With the sub-4m sedan segment growing exponentially in the Indian market, Ford has high expectations from its latest offering – the Figo Aspire. We drive it to find out how it’ll fare against stiff competition from likes of Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Honda.
The sub-4m sedan segment is an anomaly that exists only in India. It’s come about due to a very strange law. No one that we’ve asked has been able to provide us with a logical reason as to why a vehicle under a certain length and engine size should qualify for lower taxes. But, that’s a discussion for another day. The reality of the matter is that the sub-4m segment exists in India, and its success in our market in growing by the day – making it something that no mass manufacturer can afford to ignore.
To give you an insight into the segment’s size and popularity, consider this small fact: in June 2015, the highest selling car in India was the Maruti Suzuki Dzire, with sales of nearly 22,000 units – automatically making it the Figo Aspire’s toughest rival.
Having tasted success in two popular segments, with the Figo and the EcoSport in the past few years, Ford is already aware of the challenge that lies ahead. The good thing is that they seem to have done the groundwork with the Aspire. Design wise, the Aspire looks quite impressive. It’s been under development for four-and-a-half years, and so the design of the Aspire is clearly the most cohesive in its segment – it’s easily the best looking car amongst its competitors. It has a balanced stance, and the Ford family grille gives it a lot of road presence.
The rear end does look a bit stunted though, and the global version of the Aspire – which will be exported to 50 countries from India – will look slightly better resulting from its 4.2 metres of length. Overall, though, the Aspire has a crisp design, which isn’t overdone – and it looked especially handsome in the Ruby Red of our test car.
With Ford having had the luxury of learning from what their competitors have produced, it’s clear that a lot of thought has been applied to the interior and space management of the Aspire. So, the interiors feel quite well put together. The quality of the plastics and switches is good, and the design is quite ergonomic. Sure, the interior quality is not as good as the Hyundai Xcent, which is the segment leader in this respect, but it is better than its other rivals. The interior space management is very good too, with the Aspire offering enough space for four adult passengers to travel in comfort – with ample legroom in the rear even for tall passengers. However, the width of the rear seat is still an issue. So, while three passengers can be accommodated in the rear, they won’t thank you after a long journey.
Ford has worked seriously on the standard equipment of the Aspire too. It has a long list of equipment fitted as standard. For instance, it’s the only car in its segment to offer dual front airbags as standard across the range – while the top variant offers six airbags. The Aspire also comes with climate control, electronically folding rear view mirrors, leather seats – another segment first – and two types of entertainment systems. In fact, MyFord Dock is particularly innovative. The dock allows the user to plug in their smartphone into the stereo system (which doesn’t have a built-in screen for the audio system) via USB, Bluetooth or Aux-in, and use the phone for navigation, playing music, and more. The dock holding the smartphone is a pretty clever piece of work, and is adjustable to hold a variety of different cell phones. For customers looking for a more traditional stereo, Ford also offers its SYNC audio system – but only on the range-topping model.
But the real appeal of most Ford’s lies in the driving experience, and this is where the Aspire really shines. Engine options include a heavily revised version of the 1.2-litre petrol engine from the Figo, and the 1.5-litre diesel engine from the EcoSport – both paired with manual gearboxes. The Aspire also offers a six-speed automatic transmission, but this is offered only with the 1.5-litre petrol unit from the EcoSport – which is the third motor on offer. We got a chance to give the first two engines a good workout, and the 1.2 petrol came across as a decent powerplant – with its 87bhp and 112Nm of torque, and high levels of refinement, making it quite well suited for city and urban use. However, it struggles to keep pace on the highway – especially at higher speeds. It simply doesn’t have the outright grunt for long distance travel.
The 1.5 diesel, however, is a really good engine – with its 99bhp and 215Nm of torque giving the Aspire very peppy response. The engine revs nicely, has little or no turbo lag and is very well suited to the car. Combined with a slick shifting five-speed manual gearbox, it makes the Aspire a particularly fun car to drive – especially as the steering is very responsive and delivers decent steering feel, something that is fast becoming a rarity in modern cars.
The fantastic suspension makes the Aspire’s driving appeal even greater. It features a very well balanced setup, which offers a pliant ride and yet gives it great handling. So, whether in urban conditions or out for a long run on the highway, the road manners of the car are simply wonderful. It’s one of those rare cars in today’s market that eggs you on to drive that little bit faster simply to enjoy the driving experience. What also helps is the large glasshouse, which improves visibility and adds to the ease of driving the Aspire.
If I were to nit-pick, the vibration levels in the steering and the pedals are higher than I would like. But, in a fun-to-drive car like this, it seems to add more to the car’s character rather than point to a character flaw. The main annoyance comes from the tyres. The standard fit MRF’s are simply not able to keep up with the car’s performance. For any potential owner, and especially for a driving enthusiast, my advice would be to invest in a set of good tyres to really enjoy the driving experience.
So, on the whole, the Aspire has been designed quite well. It offers a nice cabin with decent space, and is arguably the best handling car in its segment – giving it the fun-to-drive factor that most of its competitors lack. And with Ford concentrating on tackling the issues with the brand – mainly related to the cost of ownership and the dealership experience – the Aspire clearly has the qualities needed to be the brand’s next big success in the Indian market. And if Ford prices it competitively, the Aspire could be a very strong player in a cut-throat segment.
- FORD FIGO ASPIRE 1.2L Ti-VCT
- FORD FIGO ASPIRE 1.5L TDCi
Engine: 1,196cc / 4-Cylinders
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 87bhp @ 6,300rpm
Torque: 112Nm @ 4,000rpm
Engine: 1,498cc / 4-Cylinders / Direct Injection / Turbocharged
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 99bhp @ 3,750rpm
Torque: 215Nm @ 1,750-3,000rpm