the next several years. My guess is that the EcoSport will be viewed a bit differently in the future. And its successor will probably be similarly sized, allowing Ford to develop a true competitor to the likes of the Hyundai Kona and Nissan Rogue Sport. In any event, this probably won’t be the last time our preconceptions about crossovers are challenged.
Curbside Capsule: 2002-2012 Ford Fusion (Europe) Old Fusion by William Stopford