When we tested the latest Ford Figo in 2016, it left me unimpressed with its basic Ambiente specification on the diesel model, which had manual winding windows at the rear and hubcaps instead of alloys and was priced around the R200 000 mark, which was a rather high price.
That model is still available, but is geared more towards fleet and rental markets. In its defence, it had a gutsy diesel engine, exemplary fuel economy and commodious passenger and boot spaces.
However, as a package, it did not convince and was a far cry from the previous generation Figo, which was based on the underpinnings of the fifth-generation Fiesta, an excellent package in its own right.
The marque has updated the Figo, which is sold as the Ford Ka in other markets such as the UK, and now sports a new and shiny mesh grille, revised front valance and fog lamp housing and 14-inch alloy wheels in the case of the 1.5 Trend hatchback version we tested.
The cabin remains fairly basic but you get Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port, which is hidden in the storage atop the dashboard where you can also put your phone.
Our test unit had a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine making 88kW and 150Nm and allied to a six-speed automatic gearbox. I was pleasantly surprised as it offered impressive get-up-and-go and scooting from traffic lights. Yes, it is not a Figo ST, but thanks to the low kerb weight there’s more than enough performance to keep up with faster-moving traffic.
The transmission is competent at swapping cogs and married well with the engine.
Taller individuals might find the rear quarters cramped and space is a bit tight for baby seats, but overall space remains the model’s forte with the boot offering 257l, good for cramming in the family’s groceries.
The Figo remains an easy car to drive and it proved more than competent ferrying my small family, but you will have to pack that boot carefully and a baby buggy is out of the question unless you recline the rear seats, which defeats the purpose if you are travelling with kids.
The ride quality is geared towards dealing with the daily rigours of SA’s roads — and scarred tar and speed bumps were easily dispensed with.
The driver controls are easily laid out and the cabin’s basic nature means there is little to fuss over.
We averaged, according to the onboard computer, 8.06l/ 100km, which was more than acceptable for a car of this size and engine displacement.
Compared to the original Fiesta-based Figo, the current generation is finding it difficult to gain traction with private buyers, simply because it is no longer the budget-beater its forbear was.
Suzuki recently launched its new Swift, which is keenly priced, solidly put together, fun to drive and a good, honest car for budget car buyers. However, space is a little tight here too and there are no fancy infotainment screens, which seem to be a big deal in this segment (the Figo gets round it by allowing you to fix your smartphone in the dash-top storage space).
There are a lot of choices in this segment to appease most tastes, but I am afraid the Figo is not the most obvious one as the competition seems to have grown in leaps and bounds.
Does that make the Figo a bad car then?
The simple answer is no, but it does not seem to have the edge its predecessor once commanded and now feels more middle-of-the-road than many of the other offerings.
At R205 700 the Figo does seem rather pricey when you consider overall specification and space.
Granted, it does come with an automatic transmission, which is great if you are an urban commuter, but as an overall package it lags behind more sophisticated offerings such as the Renault Sandero Stepway, the ubiquitous Volkswagen Polo Vivo and the Hyundai Grand i10, which would be some of my immediate choices in the segment.
Fast Facts: 2018 Ford Figo 1.5 Trend Automatic
Engine: 1 498cc three-cylinder petrol
Power: 88kW at 6 300rpm
Torque: 150Nm at 4 250rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 12-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 174km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 6.8l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 150g/km (claimed)
Price: From R205 700