What is it?
The Figo Aspire is Ford's first crack at a four-metre sedan market in India. Right from the start, the latest Ford has its work cut out. Up against well-entrenched competition like the Maruti Dzire, Honda Amaze, Hyundai Xcent and Tata Zest the Aspire will have to be really good to make an impression, and Ford knows this. The American carmaker, however, is quietly confident it’s come up with something special enough for the task at hand. Some of that confidence stems from the fact that the Aspire is much better suited to Indian conditions than any Ford before it. Unlike many of its predecessors, this car has been engineered from scratch – and not just adapted – for customers in developing markets like India and Brazil, where much of the developmental work on the car was done. But just how good is the Aspire?
Catch a glimpse of the Aspire's nose and you can't help but be impressed by the clean, crisp lines. The Aston Martin-like look really does work well and the headlamps and heavily chromed grille further embellish the looks. Helping here are some sharp-looking cut lines on the bonnet and the fairly aggressive chin.
In profile though, the Aspire doesn’t look as well proportioned as, say, the Honda Amaze. For sub-four metre sedans, a balanced form and cabin roominess are generally at odds and seeing the Aspire in profile, you’ll know which side Ford has erred to. The boot is stubby and you can’t miss that the 14-inch wheels appear a size too small. At the tail, there’s nothing remarkable about the simple, single-piece tail-lamps but the thick band of chrome on the boot lid does liven up things up a bit and makes the rear look wider than it actually is.
What's it like on the inside?
The new Aspire is a Ford, through and through. The steering wheel, gear knob and wing-shaped (albeit button-heavy) centre console, all have a familiar look and solid feel. Many of the new bits are designed from the same template as well. What also grabs your attention is the two-tone treatment of the dash. The black-and-beige sections go really well together but quality when talking fit and finish is just at par with the class and no more. Sure, bits like the knurled knobs for the climate control system do look rich but then the quality on the door pads isn't very impressive, the plastics on the lower half of the central console are just about average and the design of the tiny instrument cluster is a little plain Jane too. That the tachometer and fuel gauge get equal-sized dials is perhaps a pointer that the Aspire is a car that gives equal weightage to performance and fuel economy.
On the whole, though, the Aspire has a really practical cabin. The generous 2491mm wheelbase means there's plenty of space between the wheels, the boot holds an impressive 359 litres of luggage due to clever use of vertical space and the big doors allow easy access to the cabin. There are plenty of cubbyholes and spaces to store stuff in the cabin as well. The glovebox is of a good size, there are two bottle-holders in each front door pocket and the centre console has three cup-holders too; good because the rear doors don’t feature door bins. You have to make do with the front seat door pockets which come as standard. Those familiar with Fords will also notice that the stalks behind the steering wheel are now the right way around – indicators on the right, wipers on the left.
The Aspire also abounds with plenty of clever touches. There's a nice rubberised ledge for keeping odds and ends in front of the gear lever and Ford’s new MyKey system allows the driver to preset things like speed and volume limits for the chauffeur (or perhaps even your children!). There’s also MyFord Dock atop the centre console. It’s a brilliantly executed rubberised phone/device holder which works so well that you have no qualms placing your most valuable devices in its jaws. It’s a great feature for those who rely on their phones for GPS.
The Aspire also scores really well on comfort, especially at the front with the front seats offering excellent thigh, lateral and back support. Top-spec cars get leather seats and their cushioning is fantastic. We did find the fabric seats on lower versions a touch too soft, especially at the lower back. While the driving position is a bit low slung and needs some adjustment, the seats do have a wide range of adjustment and the low dash means visibility for the driver is really good. Peer into the cabin and the rear seats don't look very promising but the back bench is more spacious than you think and one of the strengths of the car. Knee room is excellent, even with a tall passenger in the front as Ford has scooped out the seat backs for additional space, and there's plenty of space for your feet under the front seats. In addition, thigh support is good, the backrest is nicely reclined and the overall cushioning especially on seats which have fabric trim, feel quite plush. Interestingly, side airbag-equipped top-spec Aspires don’t get any grab handles on the roof.
What we did miss on the Aspire is that tough European car build seen on other Ford products like the EcoSport and the Fiesta. Ford has pared the car’s weight down in the interest of better fuel economy; the heaviest version weighs in at just 1,048kg, which seems to have affected that feeling of solidity.
What's it like to drive?
The Aspire will be available with a 1.5-litre diesel, a 1.2-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre petrol engine, the last one solely available with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. While the engines are familiar and have found application in other Fords, the 1.5 diesel turned out to be the big surprise. Thanks to tweaks to the ECU and modifications to the fixed-geometry turbocharger, power is up to 98bhp. Given that the same engine on the more expensive Fiesta and EcoSport makes a lesser 90bhp, you can tell Ford has thrown its model hierarchy out of the window and given the Aspire its all.
The good power combined with the car’s low weight, has a positive effect on performance. Acceleration is strong, even if you use just half-throttle, and the Aspire pulls forward effortlessly when you demand a sudden burst of acceleration. It’s not got the initial response of Honda’s 1.5 diesel but driveability is still very good. The turbo comes in nice and early at a low 1400rpm and there is ample power till about 4000rpm. It’s not a very free-revving engine but there is enough of a top-end to excite keen drivers. The diesel, however, does tend to get noisy when pulled hard past 3500rpm and the drone can get obtrusive. Otherwise at moderate revs this engine is pretty refined. In fact, thanks to superb insulation cabin noise is pretty hushed making the Aspire (especially the petrol) one of the quietest compact sedans around.
The Aspire uses Ford’s tried and tested IB5 gearbox so gearshifts may not have the rifle bolt action you’d get in the Polo but the gearbox doesn’t mind being hurried up either. The clutch, however, does have a bit of weight to it.
Like the diesel, the 1.2 petrol powerplant is much improved too. It now produces a more useful 87bhp, compared to the old Figo hatchback's 70bhp and that's something you feel immediately, especially in the city. Part- throttle responses are quicker and the Aspire accelerates better all through the powerband. Thing is this engine is more suited to the requirements of everyday driving than for all-out fun - floor the throttle and you’ll know why. The engine feels labored in the mid-range at full load. You’ll also feel the need for more power as you head out to more open roads where overtaking can require some prior planning. Still, with the power and performance on offer, the Aspire is clearly more than capable, especially in the city.
When it comes to ride and handling, comfort is clearly a focus area with the Aspire. The suspension is quite plush and absorbent and bumps are ridden over so well that you stop paying attention to every pimple on the road and makes driving a bit more relaxed. On really bad sections of road, the ride does get a bit jiggly and bouncy, which is when you detect a hint of stiffness, but that's only to be expected. What makes ride quality even nicer is that the suspension works quite silently for the most part.
Unfortunately, there’s some bad news for driving enthusiasts who’ve been eyeing the Aspire. Yes, it does mildly enjoy being driven hard and responds better the more you load up the suspension. But, that effortless grip, unimpeachable confidence and precise steering you get on Fords like the Fiesta is missing here. There's a strange looseness in the steering around the straight ahead position it doesn’t have the same agility as other Fords and body roll is ever-present. The petrol version is the better of the two Aspires in the corners with a touch more on-centre steering feel and correspondingly a greater feeling of connection with the car. The brakes on both petrol and diesel Aspires, however, inspire tremendous confidence; stopping power was impressive as well and that lends a lot to the overall driving experience.
Should I buy one?
Ford may have been late to the compact sedan segment but it’s used its time well. Sure, the Aspire may not be as special to drive as other Fords (including the Classic it is to replace) but it does offer everything to help it appeal to a wide buyer base. Ford has clearly spent a lot of money to give buyers what they want, be it in terms of newer concerns as connectivity and safety or in traditional requirements of space, comfort and efficiency.
Assuming the Figo Aspire is priced in close proximity to the current market leader, the Swift Dzire, as we've been led to believe, Ford's all-new compact sedan could just become the new benchmark in the segment.