Johannesburg - When the Figo first hit the streets back in 2010 we thought it would soldier on halfway into eternity as a recycled previous-generation Fiesta.

But Ford never pulled a Citi Golf on us and as soon as 2015 the Blue Oval released a redesigned Figo sporting a modern, even somewhat handsome shape, and now Ford is hitting the refresh button again, albeit this time with a mild facelift and new engine.

That mildness consists of fresh wheel designs as well as chrome elements in the headlights and a sportier looking honeycomb grille, although we’re admittedly not sold on those ‘moustaches’ that it’s suddenly grown on the redesigned front and back bumpers.

Beneath the bonnet is a brand new 1.5-litre three-cylinder normally aspirated engine with twin independent variable camshaft timing - same cubic capacity as before but with one less cylinder. Despite this omission, it is actually more powerful, with peak outputs up from 82kW and 136Nm to 88kW and 150Nm.

The automatic model, which is only available in Trend guise, gets a new six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, which feels like quite a bonus in this class where four-speed boxes seem to be the norm.

This is the model we tested and its drivetrain combination is a class act at this price level, offering fairly rapid performance and slick gear shifting. It’s fun to drive, even for an auto, and the agile handling and meaty steering play their bit as they often have in small Fords, while the ride is quite comfy too.

Fuel economy wasn’t quite what we had expected from a newly-designed three-cylinder. Our test car drank 10 litres per 100km in town according to the on-board readout, albeit some of it in heavy traffic, but it did achieve a more respectable 6.1 l/100km after we reset the trip for a highway run.

The Figo’s cabin is a mixed bag. On the one hand it is quite spacious, and those in the back have some room to stretch, although the 250 litre boot is a touch on the cramped side.

However the design, materials and ergonomics fall behind rivals like the Polo Vivo. The steering wheel, for instance, adjusts for height but not reach, perhaps forgivable at the price level, but the cabin does feel a bit tight on storage space - there are lots of small nooks and crannies but no big tray for keys and other bulky items.

Ford has also perhaps been a little skimpy on spec. It has also the basics like aircon, remote central locking and power windows, but you don’t get things like steering-mounted audio controls. The sound system is a basic, simple and effective affair - albeit no fancy touchscreens here like some vehicles, like the Kia Picanto for instance, offer at the price, although let’s keep in mind that the Figo is a more substantial car and you have to sacrifice a few features to have it at this price.

Safety kit includes dual front airbags, ABS and traction control.

VERDICT

The Figo is not as affordable as it once was, but that must be weighed up against the fact that it has grown up in many respects, particularly when we’re talking engines.

Our test car was listed at R207 900, but there are more affordable manual-gearbox options: Ambiente (R182 900) and Trend (R192 900). Despite lacking a turbo, which the Renault Sandero has, for instance, the Figo still, in our opinion, offers the best drivability in its class whether we’re talking manual or auto models.

If you want a classy cabin then you might gravitate towards the Polo Vivo, but if driving experience is at the top of your priority list then we recommend you take this Ford for a spin.