2018 Ford Aspire Facelift: First Drive Review
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Does a new engine make the new Ford Aspire petrol a car worth considering? We find out
Comfortable, Spacious and presentable, Ford’s Aspire has a lot going for it. However, the lack of petrol engines and a full equipment list hasn't helped it's case. The diesel Aspire though won a fan following of enthusiasts thanks to its lively nature and driving dynamics. But now the faclifted Aspire gets a new gearbox for the diesel and a new petrol engine - the lively 1.2-litre Dragon from the Freestyle. Does the new petrol engine finally make the Aspire petrol an option worth considering? And with the market again shifting towards petrol, has Ford played it smart by giving importance to petrol engines again?
Engine and transmission
The biggest change in the updated Aspire are the new petrol powertrains. Ford’s compact sedan now comes with the Dragon series petrol engines. The 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engine has been carried forward as is. So we will be focusing more on the new petrol powertrains.
The Dragon series 1.2- and 1.5-litre petrol engines have been carried over from the Freestyle and the EcoSport. The 1.5-litre engine makes 123PS of power and 150Nm of torque but it’s available with the 6-speed AT gearbox only. The 2018 Ford Aspire facelift we drove had the 1.2-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine that produces 96PS of max power and 120Nm of torque, which makes it one of the most powerful engines in its class. It is mated to a new Getrag 5-speed gearbox which, according to Ford, assists in providing a better fuel economy than before.
Although, it does need to be revved if you want to have fun, but the sweet spot lies just above 3000rpm that is not only approachable but also more forgiving on the consumption front. You only need to rev it all the way up to 6000rpm if you really intend to test the limits of the vehicle. At sedate speeds, it is equally well mannered and there is ample torque available to perform quick overtaking manoeuvres. Then there is the 5-speed gearbox that feels like a treat to use. The shifts are precise and the clutch is light. Third gear again, like for the diesel, is the car’s sweet spot where it can pull from 20kmph to 120kmph with ease.
The 1.5-litre diesel, on the other hand, makes a sprightly 100PS of max power and 215Nm of torque. This engine gets a new Getrag 5-speed gearbox too. Let’s talk about the diesel first. It retains its punchy nature and accelerates like a bullet as soon as the needle goes past the 1800rpm mark. Its acceleration is relentless and the 215Nm of torque makes itself felt in more ways than one. You can be in any gear and a gentle push on the throttle is all that’s needed to propel the car forward. Out on the highway, you can leave it in 5th and not worry about shifting down even if the speed drops to the lower fifties. You can also power out of corners in a gear higher than you normally would and the Aspire always responds with a bucketful of torque
The new Getrag transmission feels light and precise. Effort while shifting is minimal, though you do need to get used to the collar for putting into reverse. It is at its most versatile in third as it will pull from 30 to 110kmph with ease. It is equally comfortable sitting at triple-digit speeds and a dab of the right foot is enough to perform even the most unplanned of overtaking manoeuvres.It is still a treat to drive with ample torque at your disposal.
Ride and handling
Simply put, the ride is a considerable improvement over the old car. The upsized wheels on the Titanium do help in gliding over bumps. Both the petrol and diesel variants feel planted most of the time. All undulations are tackled with ease and there is little that can upset them. Even the rougher sections of road will pose little threat to the balanced suspension setup of the Aspire.
There are a few niggles though, the footwell feels a bit vibey, especially north of 80kmph. The rear feels a bit floaty at high speeds as well. The feeling is not intrusive or a deal breaker but it is present. There is a fair amount of tyre noise too that tends to creep into the cabin. This becomes especially prominent on rough tarmac, so state highways can be a noisy affair. In addition, you feel the vibe rather than hear them. Although, music does provide a good distraction.
The steering on both cars is quite sharp and precise. Turn ins are precise and you have decent feel from the tyres as well. The petrol, though, feels lighter than the diesel to chuck into corners. The driving experience overall is quite lively and a rare mix of a good ride and fun driving dynamics.
The 2018 Ford Aspire is an updated version of the car it replaces. The headlamps are similar to the ones we’ve seen on the freestyle. The silver headlamp surrounds have been binned in favour of a smoked finish. There’s a generous amount of chrome on the front grille which is now sleeker and features a honeycomb-type pattern. And then, thanks to some more chrome on the bumper, the car looks more premium. But we think, going by its sporty nature, an all-black grille would’ve worked better. Overall, the proportions are the same and the familiarity does work in the car’s favour. At the rear, it gets updated taillamps with revised detailing and a redesigned bumper.
It also gets 15-inch wheels compared to 14-inch ones of the old car. These, however, are available with the Titanium variants only. The 15-inch wheels do add a bit of muscle to the car and give it a more upmarket appeal.
The cabin, though not heavily updated, does get some new nifty features. The variant we drove was the top-of-the-line Titanium+ trim which now gets the new SYNC3 touchscreen infotainment system along with rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlamps. Buyers will be happy to note that Ford offers a touchscreen infotainment system and climate control from the Trend+ variant onwards. But SYNC3 is reserved for the Titanium+ variant only. The Titanium+ also gets two USB ports, while only one is offered from Ambiente to Titanium. In terms of safety, dual front airbags, ABS with EBD and rear parking sensors are offered as standard.
The SYNC3 system works seamlessly and features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The touch is intuitive and the touch interface, coupled with physical buttons makes it relatively easier to operate while driving. Front seats are comfortable and offer better lumbar support than before. There is ample room in the rear to seat two adults in comfort and you now get adjustable headrests as standard too.
However, anyone over six feet in height will feel constrained for headroom and the narrow footwells up front also can be an issue for taller occupants, especially on the passenger side. The reason for that is the larger AC compressor that takes up quite a bit of room up front, eating into the footwell width. There are also no rear door pockets which are a big miss. On the bright side however, you do get a manically powerful AC which negates the need for rear AC vents.
The Aspire diesel was preferred over the petrol for its exciting driving dynamics. But with the new 1.2-litre petrol, Ford has truly multiplied Aspire’s abilities as it now delivers the Ford experience while keeping everyday needs firmly in focus. Moreover, no other car in its segment offers a petrol engine that is as powerful. It’s main rival, the Maruti Suzuki Dzire makes 83PS compared to the Aspire’s 96PS. The K-series trumps Aspire’s TiVCT in terms of refinement. But, Aspire offers a strong mid-range (2500-3000rpm) whereas Dzire relies on top end power (4000-6000rpm). It is also engaging and fun to drive.
Yes, it doesn’t offer the bragging rights of DRLs and projector headlamps but provides all that matters. You get a touchscreen infotainment system and climate control Trend+ onwards, along with ABS, dual airbags and rear parking sensors as standard. In the top-end variant it gets side and curtain airbags, SYNC3 (easily the best infotainment system in its segment) and a reversing camera. Plus, you get a car that can be a breeze to drive in the city and is fun in the corners. And with a starting price of Rs 5.55 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the Aspire is lighter on the pocket than the outgoing model. The pricing of the petrol Trend+ variant is similar to the older Trend variant and the new Trend+ is a massive step up from it. Anyone looking for a practical and fun to drive petrol sedan, to drive it themselves, should consider the Aspire as an option.
Words: Kshitij Sharma, Photography: Vikrant Date