JOHANNESBURG - I’ve driven quite a few budget hatchbacks in the last year, most of them powered by normally-aspirated 1-litre engines that struggle at Gauteng altitudes, but driving them has highlighted a certain trump card that Ford is playing with its Figo.

OK, a little disclaimer is needed here. The Figo is not exactly an entry-level hatchback, with prices stretching from R191 300 for the base Ambiente derivative to R224 200 for the Titanium model that joined our long-term test fleet back in September. But in base form it’s also not too much of a stretch from many of the smaller entry-level hatchbacks on the market. 

In fact, most sub-R200 000 cars struggle on the open road, particularly when trying to overtake trucks on two-lane roads, which means that most of these cars are not ideal for those with careers that require a lot of travel between towns. It’s here that the Ford Figo starts to make some sense as a bang-for-buck offering that also won’t break the bank.

All models in the range are fitted with a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine that pushes 88kW and 150Nm, and although it is normally aspirated, it’s still got enough urge to deliver comfortable performance at altitude. In my experience, the only other sub-200-grand car that offers respectable oomph is the turbocharged Renault Sandero, but the French offering can be a bit cumbersome to drive in heavy traffic as it’s laggy and the footwell is cramped.

Here’s where the Figo really shines in my view - it’s really easy and painless to drive, thanks to a smooth-revving engine, while all the driving controls are well positioned and operate smoothly. 

In fact, as stated in our previous update, it’s rather fun to pilot too. Sure, this is not a Porsche, or even a ‘warm’ hatch for that matter, but its decent performance and off-beat three-cylinder howl, along with a solid feeling gearshift action and relatively communicative steering, make it a somewhat enjoyable tool for fighting through the everyday urban madness.

Frugal on the open road

While our Figo was mostly confined to Joburg in its first two months with us, I got to stretch its legs recently on a 200km round trip to its ‘home’ - with Ford having invited us to a ceremony at its Silverton headquarters to announce the company’s new industrial hub for automotive component suppliers.

Not only did the Figo prove to be a comfortable highway companion, but it was economical too, sipping an average of 5.5 litres per 100km on the trip. However, it’s perhaps not quite as frugal as some other small cars in regular urban driving, with our car drinking around 7.3 litres per 100km in a mixture conditions.

We’ve lived with the Figo Titanium for three months now, and so far there are no real faults to report on. One small bugbear we picked up in the recent rainy weather, however, was that the intermittent windscreen wiper function was not working, meaning we could either have constant wiping or none at all - that’s not an issue in heavier rain but in light drizzle it becomes a bit annoying.

Other than that, the Figo has continued to impress with its driving characteristics, as mentioned, and all round practicality. The range-topper that we have on test also leaves nothing wanting in the way of features, and also includes Ford’s modern and easy-to-use Sync3 infotainment system, which we will delve a bit deeper into in the next update.

IOL Motoring