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Hatch a good plan

autos Updated: Oct 06, 2009 19:19 IST
Hormazd Sorabjee
Hormazd Sorabjee
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Ford has revealed serious interest in the Indian auto market after unveiling the new Ford Figo in New Delhi at the global launch for this made-for-India hatchback a fortnight ago. But you don’t need the president and CEO of Ford Motor Company to jet down to India to tell you that the Figo is the most important Ford for us yet. Ford’s fortunes are riding on the Figo, which is aimed squarely at the heart of India’s small car market. In fact, the Figo is the main reason why Ford has invested US $500 million (Rs 2,405 crore) to double its capacity to 2,00,000 units per annum. It’s clear that Ford wants to leap into the big league alongside Maruti, Hyundai and Tata. But for a company that’s been on the sidelines of our market for the better part of a decade, it won’t be easy.

Well aware of the challenge before it, Ford India is throwing everything behind its new hatchback. “We believe the Ford Figo is a big game-changer for Ford in India that will help transform our brand into a volume player,” says Michael Boneham, president and managing director of Ford India.

This cool is hot
First impressions of the new Ford indicate that Boneham could be right on the money. The Figo — an all-new nameplate, which in colloquial Italian means ‘cool’ — looks hot. It’s hard to believe that the Figo is essentially a reskinned version of the previous-generation European Fiesta hatch on which the Indian Fiesta saloon is also based.

The Figo, which shares key elements of Ford’s Kinetic Design language with stablemates like the Mondeo, Focus and the latest European Fiesta, is quite a looker. Like the Ikon and Fiesta, the Figo takes its design and engineering cues from Ford Australia and is also unique to the Indian market.

The Figo’s nose is particularly distinctive and bears a strong resemblance to other ‘Kinetic’ Fords with a slim upper grille and a large and inverted lower grille, which impart a sense of energy and motion even in these photos. The lights have that stretched back look and appear to be quite striking. The 3.8-metre-long Figo has the same superb proportions greatly enhanced by muscular wheel arches and strong character lines that run across the sides. From the rear, the Figo’s roots are also obvious with the high-mounted vertical tail-lights and rear quarter-glass that characterised the Fiesta hatch and Fusion here. However, a different tailgate, completely new tail-light design and a smooth, chunky bumper give the Figo a dramatic and updated look. The Figo manages to look quite contemporary and the design and styling should work well in the segment of the market it plans to compete in.

Inside story
When unveiled in New Delhi, the Figo’s interiors were kept away from the prying eyes of the press. This is because the Figo will get a completely fresh interior package, including a brand new instrument panel, seats and trim. According to Ford insiders, the interiors are expected to set new standards for small hatchbacks combining class-leading aesthetics and functionality. The Figo is expected to have a similar amount of passenger space as its saloon siblings, built on the same 2, 486mm wheelbase as the Indian Fiesta and Ikon. Boot space is expected to be similar to the previous Fiesta hatch or around 253 litres.

The Figo is expected to come in three trim levels but it’s not certain if it will carry Ford’s terminology of Exi, Zxi or Sxi. The Figo will have the same suspension setup of the current Fiesta saloon, which means MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam axle at the rear. Like the Fiesta, the power steering is hydraulically assisted.

With known mechanicals from the Fiesta, we can expect the Figo to excel in the ride and handling department. And we can only hope for Ford to endow it with the same 1.6 engine to make the most of its competent chassis!

Twin motors
The Figo will initially be launched with two engine options — a petrol and a diesel. The diesel engine is one that we are all familiar with — the same 1.4 Duratorq 68bhp motor that powers the Ikon and Fiesta saloons. The Duratorq motor is incredibly responsive at low speeds and hugely economical too, which should suit urban driving conditions. Ford is tweaking this engine further not just to meet the upcoming Bharat Stage IV emission norms but also for better drivability and economy. Performance will be spirited thanks to a superior power-to-weight ratio (the Figo is expected to be 100 kg lighter than the Fiesta).

The Figo also gets a new all-aluminium 1.2-litre petrol motor that is a scaled-down version of the 1.4/1.6 Sigma petrol engines that power the Fiesta saloon. Apart from engine similarities to its cousins, the Figo will share common architecture like double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and an aluminium block. Though Ford has not revealed any details about the Figo’s powertrains, the 1.2 is expected to develop max power between 70 and 75 bhp.
These figures may not seem impressive in the company of other high-revving 1.2 petrol motors but Ford’s emphasis is again on drivability and economy. Ford insiders tell us that the 1.2 petrol will surprise owners with its low-end torque and responsive nature.

More for less
Ford is pitching the Figo to Indian consumers from the plank of affordability which means it has to be cheap to buy and cheap to run. Prices will only be announced next year before the car goes on sale in March 2010, but company sources indicate that Ford is planning to launch the Figo at a price that will give its rivals a run for their money. Ford has targeted the base Hyundai i10 as its price benchmark for the 1.2 petrol Figo which equates to Rs 3.6 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). The 1.4 diesel Figo is aimed at the Indica Vista diesel and can be expected to retail at around Rs 4.6 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).