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First Drive: Ford EcoSport

EcoSport gets a new look and improved quality, but the class has moved on, says Martyn Collins.

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SECTOR Small SUV   PRICE £17,495-£21,145   FUEL 48.7-68.8mpg   CO2 107-134g/km

With its SUV sales growing almost 25% year-on-year in Europe during 2017, and its small car line-up refreshed with a new Fiesta last summer, Ford has turned its attention to problem child small SUV – the EcoSport. Why problem child? Well, the disappointingly cheap feel to the interior, iffy dynamics and quirky side opening tailgate, meant it was never going to worry class leaders. Sales have been uncharacteristically slow.

Still, that hasn’t stopped 166,000 EcoSports finding buyers throughout Europe, and this is a growing segment. Production of this refreshed version began in Craiova, Romania, last autumn, following a €200m (£175m) investment in the plant. So, while it might look similar to the car launched back in 2014, it boasts 2,300 new parts and improved quality with a focus on European tastes.

Updated versions are marked out by much more aggressive styling; a new air dam at the front, with the latest Ford family grille, projector headlamps with optional xenon technology, a reshaped bonnet with a central bulge, plus large upswept foglights. In line with this segment’s love of personalisation, revised alloy wheels, a new bodykit and colours, with the option of a contrasting roof for the range-topping ST-Line are all part of the package, while there’s also a bigger roof spoiler at the back.

The uplift in quality is immediately obvious inside, with the new soft-touch plastic dashboard, although there’s still the same cheap-feeling, hard and scratchy plastics on the door trims. It has redesigned front seats and the latest Fiesta’s clear instruments. The old mobile phone-inspired infotainment system has also been replaced, either with 6.5-inch or 8.0-inch versions of the SYNC3 touchscreen tablet system. Both are shared with the Fiesta, and get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay app streaming, as well as the optional B&O Play sound system. The side-hinged tailgate remains, but a stowage shelf increases its practicality.

This isn’t just about looks and quality. On top of the 98bhp 1.5 TDCi diesel and three versions of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder petrol, there’s also a new 123bhp 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel, which gets four-wheel drive, plus new technology in the form of cruise control with speed limiter, plus a reversing camera.

Hit the road in the sportiest-looking new ST-Line, powered by the range-topping 138bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol and, despite the improved exterior and interior quality, it feels much the same as the old one. It steers precisely, offers good body control and the six-speed manual gearbox is slick – while the engine itself is incredibly willing. Where the EcoSport package fails to improve on the old one, is the suspension damping. Best summed up as unsettled, it’s at its worst around town, and the ST-Line’s standard 17-inch wheels don’t help.

However, overall, this is the car the EcoSport should have been back at launch in 2014. The tough thing for Ford is, this class has moved on and it’s hard to recommend against better-looking, more modern rivals such as the Kia Stonic and the Seat Arona.

The ‘Juke segment’ is a tough one and, though much improved, the EcoSport still isn’t quite up to the standards set by the class-leaders.

FIND OUT MORE at the Fleet Show where Ford will have an array of cars and vans on display. Register to attend Free at thefleetshow.co.uk

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Martyn Collins

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