From the first 2014 Ford Fiesta I drove, Iíve been hooked. Cute, perky, affordable and loaded with options from the affordable, base 1.6-liter manual to the raucous ST, the Fiesta hatchback is a lip-smacking, salsa-soaked appetizer to the automotive world.
But Iím in a minority.
The wee Fiesta has been trampled by the U.S. rush to SUVs. Still popular in Europe where gas costs an arm and a leg, the Fiestaís 2018 update hasnít made it across the pond to U.S. shores. Instead, Ford is importing its entry-level SUV, the Ecosport, all the way from India.
But the cute red Ecosport in my driveway is hardly a replacement for the Fiesta. Indeed, the five-door Fiesta remains Fordís $15,000 entry-level vehicle complemented by the ST ó the five-alarm, jalapeno pepper entree to Ford performance. Entry-level SUV it may be, but the Ecosport shares more with Fordís Focus sedan than the Fiesta.
Both the Focus and Ecosport sticker well north of Fiestas (about $19,000 for the Focus, $21,000 for the Ecosport). Both are offered with the surprisingly peppy 1.0-liter ďGodzilla-in-a-boxĒ three-cylinder. And both appeal not only to new buyers, but also to downsizing empty-nesters coming out of three-row Explorers.
Suddenly I donít fear for the Fiestaís future so much as I fear for the Focus. In ute nation, I give the Focus a snowballís chance in Vegas.
Ironically, Ford is late to the subcompact ute market despite being a brisk seller abroad since way back to 2003. While other mini-SUVs ó the Jeep Renegade, Buick Enclave and Honda HR-V ó scored hits by tailoring their subcompacts to the U.S. market, Ford has had to update its Ecosquirt ó er, Ecosport ó to meet Yankeed preferences.
They did an admirable job. Despite coming to market with one of the shortest wheelbases in the class (99 inches), the Ecosport manages to be competitive in cargo- and leg-room with longer-wheelbase competitors like the Chevy Trax and Jeep Renegade. It even beats the cavernous Honda HR-V in front legroom.
Still, your ex-basketball playerís 6-foot-5 dimensions were cramped in the Ecosportís back seat, and the accelerator and brake pedals felt close together under my big clown shoes. But its short length is an advantage in cramped city spaces ó a trait tried and tested in tight cities abroad.
Other pleasant traits abound ó what Fordís literature calls ďfun, capable, and connected.Ē Begin with fun.
Marrying its small wheelbase to Fordís natural athleticism (cue the Fiesta), Ecosport is surprisingly good dance-partner. Though limited to front-wheel drive in my 1.0-liter base turbo-3 engine ó the 2.0-liter turbo-4 comes with all-wheel driveó the Ecosport followed my lead through Oakland Countyís twisty lake country.
The 1.0-liter overachiever ó its trophies for engine of the year would probably require a Ford Expedition to carry ó continues to impress. The three-holer once-upon-a-time paired nicely with the 2,600-pound Fiesta (alas, it is no longer available with the U.S.-version Fiesta) and proves worthy of the porkier Ecosport SUV.
Like Laurel throwing Hardy on his back, the wee three moves the SUV along out of corners, the effort masked by the Fordís best-in-segment interior quieting.
That low-end turbo grunt comes at a price, though, as the 1.0-literís gas mileage is well off the 34 mpg (40 highway) of the Focus. Blame the SUVís higher drag co-efficient as well. All told, the 123-horsepower Ecosportís 28 mpg (29 highway) is no more ďecoĒ than the larger-displacement 141-horsepower Honda HR-V and 138-horse Chevy Trax offerings.
The fun factor is amplified by the Fordís mighty-mouse design. The hatchback has a raked-forward athletic stance. Its growly three-bar grille gets its DNA from the Mustang/Fiesta side of the family instead of the more conservative Edge/Explorer wing.
Fun and capability intersect in the Ecosportís rear swing-gate, which is the subcompactís defining feature. In a segment full of character, itís almost a must that each bring a unique feature to the potluck party.