High-spec budget cars appear to offer better value for money than increasingly sophisticated (and, therefore, expensive) entry-level compact hatchbacks. The flagship Ford Figo hatchback is fun to drive, practical and liberally equipped, but even at its attractive “in-betweener” price point, there are very competent rivals that stand in its way.
We like: Generously equipped, reasonably spacious, willing engine, great infotainment system.
We don’t like: Evidence of overzealous cost-cutting, marginal build quality, stodgy image.
- Price: R221 300 (August 2019, without options)
- Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol
- Gearbox: 5-speed manual
- Fuel economy: 5.7 L/100 km (claimed)
- Power/Torque: 88 kW/150 Nm
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Chrome trim elements in the 1.5 Titanium's front bumper are complemented by handsome 15-inch alloy wheels.
Where does it fit in?
When it first came to market almost a decade ago, the Indian-built Ford Figo seemed an ideal foil for the Volkswagen Polo Vivo; like its German rival, it was essentially a legacy model based on the marque’s previous-generation compact hatchback – the Fiesta (and in VW’s case, the Polo), but suitably equipped (de-specced, if you will) to suit buyers at the budget end of the market. It was fun to drive, oozed youthful appeal, acceptably made (if outfitted with a plethora of hard plastics inside) and offered great value.
The 2nd-generation model, of which a facelift was introduced last year, is still based on Ford’s small compact platform, but it’s a bigger, somewhat more conservative offering with a tall architecture (it offers more headroom than many of its rivals, for example). It is produced in 3 variants, including a sedan (to underline its fleet-car aspirations) and in the Indian market, there’s a Freestyle crossover derivative. In essence, then, the current Figo straddles the city/budget car and compact hatchback segments and, late in 2018, the Ford Motor Company of SA released a generously-specified 1.5 Titanium version (in hatchback guise only), which also includes a 4-year/60 000 km service plan.
Not everyone is bowled over by the 2nd-generation Figo's styling, it's certainly inoffensive, but lacks youthful appeal.
How it fares in terms of…
Although the Figo’s looks remain polarising (it may seem a bit too dumpy for a younger clientele, but appears substantial and distinguished to more mature buyers), the 1.5 Titanium looks smartened up by virtue of its 15-inch alloy wheels and chrome-accented fog lamp bezels and grille surround.
Inside, the most noticeable feature is the 6.5-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system with SYNC3 technology, augmented by a pair of USB ports. Not only is it Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and relays a feed from a tailgate-mounted reverse-view camera, it allows the driver to control audio, multimedia, aircon and connected smartphone functions by voice commands.
Other mod-cons include a multifunction steering wheel, single-zone auto aircon (climate control), auto-activated headlamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and "Follow Me Home" lighting, as well 4-way adjustment for the driver's seat.
Piano-black inserts on the steering wheel and fascia add a touch of class to the Figo's cabin.
Suffice to say that the flagship Figo derivative, even if it is priced comfortably above the R200k mark, offers virtually unbeatable standard kit for the price. Its additional airbags (over and above dual front ‘bags) and a comparably lengthy service plan, further sweeten the purchasing proposition.
User experience and build quality
For a product that may need to offer a soft landing to those who are “buying down” – consumers that are compelled to purchase smaller, cheaper-to-run vehicle because they’re scaling back their lifestyles, or simply cannot afford to buy newer-generation versions of their cars – the 1.5 Titanium mostly hits the mark. Features such as automatic lights and –wipers, a reverse-view camera and an auto-dipping rear-view mirror aren’t widely offered in budget-oriented vehicles and touchscreen infotainment systems (let alone those that are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible) are gradually becoming the norm, but not ubiquitous in the market. They’re notable nice-to-haves!
The 1.5 Titanium offers many standard features, but the SYN3-equipped touchscreen infotainment system is its party piece!
Even though the multifunction wheel is not wrapped in leather, its polyurethane rim is not tacky and the remote buttons feel substantial. The auto aircon console has a pair of attractive knurled metal knobs and chunky ventilation buttons instead of that old staple of budget cars… a trio of gormless plastic “oven switches”.
Granted, the cabin’s fabric upholstery and stitching do not feel particularly upmarket, but the front seats are generously padded and reasonably comfortable (there are even cushioning pockets on the door cards, to that you can comfortably rest your outer elbows). The infotainment system’s SYNC3 interface looks crisp, has an intuitive interface and the volume and tuning knobs have tactile rubber trims. The quality of the sound output is clear and voluminous; we particularly liked the sound equaliser hot button on the fascia – it should be a hit with audiophiles.
Knurled metallic knobs of the climate control console are pleasing to the touch; note the non-slip smartphone/oddments pad.
For all its technology and conveniences (including power windows all round), the cabin is let down by plastics of questionable quality in some areas. In our review of the 1.5 Trend auto in 2018, we remarked that “some of the Figo's cabin plastics (are) very flimsy”. While testers tend to scrutinize the perceived quality of “made-to-a-cost” budget car cabins closely, it’s not often that test units’ finishes become detached… That happened to the handle of the driver’s seat height-adjustment lever in our 1.5 Titanium test unit; whether it slipped or snapped off, it was nonetheless disappointing.
Although the 2nd-generation Figo seems quite spacious inside, that perception is amplified by the generosity of headroom afforded by the high roof. Front occupants have little to complain about in terms of comfort, but the rear legroom is no more than fair. Furthermore, the Figo's luggage bay is smaller than those of its rivals (not appreciably so, but still). You can fold the rear seatback down in a 60:40 split to increase carrying capacity but be very vigilant when you handle the backboard...
Not all manufacturers place their cars' USB ports in practical places, with 2 ports you can stream music into one while charging from the other.
Whereas a backboard, which is suspended from the tailgate by fabric or rubber strings, usually has rubber studs (one on each side) that clip into slots located at the back of a hatchback's load bay, the Figo’s (let's call them) locating pins are made from the same flimsy material as the shelf. As a result, when we tested the Figo’s load capacity, we found one of the luggage cover’s "pins" had warped, which left the panel dangling precariously.
Performance & efficiency
As for the driving experience, the 1.5 Titanium, powered by a naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre engine delivers willing performance, its clutch is easy to modulate (once you get accustomed to its relatively high “bite point”) and even though many buyers have become spoilt by the low-rev torqueyness of turbocharged engines, the vocal 3-cylinder unit spins up merrily and proves quite flexible in cut-and-thrust driving conditions.
It’s admittedly not the most fuel-efficient motor (Ford claims an average consumption of 5.7 L/100 km) in the budget segment, but its efficiency is comparable with other 1.5- and 1.6-litre models priced around the 1.5 Titanium's mark and its zippier performance (compared with 1.2-litre offerings) offsets that to an extent. Otherwise, the Ford’s steering is quick, sufficiently light and reasonably precise, plus the ride quality is fair.
Ford resisted the temptation to opt for a too-low profile of tyre on the 15-inch alloys, to the benefit of the Figo's ride quality.
Although an electronic stability control programme is not offered, the Figo has ABS with EBD and 6 airbags (front-, side- and curtain bags), whereas its rivals only have 2. Over and above remote central locking, a self-locking function, an alarm and immobiliser, the 1.5 Titanium features Ford MyKey, which parents of tweens might like. Ford says it “allows owners to programme a key for younger drivers that can inhibit incoming phone calls, restrict top speed, reduce audio system maximum volume and disable the audio system altogether if occupants aren’t using safety belts.”
Value for money
The 1.5 Titanium’s most obvious rival is the Volkswagen Polo Vivo hatch 1.6 Highline, which costs R9 200 more (according to the August 2019 price list*). Although the VW offers a leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloys, ISOfix child seat anchor points, electronic stability control and a tyre pressure monitor (all of which the Figo doesn’t), the 1.6 Highline has manual aircon, no auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, and perhaps most tellingly, a shorter (3-year) warranty and optional service plan.
Basic instrument cluster is incongruent with the flashy infotainment system; a leather-trim would have smartened up the 'wheel.
For a mere R700 more than the Polo Vivo hatch 1.6 Highline and R9 900 over the Figo, buyers can consider the entry-level Mazda2 1.5 Active, which, despite being on the market for a fair while, is a well-made compact hatchback (a Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo competitor). It cannot hold a candle to the Ford in terms of spec (ahem, it has 15-inch steel rims, for example), but its 1.5 Individual sibling is a former #CarsAwards category winner, plus it comes with a 3-year warranty and service plan.
If interior space is not a major consideration, the flagship Kia Picanto 1.2 Smart costs R6 305* less than the Figo, but its luggage capacity is not much smaller than the Ford's. The Kia may not have electric windows all round, climate control and rain-sensing wipers, but it comes with 15-inch wheels, auto lights and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system (as with the VW and Ford, compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), a reverse-view camera, LED lamps, electrically folding side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and rear PDC. Its warranty is valid for 5 years and a 2-year service plan is standard.
At R221 300, the feature-rich 1.5 Titanium trounces its archrival Polo Vivo in terms of standard kit. Its service plan is a big plus.
Lastly, Suzuki recently introduced a 1.2 GLX derivative of its Swift, of which the 1.2 GL version is our 2018/19 #CarsAwards Budget Car category winner. Priced at just under R200k (R199 900*), the 1.2 GLX doesn’t have auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, but it matches the Figo’s climate control, 7-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system with voice command integration, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and reverse-view camera. It additionally features a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless access and Start/Stop button. Like the Vivo, Mazda2 and Picanto, it only has 2 airbags and its 1.2-litre motor, although very fuel-efficient, is not as punchy as the Ford’s. Its 5-year warranty (on promotion*) and 2-year service plan is compelling, however, considering Suzuki is a 2-time Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank Brand of the Year winner.
Price and after-sales support
The Ford Figo 1.5 Titanium costs R221 300, which includes a 4-year/120 000 km warranty and 4-year/60 000 km service plan (price correct as stated in August 2019). Service intervals are every year/15 000 km.
The 1.5 Titanium is a compelling product from a marketing point of view, but perhaps its lesser siblings suit its packaging better?
Ford sought to ramp up the value for money offering at the top end of its Figo range when it launched the 1.5 Titanium and, in many ways, it has succeeded. In terms of the suite of features it offers as standard, it bests its rivals around its price point.
If Ford could additionally fit a leather-trimmed steering wheel, electrically-folding mirrors, keyless entry and start, ISOfix child seat anchors, plus rear PDC (which some of its rivals have), the flagship Figo derivative would be a full-house proposition. Its 4-year warranty lags behind only that of the aforementioned Kia Picanto and Suzuki Swift, plus its 4-year service plan is longer than that of the Mazda2 (by a year), Kia and Suzuki (2 years) and Volkswagen Polo Vivo (which doesn’t have one, but can be specified at extra cost).
The biggest impediment to the 1.5 Titanium’s success, however, is that Ford’s build quality cannot match that of its German, Japanese and Korean rivals, all of which have derivatives that have either won, or finished as finalists in our #CarsAwards, which speaks volumes of the lofty levels of after-sales service that those brands offer (remember, 50% of the finalists’ scores in the awards programme is based on the performance of brands in our ongoing Ownership Satisfaction Survey). Quality issues can be addressed; it's up to Ford to make its flagship Figo a better-made product.