Friday, September 16, 2016

Ford Figo Aspire - Golden Gatsby completes first year

My Figo Aspire Titanium TDCi completed first year on the 4th of September this year as I recollect visiting Talera Ford Gunjan Talkies outlet at Yerwada on a Friday morning and it was a moment no less than a movie opening night for me. Figo Aspire won my heart and mind during its test drive trailer kind of sneak peek. Overall design of Aspire with the commanding front grille grew over slowly and that rush of experiencing exhilarating torque every time you hit the pedal is still alive and kicking.

Ford Figo (KA+ International Version) has recently been nominated under the urban car category for the 2017 World Car Awards, Aspire is also based on the same design and platform. Ford has reduced price for the top end titanium version on both Figo and Aspire for this festive season.

I was aware about the changing trends of consumer preference for passenger cars shifting from diesel to petrol, the hot favorite compact sedan segment had started to have been overtaken by SUV/MUV and premium hatchback cars. I had planned to look at all options where my on road cost of buying any new car did not go beyond 10.50 Lakhs INR. I did have diesel car on first priority because of my daily driving distance and for fuel economy. My decision to buy another petrol car was swaying between automatic OR premium interior and feature packed variants.

Exchanging my 5 year old Beat (LT Petrol) for another car of an American brand made me felt apprehensive initially because most car buyers like to play safe with the top 3 brands in India. I was willing to risk trying Ford brand for the machine itself and frankly speaking every time I used to hear or read about General Motors shrinking market presence, I never felt that my Beat had given me serious issues during the entire ownership period and overall feedback on after sales service was mostly positive for me with Singh Motors. Ford India is having a bumpy ride currently and probably would continue this streak in near future too when it comes to sustaining consumer interest in their cars. I would come back to this later with a brief analysis of why the Figo twins could not manage to generate any significant buzz post launch phase.

For me the joy of daily driving and having dealer outlet + workshop presence closer to my residence is far more important than the extra cash earned by the car on resale. One should be worried about the after sales service of a manufacturer if most dealers in their location/city have a bad track record and if service center of a 'XYZ' brand closes however new ones do not come up. While interacting with service center staff we are not just dealing with the brand but with human beings too so it matters how good you can be in forging a temporary rapport with the service advisor. Car buyers do not crave for flashy lounges, free refreshments and frequent special attention however some basics are essential for car companies to meet satisfactory standards that help in building positive customer feedback.

Car owners who drive their vehicles in urban areas most of the time have backing of well-established service and spare parts network of all major car manufacturers so unless you take your car out on the highways too frequently the lack of a wide service network should not be a concerning factor. Without further ado I now share my 1st year ownership experience of Figo Aspire which is almost like a fresh detailed review supported with some stats that I could manage to maintain diligently for the comparison.

Kms Clocked – 14,000+

Engine & Transmission:

  • TDCi engine definitely shines for Figo Aspire and it comes not just with power but offers good economy if you can manage to drive this car in a disciplined way.
  • Suitable for quick overtakes in the city, spirited driving on the highway and it does not disappoint with any lag whatsoever below 2K RPM for sedate driving moments.
  • Rev happy engine that starts picking up pace with a linear power delivery from 1100 RPM itself and I think probably a second phase of torque kicks in around 1700-1900 RPM band, behaves well even when pushed up to 3K RPM. Aspire does not require frequent downshifting once you get a hang of the engine behavior and acceleration cues.
  • Throttle response is mature and the engine does not get overtly grumpy to bother you with noise inside the cabin. Gear throw feels slightly longer than other cars I have driven and reverse gear slotting requires improvement.
Fuel Mileage
With great power comes great mileage?? No, Not possible right!

  • I am content with Figo Aspire even if it does not deliver stellar mileage like the big league best sellers, it has given me acceptable fuel economy for the power and torque it packs. I was factoring threshold of 17 kmpl mileage in city and up to 21 kmpl on highway driving during regular use to the ARAI certified figure of 25.83 kmpl for this diesel Aspire.
  • I have managed to extract 25kmpl mileage on Mumbai Pune expressway with engine revving restricted to 2K band on RPM and speed not exceeding beyond 90 kmph. Figo Aspire goes out only on weekdays for office commute and very rarely do I take it out on weekends for short trips in the city. City-Highway drive ratio is at 90:10 for the first year. AC was in full use during summer and during monsoon I did not need to use it much, also had to turn on defogger occasionally for short duration.
Driving last month to work was horrendous as it took me minimum 2.5 hours to cover a distance of approx. 56 km, this went on for at least 10 days in a row. Come September and Lord Ganesha brought in much wanted relief as monsoon took a pause and the overall volume of traffic slid into a relaxed zone with the advent of Ganesh Utsav. I reset secondary trip meter on every first day of the month and captured mileage stats in the images below from 1st and 2nd September to give you an idea of the ideal mileage Aspire is capable of delivering in city with moderate to low traffic.
                                                         1st September 2016
2nd September 2016
The second set of stats put together is from a mileage tracking app I use on phone called ‘aCar’ this comparison has Sep’14 – Aug’15 (Beat Petrol + i10 Petrol) numbers pitched against Sep’15 – Aug’16 (Aspire Diesel + i10 Petrol). The absolute fuel savings due to switch of one petrol car to diesel is obvious which also factors retail fuel price reduction from last year that continued to be stable up to June this year. (Please note that this is not a complete car ownership cost which normally should include other things like car maintenance charges, EMI, Insurance etc.)

The i10 was extensively driven last year so it returned decent city mileage and Beat was too stable in its own category. This year i10 was lying idle for the first half of 2016 and was used for very short trips around residence, battery also went kaput exactly on completing 2nd year on the calendar. Aspire on the other hand has covered most miles and apart from one tyre puncture incident and few days of driving on low PSI unknowingly in July there were no major issues that impacted its mileage. 


Driving and Handling
  • Ground clearance is good and I have not encountered any weird or damaging under body scraping incidents.
  • Steering has only height adjustment, no tilt/telescopic feature. It manages to stay light while driving in the city and gains confidence inspiring weight at the center when cruising at high speed. ABS and EBD have saved me quite a few close shaves due to sudden braking while driving in B2B traffic.
  • Suspension is very comfortable and tuned suitably to deal with non-threatening potholes & bumpy roads with ease, body roll for rear passengers is hardly felt. If the road condition is really bad then noticeable body roll is experienced in the front seats.
  • Crosswind sound does creep into the cabin if you drive at high speed on the highway however it is not too disturbing and bearable. A-Pillar is not obstructive so one does not have to be overcautious while taking turns or at crossings. Small size of side OVRM’s does take time to adjust.
  • OEM MRF ZVT 175/65 tyres would be up for swap with Michelin 185/65 tyres next year. When I got the wheel alignment and balancing done recently, the MRF advisor showed me faint lines appearing on the tyre sidewalls which do not look like cracks but I would have to be watchful. No other signs of evident wear and tear were noticed.
 Interior & Exterior condition 
  • The beige interior surely gives an airy feel inside however I just cannot prevent my kid from leaving new stains and smudges on seat covers, near the door and window panels, so my car is also due for a proper interior cleaning service. I had got it done once during the 3rd month.
  • Dashboard is nice and simple without too much gloss on the panel edges and since my car stays mostly under shade at office parking the plastic material has not lost its sheen and with regular polishing done during servicing it has maintained proper black levels. I do not find missing storage slots on rear doors or the lack of touchscreen gadgets bothering anymore, various slots which have been provided inside the cabin is well thought of and the concealed mobile holder that opens up like the head of the “Predator” movie alien is the most used utility for me. It saves unnecessary trouble of mounting phone on mobile stands or holders. The boot door has stopped opening up abruptly after second service.
  • I have got compliments on the rear seat legroom from office colleagues and friends and my strain on left leg caused due to repeat clutch action has disappeared thanks to the ergonomic seating of Ford Aspire. I have not felt too tired or exhausted physically even if occasional city logjams tend to get me upset mentally by the time I make it home.
  • When it comes to exterior the charm of Aspire, it has managed to keep it fresh and classy in a good and bad way! Good because there is no close resemblance of the front grille with any other manufacturer. Side profile, front hood and roof lines are almost a close match to last gen Hyundai Verna. The rear section though looks proportionate it still feels bland like that of Chevrolet Sail. I am surprised that Ford is still not offering rear camera or sensors, they could have surely added these in the package instead of going for a full blown price reduction. Also like Ecosport ford should think of providing DRL’s for Aspire and a chrome fitting for the fog lights as this would enhance the front looks.
  • Noticed minor paint chipping at places it is not expected to like the black coat on the external section of the window, few uneven panel gaps have stayed the way they were at time of purchase so no major issues there. 
Service Center and Dealer Feedback 
  • I would rate Talera Ford at 6.5/10 in terms of 3 service visits undertaken until now. I took them to task during the second servicing when they first missed out on logging my service appointment in the system and later on I found that my car and personal records were not updated despite sharing car document copies with the service advisor during first visit. The mistake committed in data entry at time of purchase continued to stay as is in their system. After second service was completed I found that the car had polish stains on seat cover and on some sections of beige panels around windows and doors. I immediately got this escalated to the workshop manager who heard me out patiently and offered me complimentary 3M interior cleaning service, had a one to one chat again after the job was done and personally got my records updated in the system.
  • Their workshop customer lounge is not very modern but spacious and staff is friendly and responsive. Service advisors are upfront in giving details of work that is going to be done and follow up on calls is consistent until the car is delivered. The major gripe I have is with their cleaning staff which is not cautious with interior cleaning. I have availed free pick up and drop facility from them, have found executives who come to collect and deliver car to be professional, punctual and patient to note down things you want the service advisor to call you back for.
  • I have spent only INR 2K on servicing cost in the first year and INR 5K paid for a minor dent adjustment and painting work. The dent pressure landed exactly on the Figo Aspire badge which cost the most as some car brushed on Aspire boot door while reversing in an open parking of a dimly lit ground in night. The second free application of 3M coating was also carried out last month.
  • The 2nd year insurance costed me almost 7-8K extra for renewing it via dealer because I was not sure if I wanted to go for a regular insurance first when Bajaj Allianz contacted me with the original policy, in the meanwhile I did not take time out to compare plans online as I was doubtful that the dealer was skimming good enough margin here. I was busy with work commitments so just wanted to get over with the renewal and chose Zero depreciation plan from New India Assurance. IDV depreciation was accounted at 16% from last year.
Brand Feedback
  • Ford India has been diligent in responding to my emails in general and followed up on my complaint with the dealer during second service. I get feedback calls after each service appointment and alerts via SMS.
  • Figo Twins have not performed well in terms of sales and Ford felt the heat when Creta and Baleno onslaught began last year, It remains to be seen if the last resort they have used in bringing down prices for both Figo and Aspire works out for them or not. Here are few things Ford India failed to do or should have done that could have given some standing ground to market these new launches in a better way:
  • Chose to run a full-fledged promotional campaign with Farhan Akhtar to build hype around the launch.
  • Marketing efforts fizzled post launch, I never came across any campaign that maintained a regular connect with the consumers. Manual Petrol engine disappointed many.
  • Ford’s marketing strategy was very subdued with lack of regular advertisements on TV, Radio, Print and even their social media strategy is not up to the mark. One or two TV advertisements that came on air were lame and completely forgettable, companies like Nissan were making their presence felt in events like T20 World Cup, and new Linea launched by Fiat has a TV ad with that girl dressed as fairy sitting in the car with her dad it has high recall value due to the emotional connect. A brand like Datsun managed to score a catchy tune for Redi-Go and their TV adverts felt young and refreshing.
  • Many Ford loyalists blamed the company for going with cost cutting and changing the core ‘Ford Driving DNA’ for which they preferred their cars earlier.
  • Brands like Maruti and Hyundai were correctly projecting Baleno and Creta as slick, modern and mean machines ensuring their advertisements were backed up with consistent print campaigns and their dealers also run their own promotional content in print media.
  • There were also reports of dealers been unable to handle back to back launches which never allowed the company also to devise a strategy for both products to find enough customers. When Ford finally saw things were not going the right way for Figo Twins they woke up to unleash a 200 crore promotional campaign at a time when they were booted out of the race completely, their condition is not deplorable however as a brand they are either operating in denial mode or put off their game where they do not intend to recover soon.
  • Maruti is holding the fort strong in the new launch section with Baleno, Vitara Brezza and Hyundai going strong with Creta and i20 elite. Maruti has even managed to find decent number of takers for the S-Cross after it corrected prices across all variants and their association with the television series ‘24’ has not gone unnoticed.
  • Above points indicate that Ford could have not gone wrong with the Figo Twins however the customer expectations for the passenger car market are evolving at a rapid pace and not all companies would be able to meet it on time and with the right fit product. If a company fails to make the right move at the right time it’s an opportunity lost forever.
Closing Notes
Major issues faced - None

Minor issues faced – Body rattling problem on LHS side on the rear section and vibrating noise below the dashboard on 1st gear was addressed during 1st and 3rd service.

Any modifications made - None

Warranty claims – Music unit had a problem of going on mute randomly when engine used to be switched off while halting at traffic signal. Ford had sent an engineer from Sanand plant to get this verified and replaced it without any cost very promptly.

Year One Verdict: First year ownership of my Figo Aspire has been hassle free overall and the blue oval has now matured enough to be named as the Golden Gatsby which is apt to its situation where a product like the diesel version has almost everything in the right place in terms of safety, features, power and balanced economy however it never got the acceptance it could have got for its potential, almost in a situation like Leonardo DiCaprio was before things turned around for him finally this year!

If you are in the market looking for an upgrade to your hatchback or simply interested to drive a powerful diesel car under 10 lakh budget you can test drive Figo Aspire for once before taking the final leap. Always base your decision to go with your requirement and preferences and never get influenced by popular opinion or trends.

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