America’s missing out on this hardcore version of Ford’s smallest ute.

Editor’s Note: Though the regular Ford EcoSport is in showrooms now, there’s no indication this off-road-ready Storm variant is coming to the United States. But a car this cool deserves attention on a global scale, and we know you readers enjoy a tasty bit of Forbidden Fruit as much as we do. Enjoy this First Drive from the Motor1.com Brazil team.

The Ford EcoSport is getting a whole lot bolder thanks to the new Storm model, inspired by the F-150 Raptor. While it may not be quite as tough as that off-road truck, at least it offers all-wheel drive and a long list of unique equipment.

Compared to the EcoSport Titanium, the Storm features black-finish interior trim (a smart solution for an off-roader, instead of the Titanium’s cream seats), as well as brass appliqués on the dashboard, console, and doors – all of which look better in real life than in the photos, by the way. The leather seats also receive the Storm inscription.

Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD

On the outside, the grille is new and features the "Storm" logo in bold letters, just like the Raptor’s grille, while the fenders come with plastic cladding and the liftgate features a unique cover for the spare-tire carrier, also with a “Storm” badge. To complete it, the 17-inch wheels have a unique design, reminiscent of those on the European Fiesta ST. Unfortunately, the tires are the same Michelins as on the EcoSport Titanium, aimed 100-percent at asphalt.

The extra aggression of the Eco Storm is not just for looks. Ford says ground clearance has been increased, though without revealing how much, and claims that the front suspension gained 17 millimeters (0.7 inch) of travel, to better cushion the impacts. At the rear it's all new: an independent multilink suspension, and progressive-rate springs, to improve ride and handling. The springs, dampers, and bushings are all exclusive to the Storm.

The all-wheel-drive system is practically the same as the previous one, coming from the American-market Ford Escape, but is now fully automatic: it constantly adjusts how much torque is transferred between the front and rear wheels when necessary. Sensors detect which wheels need more power, and send torque to them in just 0.1 second.

The engine and gearbox are the same as the Ford EcoSport Titanium: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, rated for 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, connected to a 6-speed automatic. In the end, the Storm is 243 pounds heavier than the Titanium, reaching a none-too-slender 3,239 pounds.

Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD
Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD
Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD
Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD

This extra weight is felt from behind the wheel, with the Storm being a little more reluctant to gain speed. Even in slow driving, you realize that the transmission downshifts (sometimes unnecessarily, in my view) to maintain speed. As this engine likes to rev high (maximum torque comes at 4,500 rpm), it makes sense. At least the gear changes are always smooth, without jostling the occupants.

But the loss in agility and economy is compensated for by the greater versatility and even by the handling of the Storm. The multilink rear suspension and automatic all-wheel-drive system make the SUV more accurate in turns, especially in the rain, a condition in which the car sends power to the rear axle as soon as it detects the lack of grip, offering extra traction that the driver notices immediately. In addition, the Storm’s new suspension makes it more comfortable than the other versions.

It could be even better if Ford had opted for off-road tires with a higher sidewall. Ford representatives explained that the tire choice was a decision based on the fact that few customers will use the car away from pavement. OK, but if the Storm is a specific 4x4 version of the EcoSport line, why not offer off-road tires at least as an option to the consumer at the time of purchase?

Even with the road tires, we went in search of mud for the Eco Storm. And as it was on a rainy day, the task was easy. In straight stretches, without rises, we had no problem splashing through muddy spots. But in two situations I tried to climb a ravine, and the EcoSport skidded and got stuck. Even with torque sent to the rear wheels, there was no traction for the tires.

Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD
Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD
Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD
Ford EcoSport Storm 4WD

On the other hand, I liked the comfort and handling in other driving situations. The Storm is a nice car to drive fast even in low-grip conditions, with good steering and agility. But even if it’s not a real off-roader, I would change those tires as soon as possible.

This leads me to the conclusion that I would no doubt choose the Ford EcoSport Storm instead of the regular Titanium. For only a little more than the two-wheel-drive Titanium version, you get the multilink rear suspension, the all-wheel-drive system, and the more aggressive looks – even though I have not yet decided how I feel about the stickers on the hood and on the side. All the most desired features are there, such as keyless and push-button start, Sync 3 infotainment with an 8-inch screen and Android Auto / Apple CarPlay, a sunroof, automatic climate control, seven airbags, leather seats, paddle shifters, and even roof rails.

The downsides here are common to other versions of the Ford EcoSport: a cramped interior and cargo area, plus the Storm has slightly worse performance and fuel efficiency compared to the front-wheel-drive model. But if these items are not a priority for you, at least the Storm is not a mere shopping-mall SUV. Equipped with the right tires, it can accompany you on some real adventures.

Photos: Mario Villaescusa

2018 Ford EcoSport Storm (Brazil-spec)

Engine 2.0-liter I4
Output 176 Horsepower / 163 Pound-Feet
Transmission 6-Speed Automatic
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Speed 0-62 MPH 11.8 Seconds
Weight 3,239 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Base Price R$ 99,990 (approx. $31,500)

Gallery: 2018 Ford EcoSport Storm: First Drive