Long-term test introduction: Ford Figo 1.5 Titanium

JOHANNESBURG - Ford has a long and proud tradition of producing inexpensive but surprisingly entertaining small cars, with badges like 1600 Sport and XR3 immediately pouncing to mind.

Having owned a modified MKII Escort as well as a Fiesta RSi many moons ago, I am no stranger to the appeal of warmed up Fords. There was something that always set them apart from their rivals, from the beefy feel of the steering to the solid gear-shift action and the responsive engines. While not outright performance cars, they were quicker than your average commuter and thanks to the aforementioned factors, you really did not need to go all that fast to enjoy your time behind the wheel.

I never thought of the Indian-built Ford Figo as belonging to that club, but having just spent a month with the latest version of Ford’s smallest hatch I have renewed hope that the tradition of the fun but inexpensive Ford is still alive. But it has taken some evolution.

The first-generation Figo, while competent, was simply a rehashed previous-generation Fiesta with tired styling and not much in the way of sparkle, but the latest generation, first introduced in 2015, took a solid step in the right direction with a fresh design that mostly strikes the right chord, as well as a more powerful 1.5-litre engine.

Perky 1.5-litre engine

It got even better in 2018, with a facelift that sharpened the styling, and which brought a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine into the picture. Despite losing a cylinder, however, the engine actually gained 6kW and 14Nm, so now there’s a healthy tally of 88kW and 150Nm. Ford strengthened its Figo case even further in 2019 with a new feature-packed Titanium model, which is the subject of our long-term test, but we’ll get to the gadgets later - first let’s take a spin.

Ford has avoided the temptation to go the turbocharging route here, although the engine is still powerful enough to provide decent performance even at Gauteng elevations. This is a relatively perky little car, and one that’s also fun to drive, something I’ll also attribute to the off-beat three-cylinder soundtrack, which is delightful in this Figo.

Despite the odd number of cylinders, the engine still feels balanced and it ticks over smoothly at idle, although it does give you a slight shake on start-up. Power delivery is smooth, and the same goes for the gearshift and clutch action. It’s an easy car to drive, but getting back to what I spoke about earlier, there’s also a seat-of-the-pants feeling that makes it entertaining to pilot - and I’d owe this to a combination of the engine sound, solid-feeling driving controls and relatively communicative steering. Almost everything else in this class feels like a humdrum commuter by comparison.

That’s not to say the Figo is perfect. It’s not as well packaged as some of its competitors and while there is ample leg-stretching space for rear seat passengers, as well as reasonable head space, the 256 litre boot seems a touch smaller than it should be. It’s probably fine for a single person or young couple, but those with small families will wish for more space and I can’t help but feel Ford could have achieved that without incurring too much extra cost. Thankfully, there is a sedan version of the Figo for those that can’t compromise on luggage capacity, although I’m not crazy about the looks of this four-door model.

As mentioned, the Titanium specification is a recent addition to the top of the Figo range, and it’s quite lavishly equipped by small hatch standards, with standard features such as a 16.5cm version of Ford’s Sync3 touchscreen infotainment system, with voice control, a reverse camera as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Also standard is Ford’s MyKey, a multi-function steering wheel, automatic climate control, auto headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and four-way adjustment for the driver’s seat. The range-topper gets a safety upgrade too, with side and full-length curtain airbags now part of the deal.

The Titanium is only available with a manual gearbox, meaning you have to opt for the mid-spec Trend model if you want Ford’s six-speed automatic gearbox. 

There was probably a bit of price sensitivity going on there, as in manual form the Titanium already costs R224 900, which is higher than your average budget hatch, but keep in mind that if you’re prepared to stick to the essential comfort features, the Ambiente version has the same engine and will save you some money with its starting price of R191 300, which is class-competitive.

VERDICT

The Figo finds itself in a hotly contested segment, and while it could do with a bigger boot and better economy, it is in our opinion still the most entertaining car to drive in its segment. There’s a good spread of models too, and if you’re prepared to stretch to R224 900, the range-topping Titanium is impressively stocked.

IOL Motoring