Ford Aspire: First Drive Expert Review
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The entry level sedan segment has evolved to be one of the most important segments in the Indian market scene and not without a reason. You already have some big players slugging it out here and now Ford has decided to jump in as well with an all-new car, the Ford Aspire.
Like I mentioned in the introduction, the entry level sedan is hotting up like never before and not without a reason. You have the Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire, the Honda Amaze, Hyundai Xcent and the Tata Zest offering a three box car with space, features, efficiency, a decent sized boot and all this at a price that is marginally over the price of an average hatchback. What was thoroughly lacking in this segment was a car with all this and the important good looking factor which Ford aims to change with the all-new Aspire. So is this new sedan just about looking good or is there more than meet the eye? Let’s find out…
While this segment had all the cars dishing out everything needed, design was an aspect which this segment sorely lacked. It’s not like the cars look ugly, but it was more of the proportions being off mainly because these were hatchbacks with boots stuck onto them which made them look odd. With the Aspire, it’s the other way around with the sedan making its debut first.
Now, we had already spotted the cars being tested a while ago - while they were camouflaged. The design has been retained and what a refreshing design it is, especially for this segment. What you notice first up is that wide gaping Aston-Martin-ish multi slatted grille which gives the car a nice handsome stance and along with the elongated headlamps looks pretty much like a Jr. Ford Fiesta. The swept-back lines of the windshield and A-pillars, help to give the Aspire its dynamic appearance while on the side the strong shoulder lines give it a muscular stance.
The only fly in the ointment are the 14 inch wheels that look a little small with respect to the overall stance of the car. The rear is subtler compared to the dynamic front and the muscular side. The boot gets an integrated spoiler with a thick chrome band running across with neatly designed tail lights that zig-zag into the boot section. The rear bumper also gets a fake plastic diffuser that tries to break the monotony especially in brighter colours. All said and done, the Aspire does come across as the best looking car in its segment.
While this might be a segment of cheaply priced sedans, the interiors better not show any cheapness. Ford has made sure that the interiors not only look good but feel good as well. What you notice first up is how wide the doors open as a result of which ingress and egress is a really easy affair.
Once seated you are welcomed by some nice roomy insides. The dashboard is a combination of black and beige which really looks good with a dash of glossy piano black thrown in which adds a dash of elegance. The layout of the dashboard is pretty similar to the other Fords, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
The Titanium variant came with a rather small screen which looked overwhelmed by a cluster of buttons. The Titanium plus variant however, gets a much bigger screen in a cavity just above the multimedia unit. Below the Multimedia unit are the aircon controls that again comes with a rather small display screen. It is easily readable though. The climate control system is extremely easy to use and works quite effectively as well.
The steering looks & feels great, is equally good to hold, and comes with the steering mounted controls on the left. Another thing you notice that is smaller than usual is the instrument console. Before we get to the size, the console itself is quite basic looking with primarily a black background and silver inserts. The console is one of the things in the car that you keep glancing at and we feel Ford could have tried a little harder here.
A large speedometer takes centre stage and is flanked by the rev counter and the fuel gauge on either sides. A much smaller fuel gauge and a bigger tacho would have certainly looked much better we think. A small window sitting below the speedo gives out the odo, tripmeter, avg fuel consumption and then some.
The driving position is pretty good and the seats hold you well in place. Moving to the back, there is ample legroom. It might not be as spacious as the Honda Amaze, but even with the front seats pushed all the way back, the knees still don’t foul. Sitting three abreast could be a little tight considering a majority of us Indians are a little more than healthy and the seats could do with some more under thigh support as well. And while we’re on the topic, we also noticed that in the petrol variant, the rear passengers can hear quite a bit of the exhaust thrum which can get a little irritating over long distances.
Other than that there is plenty of storage to store your knick knacks and the Aspire will make sure you are hydrated at all times with the bottle holders holding a 1.5 litre and a 1 litre bottle at the same time. The glovebox is large enough to swallow a laptop while, front passengers also get three cup holders.
The most interesting storage is located on the side of the dashboard which can be accessed only if the drive door is open, should you decide to carry some valuables.
The Aspire also gets a large 359 litre boot, which will swallow a family’s luggage with ease. The wheel wells do protrude into the boot, but the loading area remains large and usable.
The Aspire also comes with a long list of features, some of which are quite innovative. Let’s start with the MyFord Dock. What this does is allow the user for storing, mounting and charging mobile phones, MP3 players and satellite navigation systems, and for integrating these devices into the car’s entertainment system. When not in use, the dock can be closed out of sight.
Then there is the SYNC with AppLink which is Ford speak for the in-car connectivity system. Ford has also come up with a unique feature called MyKey which lets you program keys with restricted driving modes like increasing seatbelt use, limiting vehicle top speeds and regulating audio volume. Pretty cool. The Emergency Assistance finds its way into the Aspire as well which in case of a serious collision automatically call emergency responders and provide information about your vehicle and location.
Safety has been taken care of as well and the Aspire driver and passenger airbags standard along with side and curtain airbags available on the higher variants which is again a first in this segment. Other than that, the car is also equipped with Hill launch assist, ESP and ABS. Talk about being loaded.
Engine and Performance
Now this is a segment that demands good fuel efficiency over everything else and as a result most of these cars get the same engines as their hatchback cousins. The Aspire gets a choice of three engine options. There is a 1.2-liter Ti-VCT petrol that comes with a 5-speed manual transmission, a 1.5L TiVCT petrol engine that comes mated with the a PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission and finally a 1.5-liter TDCi diesel engine that comes with a 5-speed manual. There weren’t any automatics to drive, but we did manage to get our hands on the manual petrol and diesel.
The petrol first, the engine is quite refined on idle. The clutch action is light and the gear shift with a nice precise throw. On the move the Aspire feels decent as you shift up around 4000 rpm. All is well till you decide to get on with things. Planting the accelerator evoked barely a response and then you downshift to get some more go. However, there is very little go and plenty of straining noises. You expect the car to either make power at the bottom or at the top, however the 1.2 petrol struggles at both places. Even overtaking needs to be a planned affair as the petrol motor wheezes past slower moving traffic. With a full load, we think the 1.2 litre engines woes would only get worse. With 88 PS and 112 Nm of torque you expect more however, this engine is best suited for the city only. Ford claims an efficiency of 18.2 kmpl but that something we will have to validate once we get the car for testing.
Getting into the diesel is a stark contrast. The 1.5 litre TDCi pushes out an impressive 100 PS and 215 Nm of torque. While we did not get to drive it as extensively as the petrol, it is clearly leagues ahead of the lethargic 1.2 litre petrol. There is enough torque available all throughout the powerband and you barely need to downshift. Power delivery is quite linear and there isn’t too much turbo lag. The diesel is sure to handle city and highway jaunts effortlessly and is the pick of the choice till we get to drive the twin clutch auto. The diesel according to Ford dishes out 25.8 kmpl and we have no doubt that it will be the most fuel efficient of all three engines.
Ride and Handling
This is one area where Ford just cannot falter and the Aspire is no different. The suspension feels taut but yet very comfortable sprung. The damping is extremely good and this along with that talkative steering means you can really enjoy pushing the car around. Udaipur roads had plenty of straights and long sweeping corners and the Aspire handled both with aplomb. Straight line stability is excellent and the car can clearly handle a lot more power. Ride quality is pretty decent and it's only the really bad potholes that filter in. A full review will give us a better idea about the ride and handling but even now we think Ford has managed to get it quite right.
This is an extremely important product for Ford and with sales climbing, Ford will want to get into the action. Ford has really thought of everything when it came up with the Aspire and it shows. It’s the best looking car in its segment, it’s got well-appointed spacious interiors and plenty of new features that would keep even a tech geek happy. Its also good to see that Ford hasn’t compromised on safety. In fact the weak 1.2 litre petrol engine seems to be the only chink in Ford’s armour right now. The diesel is great to drive and efficient while the automatic variant is sure to offer convenience. For now we think Ford has almost done all the right things with the price being the only thing in question. Watch out for the launch and a full blown review coming soon.