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Now in its third generation, the Ford EcoSport has finally made its debut in Canada.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

It’s about time Ford introduced a smaller version of its popular Escape SUV. North American buyers want it, and other makers are selling boatloads of subcompact SUVs. Now – at last – Ford is importing the little EcoSport from its assembly plant in India to fill the void.

The EcoSport is already sold in at least a hundred markets around the world, after a South American introduction in 2003. Ten years later, it debuted in China, India and the rest of Asia, and then Europe and Russia the following year. It’s now in its third generation. Why did it take so long to come here?

“We see a lot of growth in this segment and we think it’s a great time to offer the EcoSport to our customers,” says Shannon White, Ford Canada’s product marketing manager responsible for the EcoSport.

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“We really try to source whatever balanced portfolio will suit customer needs, and 10 years ago, perhaps we thought that wasn’t what we should do, but we’re bringing it to the Canadian market now.”

Whatever. The EcoSport is now at dealerships and has a retail price that begins at $22,099, rising to $29,399 with all the bells and whistles. It’s available in four different trims, and each of those trims can be ordered with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and with a 1.0-litre or 2.0-litre engine. The larger engine comes standard with four-wheel drive.

The smaller three-cylinder, turbocharged EcoBoost engine is the same unit that once powered the Fiesta (with which the EcoSport shares a platform), while the 2.0-litre four-cylinder was once in the Focus. Neither makes much power, but this is not supposed to be a sporty car: Ford says the intended market is young, college-educated women and empty nesters. (Funny how there’s never a stated market for middle-aged slobs.)

I’m pretty far from both of those demographic groups, but no matter. I took a couple of different EcoSports for a drive around Newfoundland’s Irish Loop here on the Avalon Peninsula to see how they behave on mostly slow, bumpy roads. As expected, the little trucklet was comfortable and responsive at the wheel, though not so much at the pedal.

The seats look cramped, but are surprisingly comfortable.

Ford

There were some surprises, though. The cramped-looking rear seats were unexpectedly comfortable, thanks to plenty of head room for my six-foot frame and also plenty of space under the seat for my size-13 feet. You wouldn’t want the front passenger to push the seat right back if you’re behind, but that’s usually the case with most vehicles.

The EcoSport is shorter than the compact Ford Escape SUV by about 30 centimetres, but it’s about the same height and width. On the pressed-in laneways of The Battery in St. John’s, it squeezed happily between the quaint fishermen’s cottages as easily as in any other of the world’s congested cities, where it fits best.

It was also a surprise that there’s no forward-collision alert system, which most cars have these days. On other vehicles, a light flashes and a bell rings if the vehicle senses it’s about to crash into somebody, and often, the brakes will prepare themselves or even just get on with the job at hand. Not the EcoSport, though. It has an optional blind-spot and cross-traffic alert-warning system, but not the collision-warning system that’s so commonplace now it’s expected to soon become mandatory in all vehicles.

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Looking ahead, Ford announced recently that it will no longer produce any updated versions of its sedans, ending their production with the current generations, and they’ll be replaced by crossovers and SUVs. The EcoSport is the first practical example of this: the slow-selling Fiesta will soon be scrapped and replaced with a similar-sized vehicle that lets the driver sit higher and provides more luggage capacity, as well as an option for all-wheel drive.

Given the choice between a Fiesta and the EcoSport, I know I’d prefer the greater practicality of the crossover, especially if it’s still kinda funky. Ford’s business decision to end its sedans seems to be making sense.

Tech specs

  • Base price/ as tested: $22,099 / $29,509
  • Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder, turbocharged EcoBoost (123 hp, 125 lbs.-ft. torque) or 2.0-litre GDI four-cylinder (166 hp, 149 lbs.-ft.)
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed automatic/ FWD or 4WD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 1.0-litre EcoBoost, 8.6 city/8.1 hwy; 2.0-litre GDI, 10.2 city, 8.0 hwy
  • Alternatives: Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Jeep Renegade, Hyundai KONA, Chevrolet Trax

Looks

There’s nothing wrong with the EcoSport’s appearance, but nothing memorable, either. It’s supposed to be cute and practical without being at all boxy, and it succeeds at that, but you’ll probably have to activate the clicker on the key fob a few times to find the car in a mall parking lot. What does stand out is the choice of 10 different colours, including two reds and two blues.

The interior is well-designed and attractive.

Ford

Interior

It’s built to a budget, and there’s a lot of black plastic on the dashboard shelf, but the inside is well-designed and attractive. The aluminum trim on my test car’s passenger door did not fit properly, though, not quite clicking into place. That said, it’s a cheery cabin and the seats are very comfortable. Front seats are heated if you opt for at least the SE model, which starts at $25,099, and the optional $350 cold-weather package includes a heated steering wheel and wiper de-icers.

Performance

Nothing to write home about, so I won’t here. There was little real difference between the two available engines, though the 1.0-litre EcoBoost is a bit better on fuel in the city. The suspension is a little stiff, which is generally good for urban driving, but it’s no friend of potholes. If you want to overtake at highway speed, be prepared to mash the pedal to the floor and be patient.

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Technology

This should be a no-brainer to be remarkable, given the abilities of Ford’s current Sync 3 connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and there’s even an agreement now with Waze, which allows the navigation software app to show on the car’s display screen (with all the hidden police cars that Waze users report to each other). But the lack of a collision-alert system, having only two USB slots and having to pay extra for a larger touch screen bring down the rating to a “meh.”

The trunk door opens on the right.

Ford

Cargo

There’s 592 litres of luggage space behind the rear seats and 1,416 litres when you fold them flat. That’s a lot for such a small car – even a bicycle will fit back there. The door is a swing door, opening to the curb on the right, and this is now unusual as most vehicle makers provide doors that hinge on the roof. You may love it, however. It’s certainly easier for a shorter person to open and close.

The verdict: 7.0

A nice little crossover and a welcome addition to Ford’s fleet, but nothing special.

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