Road test: 2016 Ford Figo
New cars are expensive, right? Well, not necessarily, and for a new model to sell in healthy numbers in India, the price really does need to be pared down to the bone – as it has been with the diminutive Ford Figo, which is now in its second generation.
The name is an Italian colloquialism that roughly translates as “cool”, which is possibly stretching credibility a bit thinly here, but putting snobbishness to one side for a moment, this little Chennai-built Ford has a great deal going for it, particularly when you consider the price. For Dh41,000, you might find yourself with a 10-year old BMW or even a second-hand Nissan that’s long since waved goodbye to its warranty. This is about as inexpensive as it gets for a new car that you don’t need to feel ashamed about while driving.
It’s basic, there’s no denying that. Available here as either a booted saloon or, as in the case of the car I’m driving around in, a hatchback, the Figo comes with two engine options: a 1.2L or a 1.5L petrol. Mine is the top-of-the-range example, with the 1.5L mill, a six-speed automatic gearbox and luxuries such as electric windows, mirrors, air conditioning and a steering wheel. I jest, but at this end of the market you really do begin to appreciate the things we take for granted in more expensive machinery.
This flagship Figo comes with alloy wheels, although they are a piffling 14-inch in diameter, but the car does look more costly than it is, which is a good thing in a sea filled with Chinese knock-offs. And the Ford is rather well built, too, with no overt impressions of fragility. You can’t help but be impressed with the quality, despite nasty hard plastics in abundance throughout the cabin – at this price, you can’t expect plush hides or walnut veneer, though, can you?
Externally, it’s a huge (and welcome) departure from its predecessor, which was based on an ancient European Fiesta design. Now the Figo looks contemporary and fresh, especially from either front or rear, where clever design details, such as the Aston Martin-esque front-grille shape, gives it a certain gravitas.
In the four days I spend driving this thing around Dubai, I don’t once feel embarrassed. That might come across as crass, but in a city built on image, it takes a certain amount of design flair for you to not feel uncomfortable at the traffic lights, surrounded as you usually are by exotic metal.
Inside, there’s more space than the Figo’s external dimensions suggest. Four doors add practicality into the mix, and I can certainly see this being usable for small families, although the lack of Isofix anchor points in the rear quarters mean your options for carrying baby-protecting seats are somewhat limited. The boot is useful, although hardly cavernous, and there’s plenty of head- and legroom.
Entry is keyless, although you do need to insert the key into the ignition to start the engine. When you do so, the little four-pot barely makes a whimper. Select “drive” with the auto shifter, and the Figo moves off without a hiccup, making for easy city crawling, which at the end of the day is what it will mostly be used for.
This, lest we forget, is a car built to take on the traffic jams and potholed roads of India, some of the toughest driving conditions on Earth, so the UAE’s urban areas should be a doddle. And they are.
What strikes me as odd about the Figo, however, is the inclusion of a “sport” mode for its automatic transmission. It seems entirely unnecessary. And yet it kind of works, because the Figo’s character is similar to that of a puppy desperate to please its new master. Shift it into said mode, and the revs jump skywards, but not much happens speed-wise. Stamp on the throttle, and it holds onto its chosen ratio far too long, thrashing away to the point where you’re begging for it to grab a taller gear. Slow things down a bit, though, and it blips the throttle as it descends through each cog like it’s using the engine’s resistance for extra braking – again, totally unnecessary.
It’s things like this that endear the Figo to me – it tries hard to surpass expectations. While its seats are firm, the suspension is soft and forgiving – as it should be for traversing the surfaces it’s used on in its home country – and it’s perfectly capable of tackling the daily grind.
If you want a cheap new car that’s peppy and doesn’t give the impression you’re cutting back costs to an embarrassing degree, give it a try. It’s basic and does what it says on the tin – honest-to-goodness urban motoring.
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Updated: May 19, 2016 04:00 AM