At the expense of stating the obvious the sub-four metre compact sedan market has seen explosive growth over the last decade, so much so that it is virtual suicide for a manufacturer not to twin a compact sedan with a hatchback and pass on those platform-sharing cost benefits to the customer. Ford India has been a little late to this party, despite teasing us with a concept at the Auto Expo a year and a half ago, but now it’s here and aims to build on the considerable goodwill of the Figo name.
The time has been spent in creating infrastructure around the new Figo – a massive new plant in Sanand, Gujarat, into which 1 billion USD has been sunk in – and this is the first car to roll out of it. Twinned with the upcoming Figo hatchback, the Aspire is based on the Mach5 platform which has been derived from the current Fiesta. And it marks a very important step for Ford India, being the first to be designed from scratch – not just re-engineered – with the Indian sub-continent in mind.
The baby Ford makes a strong first impression courtesy the bold and heavily-chromed grille on the front of the car with sharp contours all around the nose and the head lamps. As far as compact sedans go, one of the most important tasks is integrating the boot and the Figo Aspire doesn’t look like a cut-paste job with smooth flowing lines bringing up the rear. Problems only start when it comes to the profile; the first thing you’ll notice is that the wheel arches are awkwardly sized and the 14-inch wheels look too tiny for the proportions of the Fiesta. Maybe it’s just me being pedantic but the wheels really do take away from an otherwise nice-looking compact sedan.
Things get better once you get in, though, everything on the inside is almost identical to the higher-up-the-food-chain Fiesta which makes the Aspire a nice place to be in, with all the bells and whistles one could hope for in a car that will take on the likes of the Hyundai Xcent and Honda Amaze. Higher variants get Ford’s SYNC technology for Bluetooth connectivity while lower variants get a dock (MY DOCK) to manually connect your phone. Now although we didn’t get a chance to put the MY DOCK technology through the ringer, word around the road test was that it was practically flawless and even better for those who often use GPS on their phone.
Comfort aside the Aspire’s party piece is its practicality. Leg room, even in the back, is a non-issue courtesy the 2491mm wheelbase. This means that you also get a very usable 359 litre boot. Aside from that, there are cubbies galore with 20 little nooks and crannies throughout the cabin for all your knick-knacks. And enthusiastic drivers will love the sporty seats (leather-clad on top-end variants) that give you a wonderful locked-in feeling that we know and love from the Fiesta.
On the powertrain front, things remain unchanged from the earlier Figo with the 1.2-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel. There will also be the option of the 108bhp, 1.5-litre petrol which will only be available with the dual clutch automatic transmission. This will be launched at a later date and wasn’t available for the test drives, so let’s start with the 1.2 petrol.
While the basic powerplant remains the same, tweaks to the ECU has resulted in a 17bhp hike in power to 87bhp. However this doesn’t really translate into a significantly sportier driving experience with the engine feeling laboured and running out of breath quickly. On the highway this results in prior planning to make overtaking moves stick. However it has decent torque and that means it can deal with the regular cut-and-thrust of city driving without a struggle.
Sportier-types will prefer the diesel engine which now makes 98bhp, a step up from the Fiesta and Ecosport. A hefty right foot and the low weight – 1048kg on the top-end model – means the Aspire takes off smartly with a chirrup from the front tyres and an enthusiastic turn of pace. The engine (actually both engines) have very good NVH characteristics and makes for a refined environment.
As far as the ride and handling goes the Aspire has been clearly set up for comfort and doesn’t take well to being hustled around the twisties. Which is a surprise considering all Ford’s – be it the Figo or the various iterations of the Fiesta have always sported best-in-class dynamics. There’s a strange looseness in the steering around the straight ahead, it doesn’t have the same agility as other Ford’s and body roll is ever-present. The petrol version, thanks to the lower weight, is the better of the two around corners with a touch more on-centre steering feel and correspondingly a greater feeling of connection with the car. Brakes on the other hand are sharp and the ABS works at exactly the right point that one would need it, and this inspires a strong sense of confidence.
To sum up then, the Ford Figo Aspire may not be the pinnacle of driving pleasure that one has come to expect of Ford, but it really does check every other box on the way. It’s practical, it’s loaded with features and it looks good, which makes it one of the top contenders in this segment. Should Ford get the pricing right.