► An early overhaul for Ford's Ecosport
► Revised model gets suspension overhaul
► Boot-mounted spare wheel deleted
Announced at the Geneva Motor Show and on sale as of July, this is Ford’s second crack at building a B-segment SUV to try and muscle in on the sales successes Nissan’s Juke and the Renault Captur et al are enjoying.
Wasn’t the Ecosport only launched last year?
Indeed, but the 2014 Ecosport was a seriously damp squib. It failed to impress on the couple of occasions we drove it and ultimately fell surprisingly short considering it’s based on the undisputed star of the superminis – the Fiesta.
And actually, that’s the key to this mid-life revamp. It now feels closer in essence to the UK’s best-selling car, and that’s what we’d call a Very Good Thing.
Taking on criticism about how the previous model drove – it never settled down on its suspension and had engagement and feedback less Fiesta, more block of flats – the chassis has seen a significant overhaul by engineers in Europe, with the car’s handling honed at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium.
So what’s new under the skin?
A lot. It has new dampers, springs, rear torsion bar, steering rack, stability control mapping and even different tyres. There’s also a huge amount more sound-deadening installed and a new set of seats. Such is the firm’s confidence in its transformation that we were allowed a go in the old one first before trying the new Ecosport on the very same roads minutes later.
We can report improvements, especially in terms of handling. You’re still perched in a lofty SUV driving position, but within a few metres the suspension and steering tweaks begin to make sense. The most notable improvement is in ride quality. While the Ecosport’s 10mm lower than before, the primary ride feels as good, but the smaller, higher-frequency jitters caused by a poor secondary ride have disappeared. The result is a car that feels considerably more composed, especially over the bumpy country lanes on our test route.
Its steering feels far better too, still not communicating quite like a Fiesta’s, but still accurate, direct and adequately weighted.
And fitted with the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine we tested, the cabin is a much quieter environment thanks to all that extra acoustic cladding. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have a sixth gear for better motorway manners and perhaps a slightly shorter throw between cogs.
What else is new?
While there’s a subtle set of styling tweaks for the exterior, luckily, the occasionally lethal rear door has been the subject of some work too. It still opens the wrong bloomin’ way, but the gas strut which keeps it open has been beefed up, which means the wind is less likely to catch it and slam it shut on an unfortunate small person.
It’s lost its distinctive boot-mounted spare wheel too, in favour of a bottle of foam, but you can have the covered space-saver back if you pay another £100 for the privilege. We probably would, because frankly what else separates the Ecosport from everyone else’s attempts at a small SUV?
Those issues of old haven’t been completely eradicated, though. We noticed some poorly fitted trim in the cabin which seemed well below Ford’s usual European standards, and ditto some of the scratchy plastics on display. The entire cockpit feels old already. Presumably, fixing this would push the price up significantly, and value for money is where the Ecosport starts making sense.
Keen drivers should wait for Ford Ecosport Titanium S
We were offered the chance to drive a prototype version of a new Ecosport too, which is set to join the range alongside Titanium X next year. It’ll feature a special 138bhp version of the Ecoboost 1.0 petrol and a chassis tuned for sportier handling.
It wears Goodyear tyres instead of Hankooks and revised stability control and steering calibration, which join forces with more new springs and retuned dampers to create the ‘ultimate’ Ecosport.
Our initial drive bode well for the future, the steering exhibiting yet more weighting and the chassis feeling far more playful, if a little stiffer. We’ve not had a chance to try its engine yet (still early days for that), but we’re hoping for a fruitier engine note to amplify its sporting pretensions further.
With prices to be confirmed, this is going to be a higher-specification machine, featuring a Sony DAB radio and a rear-view camera, which means you can’t have the spare wheel on this model.
Offering great value for money compared to rivals, finally the fatter-than-Fiesta SUV can boast a drive as appealing as its on-paper credentials. It’s still no driver’s dream, but at least now it lives up to the quality seen elsewhere in the firm’s line-up.
We’re eager to try the new Titanium S in production form, because we have a sneaking suspicion Ford could be onto a seriously characterful SUV there. Keep those eyes peels for our road test to find out if we’re right.