Ford admits it is very late into the baby SUV game, but what it has to offer - at last - starts with a very good pedigree.

The Indian-built EcoSport, which starts at £14,995, is essentially the excellent Fiesta supermini expressed as a soft-roader, with all the dynamic sophistication that implies. The range is very simple. 

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The steering is supremely accurate and acceptably weighted in the diesel version, but will resort to modest understeer when pushed.

Every car is a relatively well-equipped Titanium model, and there are three engines - the now-familiar 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol, a 1.5-litre turbodiesel with 90bhp, and a 110bhp 1.5-litre petrol four.

The normally aspirated petrol unit is the entry model; the most expensive at present is the £16,495 diesel, though slightly better equipped Titanium X models will be available next year, adding around £1000 to each model and receiving leather trim and 17-inch alloys (the standard wheels are 16s). In all guises, this an especially soft-roader, since there is no 4x4 version available, even though you can get one in non-European markets. Demand is low, Ford says.

In the manner of all baby SUVs, the EcoSport is short and high, with a bluff front end and very short overhangs. Under such circumstances it can hardly be sleek, and the looks are further compromised - to some tastes - by a bulky, covered spare wheel attached to the outside of the large and convenient side-opening rear door.

Ford engineers reckon some markets love it for the ruggedness it implies; others (like the UK) think it's a bit crude.

When you get into the car, through the wide doors, the relationship to the Fiesta is obvious from the dash design and the looming switch set about the centre console. So is the hard plastic from its Indian heritage - others in the class are better finished and "more European". It's quite roomy, offers pretty good rear accommodation for a four-and-a-bit metre car and has a decent boot that's easily accessible.

The rear seat folds and tumbles, and the resulting load space is generous, not least because it doesn't have to accommodate a full-size spare wheel.

We drove two versions of the EcoSport, in both diesel and petrol EcoBoost guise. The latter had all the smoothness and good response of other Fords powered by this engine, though it had only a five-speed gearbox instead of the six that sometimes accompanies the car. The diesel was reasonably flexible but rather vocal - both engines are much more intrusive than in larger Fords, and there was more wind noise at speed than in saloon versions, but not to the level that it becomes truly intrusive.

Ford didn't quote a kerb weight on test, but it seemed rather obvious from the car's slightly lethargic acceleration (0-62 in 14.0 sec for the diesel) that the new car isn't exactly lightweight. The EcoBoost does better, with an acceleration time of 12.7 seconds and a top speed of 112mph.

Both versions drove well. The uncorrupted steering that is a feature of Fiestas was a little lighter in the EcoBoost, but supremely accurate and acceptably weighted in the diesel. The car refused to lean much in corners, and gripped nicely while resorting to modest understeer when pushed.

Even in a seriously strong Spanish crosswind, it felt very stable. But it is the ride that moved this car dynamically to the top of its class. It copes quietly with bad bumps, and keeps its poise very well, without ever losing the residual alertness and control of the Fiesta chassis.

Bottom line? The EcoSport is roomy and practical, with expectedly good on-road dynamics. Its lack of a four-wheel-drive facility is a surprise, as is the restricted range.

The prices undercut Vauxhall's well-received Mokka, which is probably just as well, because the interior materials quality is far from being its finest feature. But Ford will improve and flesh out the range, and the first cars will easily find - and deserve to find - ready buyers. It's a handy addition to the Fiesta line-up, if not the best.