If there’s one thing Ford does well, it’s building sporty cars that are fun to drive. Those with fond memories of the Ikon 1.6 ‘josh machine’ probably remember that car for its taut, responsive, beautifully tuned chassis and suspension, and the sparkling feedback one got from the steering. With about 99 hp from its 1.6 l, 4-cylinder petrol engine, the Ikon 1.6 wasn’t hugely powerful, but its sheer prowess in terms of handling and steering made it a cult classic among performance car enthusiasts in India.
The Ikon 1.6 worked its magic almost 15 years ago, so what does Ford now have in its India arsenal for those who love to drive? Enter the new Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports Edition, a modern take on the erstwhile ‘josh machine’ if you will. Things have changed a lot in the last few years and there are a few warm hatchbacks now available in the Indian market, which offer moderate driving thrills. The Volkswagen Polo GT TSI, Maruti Baleno RS and Fiat Punto Evo are all ‘warm’ hatchbacks, where OEMs haven’t really gone the whole hog with the performance bit, but have tweaked and fiddled and tuned their basic hatchbacks to a level where the aforementioned trio are definitely not boring to drive.
Ford, in a bid to capture a slice of this market, has responded with the Figo Sports Edition, which is available in ‘Titanium’ trim only, with a choice of 1.5 l turbodiesel and 1.2 l petrol engines. For this review, we had a chance to drive the Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports, and were suitably impressed with the vehicle.
Engine & Transmission
The Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports is powered by Ford’s proven 1.5 l four-cylinder turbodiesel, which produces 99 hp at 3,750 rpm and 215 Nm of torque at 1,750-3,000 rpm. ‘Sports Edition’ or not, the engine doesn’t get any special tuning mods and remains in stock condition, which in this case is not necessarily a bad thing. Driven enthusiastically, it pulls cleanly and strongly from down low, delivering power relentlessly across the rev range. Low- and mid-range performance is where this engine really shines, and the Figo feels happiest at 100-120 km/h on the highway, cruising at those speeds effortlessly, with minimal NVH. Yes, of course, it will go faster still – top speed is likely to be around 170 km/h (though we didn’t actually get a chance to test this, due to road and traffic conditions) – but mid-range performance is what this car is all about, which is just as well, since that’s where most drivers will spend most of their time in this car.
The Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports is only available with a 5-speed manual transmission, which might disappoint the few who might have been looking for a dual-clutch transmission, which was already available on the petrol-engined Figo. On the other hand, most driving enthusiasts (and that’s the target audience for this car, right?) do prefer to use a manual gearbox, and they should be quite happy with the Figo’s 5-speed unit. The ratios seem very well matched to the engine’s torque output, and used judiciously, the slick 5-speed gearbox keeps the Figo’s engine singing its growly diesel baritone. The only minor hiccup we noticed was that the second gear seemed a tiny bit too high, sometimes requiring us to downshift to first where we’d have expected the car to pull through in second gear. Still, that’s a minor annoyance and only noticeable very occasionally, so that’s not too bad. Otherwise, top marks to the engine/ transmission combo.
Ride & Handling
Now this is where Ford enthusiasts would expect the Figo Sports to really shine, and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Given their experience in WRC, Ford engineers are experts when it comes to tuning chassis and suspension, and the Figo is a very good example of that. The car features independent McPherson strut (with coil springs) suspension at front, and a semi-independent twist-beam (with twin gas and oil filled shock absorbers) set-up at the back, and according to Ford, this has been specially tuned for the Sports Edition variant.
Now, while we don’t have specific details of exactly how, and in what ways, the suspension has been specially tuned, the Figo Sports does handle very well indeed. At very high speeds, straight line stability is good and the car begs to be thrown around fast corners as hard as you dare. Yes, this is one car that encourages you to corner hard and fast and the harder you push it, the better it feels. Brilliant!
The Figo Sports rides on black-painted 15-inch alloy wheels, shod with 195/55 R15 Apollo Alnac 4G tyres, which offer great grip during high-speed cornering. During our testing on some tight, twisty, empty stretches of road, where we pushed the car hard, the tyres simply refused to let go, exhibiting impressive grip in during high-speed cornering. Bravo! That’s what a ‘Sports Edition’ car should be all about.
Braking performance, with ventilated discs at front and drums at the back, was also pretty good, though the ABS set-up felt a bit old school, with the pedal pulsing heavily under hard braking from high speeds, and the car getting a bit unsettled during such hard braking manoeuvres. It worked well and hauled the car to a stop within a reasonable time/ distance, but we do wonder if ‘feel’ can be improved with better tuning and calibration.
Styling, Interiors & Infotainment
The Figo Sports doesn’t really feature any outrageous, over-the-top styling cues to set it apart from its not-so-sporty siblings, but it does have some subtle touches that enthusiasts will appreciate. Notable bits include a black honeycomb-type front grille, black 15-inch alloys, black roof and ORVMs, rear spoiler and red stitching for the seats that are upholstered in high-grade grey cloth. There are twin airbags (driver + passenger) at the front, which is again pretty much standard in this segment now.
The 4-speaker infotainment system is fairly basic, but is easy to use, with intuitive controls that are easily accessible. There are also steering wheel-mounted controls that come in handy, and while the system’s output and performance are not exactly audiophile-grade, they’re still pleasant enough. There’s also Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, which seems to be a must-have on all cars in this segment these days.
The quality of plastics used in the Figo’s interiors seems to be average, and might be an area where Ford may want to implement some improvements in the materials and textures they use for this car. Also, a larger colour display/ touchscreen for the infotainment system is something that buyers in this segment might appreciate, especially since this is now available on some other competing cars in this segment.
The bottom line is, the Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports Edition is well deserving of the ‘Sports’ tag. Sure, it would’ve been even better if Ford had further tuned the 1.5 l turbodiesel to increase the stock unit’s power and torque output by another 10-15 %, and if they had decided to offer their dual-clutch transmission on this Sports variant as well. Then again, that would have certainly pushed the Figo 1.5 TDCi Sport’s price to well beyond the Rs 7.22 lakh (ex-showroom, New Delhi) which it’s currently priced at.
With a claimed mileage of close to 26 km/l, decent power and torque output, and very good ride and handling, the Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports is a solid offering from Ford, which driving enthusiasts will appreciate. It’s a well-built car that should offer years of driving enjoyment. So, if you’re in the market for a smart, good looking hatchback that has the ‘go’ to match its ‘show,’ you should definitely take a very close look at the Figo 1.5 TDCi Sports before you make a buying decision.
Text and Pics: Sameer Kumar