To sample the brand new Ford Figo Aspire, we find ourselves in sultry Udaipur, with sunlight glistening of the lazy waves on Pichola Lake. The Figo Aspire is Ford’s entry into India’s burgeoning, sub-4 meter compact sedan category, currently occupied by the Maruti Dzire, Honda Amaze and the Hyundai Xcent. These squashed sedans in the sub-4 meter space are doing brisk business in India, with the segment leader, the Maruti Dzire, on an average, selling 18,000 units per month.
The Figo Aspire was first previewed by the Figo Concept, which was showcased at the 2014 Auto Expo, and will replace the ageing Fiesta Classic in India. An off-shoot of the next generation Figo/KA hatchback sold in Brazil, the India specific Figo Aspire will be manufactured at and exported from Ford India’s recently inaugurated plant in Sanand, Gujarat.
Now the new Figo Aspire better be good, because it’s here to save Ford India’s fortunes, which are dwindling fast. For example, in April 2015, Ford’s India sales fell by a whopping 46.55 %, when compared to the same month in 2014. Its best-seller, the Ecosport, is also losing ground steadily, and will soon be put to pressure by promising rivals that loom in the horizon. A lot rests on the Aspire’s shoulders then. Along with the upcoming, next generation Figo hatchback, it also precedes what lies in store for Ford in India.
A successful crack at India’s unique sub-4 meter category later, Ford fires its second salvo in the same category with the Figo Aspire compact sedan.
Design & Styling: Full Marks
When it goes on sale in August 2015, the Ford Figo Aspire will unequivocally be the country’s best looking sub-4 meter compact sedan. Ford specifies that the styling is “uncompromised” and it’s not hard to see why. The Aspire is less than 4 meters long, 3995 mm to be precise, and there are hardly any sedans out there which finish under that number, and look as smart and well trimmed as the Ford.
A quick look at the dimensions reveal that the Figo Aspire has a class leading wheelbase of 2491 mm.This virtue pushes the wheels more towards the corners of the vehicle’s volume, resulting in more interior room, as well as aesthetically pleasing proportions. Ground clearance, which also stands at a class leading 174 mm; give it a nice, high-set, authoritative stance.
This time around, we’ll start with the rear end, because this is the portion where other compact sedans start to lose their panache. In case of the Aspire, things are extremely well resolved, with the stubby boot coalescing gracefully with the original KA’s design, rather than coming across as an afterthought.
In the process, a distinctive sportback shape materializes. The boot-lid also has an integrated, ever-so-subtle gurney spoiler, which, Ford claims helps reduce turbulence and increase efficiency. The wraparound, sharply styled tail lamps are bridged by a strip of chrome, underlining the Blue Oval in the center. A flush fitting rear bumper ensures that the cap on the overall length is maintained.
The sides are characterized with a strong shoulder line that rises from the front wheel arch flare and ends in the tail lamps. The start of the shoulder line is also defined by a small, triangular metallic element in the front fender, which doubles up as the turn indicators in the lower variants. In case of the higher variants, the indicators have been integrated with the side mirrors.
The belt-line stays honest to the shoulder line, and moves abreast till about the thick C-pillar’s base, where it receives a mild, up-swept kink, and disappears. The swept-back wind-shield is notably raked, and, according to Ford, helps optimize aerodynamics for greater efficiency. A swooping roof-line ends in the aforementioned sportback shape at the back.
Some basic, yet elegant sculpting below the shoulder line, along with mild wheel arch flares round things off on the Aspire’s sides. Ford says that the shape of the side profile, along with side mirrors, has been honed to be aerodynamically optimistic, with more than 140 hours of wind-tunnel testing. The Ford Figo Aspire is grounded by 14 inch alloy wheels wrapped around with 175/65 tires. Upsized wheel and tires would have been appreciated, as the visually underwhelming footwear plays spoilsport.
If the rear of this compact sedan can be called ‘well resolved’, then the front end is beautifully resolved. Arguably the most appealing angle to look at the Aspire from, the front is denoted by Ford’s signature, trapezoidal grille – a distinct nod to Aston Martin. Four, slim chrome slats fill the trapezoidal void, while the grille borders are also highlighted with chrome.
The grille is the centerpiece, and is accompanied by large, elongated headlamps with three distinctive clusters. The front bumper gets deep fog lamp enclosures with slightly muscled up outer edges, while the rectangular air dam is run-of-the-mill fare. Below the bumper lies a speed lip, which helps deflect air away from the underbody to reduce drag. The compact, clamshell bonnet has a mild, platonic bulge to give it some character.
Overall, the Figo Aspire has a great stance for a vehicle its type, with best-in-class proportions and well measured overhangs. The styling is fuss free and looks a class apart, with the beautifully resolved front end stealing the show. Moreover, the streamlined shape doesn’t only look the part; it also helps the Figo Aspire to be aerodynamically efficient as well.
Interiors: Premium & Practical
The interiors are a pleasing mix of funk and practicality. To start off, the ambience is set by black and beige colouring all over the insides. The dual tone dashboard is highlighted by the familiarly styled center console, that shouts out to the Ecosport and the Fiesta. The center console, trimmed in piano black, is crowned by a 4.2 inch, Multi Function Display with a blue backlit LCD screen that displays the SYNC*, audio, vehicle, media & clock settings, apart from warning messages.
*SYNC with Applink lets you control your phone, entertainment and apps hands-free with steering wheel controls and simple voice commands.
Lower variants get a 2 line MFD screen and a MyFord Dock feature, which lets you store, mount and charge your smart phone, MP3 player or satellite navigation system, and integrate these devices into the car’s entertainment system. Ford says that due to the device being mounted on the dashboard, accessibility becomes easier. It does, but we’d rather charge it from the 12V outlet at the base of the center console, store it in the numerous crevasses between the front seats, while it syncs with Bluetooth anyway.
Below the center console lies the climate control settings. The automatic air conditioning chills well and fast, but rear occupants tend to feel the heat for a while due to the lack of rear A/C vents, something that only the Hyundai Xcent offers in the segment.
The tilt adjustable steering wheel also gets piano black inserts, but we didn’t quite warm up to the grainy, hard touch plastics that the rim is made out of. A similar finish can be found on the dashboard surface, which doesn’t compliment the classy piano black inserts well. The wheel in itself is chunky and well contoured, and feels great to hold.
Instrumentation is neat, with clear, legible dials and a small LCD screen in their midst that displays gear shift indicator, distance to empty, maintenance warning, door ajar warning, low fuel warning and water temperature warning light.
The seating position is quite good, with the steering wheel positioned at chest level and the large, swept-back windscreen offering a grand view of the road. However, the view includes a lot of dashboard as well, due to the slightly cab forward design. The Figo Aspire also comes with driver seat height adjustment in the top two variants.
Coming to the practicality bit, the new Figo Aspire offers as many as 20 storage spaces all over its insides. The glove box is massive, big enough to fit an average laptop, while the bottle holders in both the front doors can hold 1.5-liter and 1.0-liter bottle at the same time, with room left over for an umbrella. There are three cup holders for front seat occupants and a bin for rear passengers at the back of the center console. Other niceties include front seat-back pockets, a rubber mat lined tray in the door pads and a coin holder. But the best party trick has to be the innovative secret side compartment in the dashboard, which is only accessible when the driver’s side front door is open (pictured above).
The seats are trimmed in leather, with the Aspire being the only compact sedan to offer cow hide. The front seats are comfortable enough, offering perfect bolstering, along with decent levels of lumbar and under thigh support. The second row offers adjustable headrests; and is quite spacious, with generous leg and shoulder room. Three adults won’t be too close for comfort, but the middle occupant’s legroom will be compromised by a hump in the middle of the floor. There’s also a foldable central armrest for the back seat. Ford claims a best-in-class rear space. However, headroom at the back seemed a wee bit compromised due to the sloping roof-line. As for the boot space – it measures 359 liters in volume and did well to fit a couple of medium sized bags.
Engines: Jekyll & Hyde
The Ford Figo Aspire is powered by a choice of two petrol engines and one diesel engine. Let’s start with the petrol motors.
The 1.2-liter naturally aspirated petrol engine is essentially similar to the Duratec unit found under the erstwhile Figo’s hood. But for the Figo Aspire, it’s referred to as Ti-VCT, and has undergone significant modifications for better low-end torque, more power and of course, better fuel efficiency. The 1.2L Ti-VCT is paired to a five-speed manual transmission.
Modifications to the engine include Variable Camshaft Timing, modified cylinder head intake port, a variable displacement oil pump and optimized cam timing. This results in an increased peak power of 88 PS @ 6300 rpm, over the old Figo’s 71 PS, while torque now stands at 112 Nm @ 4000 rpm, as compared to the Figo’s 102 Nm. Fuel efficiency is a claimed 18.2 km/l.
So how do the revised figures translate in real world performance?
Refinement at idle is commendable, with barely any engine noise filtering in. Ford has worked to keep NVH levels in check and it has paid off.On the move, in sticky urban environs, performance is adequate, with good tractability in lower gears to make decent progress. But up the ante, and the engine starts to lose steam. On the highway, the petrol powered Aspire feels a bit underpowered.
The engine commands frequent downshifts to keep itself in its power band, which makes brisk overtaking maneuvers daunting, especially on single carriageways with oncoming traffic. It doesn’t encourage you to push it much in a straight line, with the engine missing that long-legged character deep within. However, we didn’t mind downshifting that much, as the five-speed manual box is butter smooth and a treat to row.
The motor screams cleanly till 6,300 rpm where it redlines, but makes a pleasant din. Some significant shove would have been appreciated alongside. It’s clear that the Ti-VCT has been developed specifically for urban usage rather than fast highway jaunts. However, if driven sedately on the highway, the motor settles into a nice thrum in top gear with the speedometer needle hovering around the lower three digit mark. We clocked a top speed of 160 km/h, with the motor clearly out of its comfort zone, and the revs singing madly as it reached the red-line.
The 1.5 liter TDCi diesel engine is the same unit from the Ecosport and the Fiesta. However in the Aspire it develops 100 PS of peak power @ 3750 rpm and 215 Nm of torque @ 1750-3000 rpm, as compared to 91 PS of peak power and 205 Nm of torque in the Fiesta and the Ecosport. Fuel efficiency is a claimed 25.8 km/l.
Performance is the polar opposite of the petrol engine. The diesel Aspire surges ahead with gusto and has that long legged character that’s sorely missed on the Ti-VCT petrol unit. It also responds better to inputs on the throttle. Low-end performance is relatively brisk upwards of 1600 rpm, but it’s the strong mid-range that the Aspire diesel revels in. Boost comes in clean and early at a low 1750rpm and there is ample power till about 4000rpm. It’s not a very free-revving engine but there is enough of a top- and mid-range poke to indulge oneself.Power delivery is also quite linear, and there is push available in most gears. Bury the throttle in any gear, and the car responds, with hardly a bland spot in the entire power band, unless you chose to do it in 5th gear while doing around 40 km/h. Even in the city, the diesel feels more tractable than the petrol.
Refinement levels are not in the same league as the petrol, with a fair amount of vibrations creeping in through the pedals when pushed hard. Diesel clatter makes its presence felt in the cabin, and when given the beans, there’s a mildly unpleasant boom, but not much to leave one in a spot of bother. Wind and road noise have been impeccably contained in both the variants, with just enough mechanical noises seeping inside the cabin to make motoring enjoyable.
Ford will offer another petrol engine on the Aspire – a bigger, 1.5 liter Ti-VCT unit which will come exclusively mated to a new 6-speed, dual clutch, Ford PowerShift automatic transmission. Power stands at 112 PS @ 4000 rpm, while torque is rated at 136 Nm @ 4250 rpm. We couldn’t lay our hands on one because it wasn’t available during the media drive. Stay tuned for a report on that as soon we find one.
Dynamics: The Bitter Pill
Ford, apart from Fiat has always been at the helm of delivering pleasurable and affordable motoring for the Indian middle-classes. Be it the Ikon, the Fiesta 1.6 S/Classic, or the new Fiesta, all was/are drivers’ delights in their respective segments. And most of it can be attributed the balanced suspension setups, and responsive steering racks these cars had/have.
However, things have literally softened in case of the Aspire, where it succumbs to satisfying the masses. Suspension is notably set up to be on the softer side. Though the Aspire handles well, it doesn’t feel as confident and agile round corners as compared to the Fiesta Classic, or even the Figo. Body roll is perceptible in spite of an anti-roll bar up front. To the slightly keener observer, the lighter petrol variant responds better around the corners than the front heavy diesel variant.
Though we didn’t find solace in the way the Aspire handles, it’s mostly because Ford has already set the bar so high when it comes to dynamics. We went ahead looking for the same dynamism in the Aspire, but came away a bit disappointed. All said and done, the Aspire is still the best handling car in its segment – it just gets a little friendlier for its intended clientèle.
The electrically assisted power steering was fine by me, with decent low speed responsiveness and feedback, while weighing up nicely with speed. It also had alacrity to come back to the center, but it would never match the feedback and responsiveness of a hydraulically assisted rack.
Back to the ride, sharp bumps tend to make the Aspire bouncy followed by an immediate floaty feeling as the suspension tries to re-acclimatize itself. That said, Ford has tuned it for its city slicking intents and purposes. Suspension duties are handled by independent McPherson struts with coil springs and an anti-roll bar in the front, along with a semi-independent twist beam with twin gas and oil filled shock absorbers at the back.
Braking is good and confidence inspiring, with the Aspire decelerating without too much unwanted theatrics.
Safety & features
On paper, the Ford Figo Aspire is easily the safest in its class, with as many as six air-bags that include driver & passenger air-bags, along with side & curtain air-bags. This is a segment first feature and we laud Ford India for implementing it. Other safety features on higher variants include ABS with EBD, ESP (Electronic Stability Program) + TCS (Traction Control System) + HLA (Hill Launch Assist), Ford MyKey, Keyless entry, engine immobilizer, perimeter alarm, emergency assistance and 3 point front seat belts.
Other features include steering wheel mounted audio & phone controls, tilt steering, power adjustable/fold wing mirrors with integrated turn signals, automatic A/C, power windows all around, auto door lock @ 20 Km/h and more. The Figo Aspire is available in Ambient, Trend, Titanium and Titanium+ variants.
Colours available on the Ford Figo Aspire are: Ruby Red, Oxford White, Deep Impact Blue, Tuxedo Black, Ingot Silver, Sparkling Gold, and Smoke Grey. Customers can choose to kit out their Figo Aspire with Ford’s accessories such as ambient lighting, rear seat entertainment system, chrome kit, carpet floormats, and rear parking sensors. There’s also a rear-view mirror integrated reversing camera that doubles up as the display for the navigation system, illuminated scuff plates, among others.
Summing it up
The Ford Figo Aspire is the latest entry to the burgeoning compact sedan segment. With best in class looks and styling, a strong, flexible diesel engine and a frugal petrol engine, affable dynamics, along with immensely practical interiors, the new Aspire certainly has more appeal than its competitors. Add class leading safety and a nice splattering of usable features to its credit.
Ford has clearly tuned the Aspire to perform best in urban environs, with its cushy ride and a petrol engine that lacks outright punch, but offers decent tractability is slow traffic. The dynamics are far from typical Ford fare, but friendly enough for the Aspire’s targeted clientèle. Refinement levels have been well contained too. What we have here is then a well rounded, stylish and desirable city car. Let’s wait for the prices then, before giving our final verdict.
Images : Chirag Mondal