Mpg: 23 city, 29 highway
Zero-60 MPH: 9.8 seconds
As if Ford didn’t have enough SUVs and other haulers — think Edge, Escape, Explorer, Expedition, Flex and assorted pickups — there’s now the subcompact EcoSport. This crossover is teeny tiny, barely longer than a Mini Cooper sedan. That means the EcoSport fits anywhere, with a tight turning radius to maneuver quickly into almost any parking spot.
Fold down the rear seats to access 50-plus cubic feet of cargo space, an area 25 percent roomier than the Mini Cooper. Along with raised seating for better driver visibility, there’s a standard rearview camera and optional blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. But there’s no forward-collision system, lane-departure warning or automated emergency braking. That’s a bummer, as is the lackluster giddy up in either the three-cylinder turbo or the four-cylinder (non-turbo) with all-wheel drive.
Both engines are gas thirsty, which is a surprise for such a small and rather lightweight vehicle. Still, the ride is comfier than expected, even on the sporty SES model with its firm chassis. And there are lots of cool extras, depending on trim level and options, such as paddle shifters, heated steering wheel, eight-inch touchscreen with nav system, Bang and Olufsen stereo and the user-friendly Sync Connect system with apps and wi-fi hotspot.
KIA NIRO PLUG-IN HYBRID
Range: 105 miles (electricity/gas), 46 miles (gas only)
Zero-60 mph: 9.0 seconds
Kia is also jumping on the cute bandwagon with its nifty Niro, which looks more like a sporty hatchback than a crossover. The Niro may be much lower to the ground than the Ford EcoSport, but it’s also a foot longer. The result: cargo space is the same in both of these subcompacts. But because the Niro is a plug-in hybrid (there’s also a regular hybrid), it outshines much of the competition by being so green.
Kia clearly wanted a Prius Prime beater, and it succeeds — at times. The Niro is faster, with better cornering and braking. And Kia’s design flair is sleeker and subtler. Yet if the goal is to really broadcast your eco bona fides, then the quirky Prius Prime succeeds nicely (plus, it uses a bit less gas and electricity). Still, the Niro feels livelier and it’s hard not to like the long list of creature comforts and safety features: sunroof, heated/ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, 10-way power driver’s seat, power-folding side mirrors, Harmon Kardon stereo, wireless phone charging, forward collision warning, emergency braking with pedestrian detection and more. The upshot: Kia created a fun, fully loaded ride that belies its hybrid roots.
JAGUAR E-PACE R-DYNAMIC HSE
Mpg: 21 city, 27 highway
Zero-60 mph: 6.4 seconds
Jaguar’s new E-Pace is twice the price of a Kia Niro, but then it’s also twice as nice. With sinewy lines, a come-hither cabin and an exhaust growl so erotic it would make your great aunt blush, this compact crossover should be X-rated.
Jag launched the midsized F-Pace to rave reviews two years ago, and the baby E-Pace is following in its footsteps. While the base model E-Pace is just fine, the R-Dynamic is a real dynamo thanks to a 296-hp four-cylinder turbo and the perfectly balanced nine-speed transmission.
Handling seems surer than in the larger F-Pace, with a composed ride on the bumpiest of roads. The HSE is the top trim level on the E-Pace, with 20-inch tires, keyless entry, 18-way power seats, hands-free liftgate and even a heated windshield. Tech features are just as impressive, offering a color head-up display, 10-inch touchscreen, automated parking, bird’s-eye backup camera and the latest safety goodies. You’ll likely end up turning off the high-end Meridian sound system (with 14 speakers and a disco-worthy subwoofer) because the sound is so sublime it’s distracting when driving. More important to focus on just how swift, smooth and stimulating it is to be behind the wheel.