What is it?
An updated version of the Ford Ecosport: more fresh metal for the supermini SUV market, which has gone from conception to remarkably complex maturity in just five years.
This is the segment that sprang into life with the Nissan Juke in 2010 and, before the end of that year, was joined by the Mini Countryman and Dacia Duster. Two years later came the Vauxhall Mokka, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur.
Last year the Citroen Cactus bobbed endearingly up, and in 2015 there are new runners expected from Honda, Mazda, Fiat, Jeep and Ssangyong. Oh, and the VW Taigun is being readied for 2016.
But don’t worry. If everyone reading this gets together on the Isle of Wight and shouts “when” in the general direction of Calais, perhaps the stampede will abate.
If nothing else, it’s unquestionable proof that little crossovers are suddenly big business, and longtime UK car-market leader Ford can ill-afford to be without a good, strong horse in the race.
Last year’s Ecosport, you may remember, was neither good nor strong. Our two-and-a-half star road test verdict caused a bit of a stir within the Blue Oval’s corridors of power, and Ford was quick to announce a thorough re-engineering program for European-market cars. We’ve driven the result.
What's it like?
Most obviously, the Ecosport’s ugly, archane-looking tailgate-mounted spare wheel has been junked, making the car instantly more appealing. The addition of privacy glass is the only other exterior styling update – but if the car seems a bit less precarious on its wheels, it may be because Ford’s chassis update started with a 10mm drop in ride height.
That suspension overhaul also included better tyres, firmer springs and spring aids, new dampers and a new torsion beam for the rear axle. A more direct steering gear has been fitted, and both the power steering and ESP software has been retuned. Twenty individual steps were taken to improve suspension and engine refinement, and friction has been taken out of the transmission.
There’s been a wide-ranging effort to improve cabin quality and equipment, among them a colour SYNC multimedia setup, new fascia plastics, a new headlining, new seats and better-looking trim and switchgear. The changes are being phased into production in groups over the coming months, but by September all of them should be present and correct in UK cars.
While they don’t make for a miraculous transformation, they do make the Ecosport more competitive next to some fairly sophisticated European-built rivals. Most importantly, they make it ride and handle more like a Ford.
Where the old Ecosport had a conspicuous lack of grip, a noisy ride, limp and fragile handling and fairly crude mechanical refinement, the updated one feels firmly suspended, quite closely controlled over bumps, more directionally responsive and much more secure in its adhesion to the road.
There’s enough grip here now that the ESP light only flicks on in response to real provocation; enough accuracy to the steering and body control to make the car feel quite spry and willing to be spirited along.