New to the local market, how does Ford’s new tall-riding Figo Freestyle compare to a popular crossover peer, the Renault Sandero Stepway Techroad? We get testing…
Tested in a comparative back to back in our August 2017 issue, the Sandero Stepway (in top-spec Plus guise), fell short against its Volkswagen Cross Up and Suzuki Ignis rivals. Much has changed since. The Sandero Stepway has received some welcome interior and exterior updates, while the Plus moniker was ditched in favour of the catchier Techroad label. In 2018, Ford joined the growing compact crossover fray, revealing its Freestyle-badged Figo. While it did take two years to arrive on local shores, the range-topping 1,5 Titanium is a fitting rival to an established favourite in the Sandero Stepway Techroad. So, beware; these hatchbacks are crossing.
Dressed in (optional) Canyon Ridge paintwork, replete with a set of dark grey alloy wheels, the top-spec Figo Freestyle’s exterior hue contrasts pleasantly with the Sandero Stepway Techroad’s blue paintwork and silver alloys at our shoot location. For a couple of cars in the R250 000 price bracket, both look excellent. To enhance their SUV-like styling, they are fitted with faux skid plates fore and aft, black plastic side mouldings, (usable) roof rails and a smattering of exterior decals announcing their top-of-the-range status. Viewed front on, there’s little to separate the two but the Renault is far more arresting, thanks to its distinctive C-shaped LED daytime-running lights.
Measuring 4 072 mm bow to stern, the Renault is 112 mm longer than the Figo. However, as far as width is concerned, at 1 770 mm, the Ford is 37 mm wider than its French rival. Thanks to a slight height advantage (measuring 1 559 mm), the Renault offers the most headroom for both front and rear occupants – 17 mm and 119 mm, respectively – compared to the Ford. The Renault features leather-upholstered seats with contrasting blue stitching, while the Ford utilises comfortable cloth seats that are by no means inferior in their execution.
It’s the Ford that boasts more rear legroom, with passengers benefitting from an additional 66 mm for their knees. The trade-off is a boot smaller than its rival. Whereas the newest addition to the Figo line-up offers 200 litres of packing space, the Sandero’s luggage compartment swallows a total of 268 litres; and when the 60:40-split seatbacks are folded and the cabin filled to the brim with our industry-standard ISO blocks the Renault offers 144 litres more utility space than the Ford. Yet, the Ford is easiest to load as the lip of the luggage compartment is 35 mm lower than the Renault’s … so swings and roundabouts in the practicality stakes. A few team members commented that additional compartments for storing valuables would have been appreciated in both vehicles.
Stepping inside each of these crossovers reveals interiors largely furnished with utilitarian and hard-wearing plastics. Even so, their perceived interior build quality is very respectable; the cabins are well put together and, during their tenure as test cars in the CAR garage, none of the team members noticed any interior creaks or rattles. Noise vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are good for cars in this price bracket, although team members commented the Renault’s smaller turbocharged engine was more audible than the Ford’s unit when cruising at the national limit.
Lifting their otherwise basic cabins, both the Techroad and Freestyle feature a touch of gloss trim on their facias and leather-wrapped steering wheels. It is, however, the Ford’s interior that received praise from the CAR team, with the cabin rated as palpably more premium than that of its French rival.
In terms of convenience items, for the money, the Renault and Ford are handsomely equipped. Touchscreen displays – measuring 7,0 inches in the Renault and 6,5 inches in the Ford – are within easy reach of the driver and front passenger, and a doddle to operate on the move. Both setups feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, Bluetooth connectivity and voice control. Furthermore, the Renault gains satellite navigation software and has a single USB port for connecting and charging smart devices, while the Ford foregoes sat-nav but is fitted with two USB sockets for your gadgets.
Although utilising a slightly smaller touchscreen, the Ford’s Sync3 software is more polished, thanks to its crisp, legible graphics and straightforward menu system. In addition, its interior layout received nods of approval from the testers, with particular appreciation for the smartphone shelf sited below the automatic climate controls, within close proximity of the USB ports. The Renault, meanwhile, only features manual air-conditioning.
Although it goes without automatic climate control, the Renault gains points for being equipped with cruise control and audio controls located on a column-mounted stalk on the right-hand side of the steering wheel. The Ford counters with automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and keyless ignition, although some team members noted they would’ve preferred keyless entry as well. Adding to the Figo Freestyle’s leisure-orientated persona are durable rubber mats and a boot carpet. At this point, we must also mention the Sandero’s extra-length antenna. During the test period, team members noted it could easily be damaged when driving into low undercover parking areas, for example, and it had a tendency to tap on the roof in a strong headwind. Renault might want to consider replacing it when the updated model arrives.
Thanks to the fitment of rear-view parking cameras and reverse park-distance sensors, tight parking manoeuvres are easily dealt with. Additional safety equipment in the Ford includes six airbags, whereas the Renault makes do with two fewer airbags but gains a middle-passenger three-point seat belt and Isofix child-seat anchorage points on the rear bench. The Ford is fitted with only a lap belt.
Finding your preferred driving position is a cinch in either car, thanks to easy manual-adjustment drivers’ seats, but we would have liked a rake and reach adjusting steering wheel in both cars.
Fitted with a set of 15-inch alloy wheels, the 60-inch profile rubber and independent McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension arrangement on the Ford soaks up road imperfections with aplomb. The Renault; with 16-inch alloy wheels and 55-inch profile tyres, did an admirable job of riding over unfavourable tarmac and the occasional spot of gravel. We did note, however, that the Ford’s overall ride quality and damping were more resolved than that of the Renault. Despite riding 190 mm off the ground in the Ford and 193 mm in the Renault, only a minimal amount of body roll was present when cornering.
The Ford felt planted on the road and provided better feedback to the driver. The Renault’s electrically assisted rack, while good, wasn’t as direct and at times felt less connected at higher speeds. The Renault’s light steering was appreciated during parking manoeuvres, though.
Another feather in Ford’s cap comes courtesy of the Figo’s manual gearbox; the five-speed cog-swapper is a joy to operate with its short shift gate and precise action making for effortless progress in traffic and out on the open road. The Renault’s five-speed gearbox, while durable-feeling, lacks the Ford’s short-throw precision and interaction.
The crucial difference between these two cars sits beneath their bonnets. Whereas the Ford is endowed with a 1,5-litre naturally aspirated three-cylinder petrol
engine, the Renault’s 0,9-litre triple is equipped with a turbocharger. Thanks to the fitment of this blower, the Renault’s 66 kW and 135 N.m of torque are on offer at 5 250 r/min and from 2 500 r/min, respectively. During performance testing, the Ford’s larger capacity engine impressed, proving that – in this instance, at least – bigger is better.
Producing a hearty 91 kW and 150 N.m of torque, with the latter arriving at a peakier 4 250 r/min in the rev range, the Ford’s free-breathing powerplant propelled the 1 053 kg (measured with a full tank of fuel) Figo to the 100 km/h marker from standstill in an impressive 10,22 seconds. On our test strip, the 32 kg heavier (according to our measurements) and less powerful Renault recorded a 0-100 km/h sprint time that was 4,46 seconds slower. In-gear acceleration showed up similar results, with the Ford besting the Renault through each of the 20 km/h increments in third, fourth and fifth gear.
In fourth gear, the Ford accelerated from 80-120 km/h and 100-140 km/h 2,31 seconds and some 5,86 seconds quicker than the Renault. Acceleration in fifth gear between the same increments was rated at 19,63 seconds and 23,72 seconds for the Ford, and 24,43 seconds and 33,75 seconds for the Renault. From these figures, we can deduce that a calculated approach to overtaking is required in the Renault.
Taking back some initiative, during our stringent 10-stop emergency braking test, the Renault came out on top. The 258 mm front discs and rear drums brought the Renault to a halt in an average time of less than 3,0 seconds, handing it an “excellent” rating. Measuring a similar diameter to those of the Renault, the Ford’s front brake discs and slightly smaller rear drums only managed to achieve a “good” braking rating, with a recorded average of 3,10 seconds. Best braking times were rated at 2,88 and 2,94 seconds for the Renault and Ford, respectively.
Interestingly, despite manufacturer claims, on our mixed-use fuel route, the larger-engined Ford proved the more fuel efficient of the two, with its trip computer indicating 6,60 L/100 km. The Renault completed the same exercise consuming 6,70 L/100 km. Match the figures with the tank size and the 42-litre tank of the Ford should only require a top-up every 636 km, while the Renault’s 50-litre fuel tank affords it a potential operating range of 746 km before a visit to the fuel station.
Tested here, the top-spec Ford Figo Freestyle and Renault Sandero Stepway Techroad are both highly commendable crossover hatchbacks, featuring myriad convenience items and safety equipment as standard, all wrapped in stylish yet robust exterior designs. They offer excellent value for money and are certainly worth considering for consumers whose pockets don’t quite stretch to upmarket alternatives like the Renault Duster or Ford EcoSport. Interestingly, the Sandero Stepway Techroad struggles to top the Figo Freestyle’s punchy naturally aspirated engine, superior ride quality, driving dynamics and premium cabin. In addition, the Ford offers the better service plan (four-year/60 000 km vs. the Renault’s two-year/30 000 km).
It’s fair to say that when viewed in isolation, the Sandero Stepway Techroad is a fine product. Yet, testing it next to the powerful and polished Figo Freestyle highlights its shortcomings and hands the win to Ford.
Ford Figo Freestyle: Four stars
Renault Sandero Stepway Techroad: Three-and-a-half stars