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We consider three of the strongest contenders in the ever-important budget B-segment: the Ford Figo hatch 1,5 Trend, Volkswagen Polo Vivo 1,4 Comfortline and Suzuki Baleno 1,4 GL...

Traditionally aimed at first-time car buyers, South Africa’s evergreen budget B-segment has been brought into the spotlight more and more in a market where buyers are taking financial strain. While there remains a compelling second-hand market to delve into, as well as a selection of pocket-friendly city runabouts, those options bring a level of compromise, be it in specification or space. Where does a young professional or parents of a small family look in order to find reliable value for money while not compromising on safety or relative comfort?

At the forefront of this segment since the 1984 introduction of the Citi Golf, Volkswagen South Africa continues to make the most of its experience and resources to deliver impressively refined and carefully considered re-engineered versions of its popular Polo range. The latest of these is the newest Vivo. It is based on one of the most accomplished Polo platforms to date and the only concession towards keeping the asking price reasonable was how much of the Polo’s packaging to retain.

While the idea for the original Figo also relied heavily on familiarity with its then-departing Fiesta range, the launch of the second-generation model in 2016 saw the Figo adopt a somewhat more stand-alone character in Ford’s broader portfolio. Ever popular, the recently revised line-up includes the 1,5 Trend manual tested here.

Yes, the recently introduced Swift may seem like the obvious choice to rival the Vivo and Figo, yet Suzuki South Africa’s focus on value for money means that, for a slight stretch above our R200 000 budget, the altogether larger and more practical Baleno comes into play. The Swift, meanwhile, offers a neat buffer should you not want to break through the R200 000 ceiling.

Design and packaging

As alluded to in our earlier test of the Polo Vivo, opting for either Flash Red or optional (R950) Reef Blue metallic paintwork goes a long way to lifting the otherwise conservative, blend-in-with-the-crowd styling of this Volkswagen. However, there’s a lot to be said for the clean, familiar lines that so effortlessly carry on from where the ever-popular previous Polo left off.

Two years after its introduction – and coinciding with a consolidation of the range – the facelifted Figo includes an updated front-end including chrome-effect highlights on the grille and bumper on Trend models. Available in six exterior colours, three trim levels and two body styles (including a sedan), Ford will look to this updated Figo to introduce both young and young-at-heart buyers to the brand.

From a carmaker with a reputation for compact and quirky offerings, the Baleno’s somewhat more sophisticated positioning and stance compared with the rest of Suzuki’s current range of hatchbacks do leave it to rely more on its packaging than attention-grabbing looks. However, as we’ve discovered in two previous road tests, as well as a 12-month long-term test period with a GLX-spec unit, there remains a welcome amount of Suzuki charm and character in the Baleno.

While both Vivo Comfortline and Baleno GL specification include steel wheels with plastic covers as standard fitment (14 inches on the VW and 15 on the Suzuki), the Figo Trend package includes 14-inch alloy items in the purchase price. The GLX specification fitted to the Baleno you see here (a vehicle we used for the photo session) adds chromed door handles and tailgate trim, as well as a rear wing to the otherwise conservative-looking GL model.

Larger in nearly every exterior dimension than its platform-sharing fourth-generation Swift sibling, the Baleno easily trumps both the Polo Vivo and updated Figo in the size department. In real-world terms, this not only scores the Suzuki the largest luggage compartment here (at 296 litres, by our measurements), but also the most generous rear-passenger legroom.

By comparison, the Vivo is the least accommodating for rear occupants, both in its modest spacing and manually operated windows at the back. The Ford offers more legroom (and electric windows) but, unlike the Volkswagen, does so at the expense of luggage space. As a concession, Trend specification includes a 60:40-split rear backrest for increased packing space should the need arise.

Tallest in profile of these three, it’s a pity Ford didn’t think to include driver’s seat-height adjustment for the updated Figo package. Combined with a steering column adjustable only for rake, most testers criticised a slightly compromised (tall) driving position in the Blue Oval offering.

While you can adjust the Suzuki’s steering wheel only upwards or downwards, too, the ability to duplicate this movement with the driver’s seat increases your chances of finding a comfortable seating position. On this note, the amount of cushioning offered by the Suzuki’s cloth-covered seats received universal praise from the test team.

Slightly firmer in its seats, yet supportive in their cushioning, the Vivo makes the best of its fifth-generation Polo lineage to offer a full range of adjustment on both driver’s seat and steering column.

From the driver’s seat, it’s these Polo-based underpinnings that make the Volkswagen feel more substantial and well-finished compared with the other cars. It’s not to say either the Suzuki or Ford displayed any obvious frailties; it’s just that, despite the inevitable presence of hard plastics in each of these budget-friendly cabins, the Vivo with its Polo-based trimmings – including a soft-touch dash – sees its doors close with a more convincing thud.

A notable upgrade for the revised Figo package is a new centre-console architecture incorporating updated ventilation and audio controls; the former is supplemented by a neat new display screen and clever smartphone docking station disguised as a dash-mounted stowage compartment. While steering wheel-mounted controls are standard fitment in the Vivo and Baleno, again it’s a pity the Ford’s comprehensive bouquet of audio functionality doesn’t benefit from this handy feature, too.

While all three cars offer front airbags as standard fitment, the absence of Isofix child-seat anchorage points in the Ford could deter buyers with small children.

Performance

By far the most pleasant surprise of this comparison test is how well Ford’s new 1,5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine performs. Refined at idle yet plucky and free-revving on the move, it’s a naturally aspirated unit achieving an impressive balance between performance and efficiency. Even running on one fewer cylinder, the Figo reaches 100 km/h from standstill nearly three seconds faster than the Polo Vivo with its proven 1,4-litre engine.

Splitting these two is the Baleno, taking advantage of its lightweight frame (916 kg in GLX guise) to reach 100 km/h in 10,90 seconds. Despite the Figo’s clutch action being trickier to modulate than the third pedal in the other cars, all three contenders offer easy-going progress round town and are comfortable cruising at the national speed limit in fifth (top) gear.

While the Suzuki and Ford returned fuel-route figures of less than 6,0 L/100 km (allowing for a tank-to-tank range of around 600 km), the Volkswagen recorded a slightly thirstier 6,6 L/100 km on our standardised route.

Behind the wheel

Based on accomplished underpinnings, it is unsurprising to find the Vivo feels planted and surefooted on the road, combining well-weighted, precise steering and impressively compliant ride quality, even with optional larger wheels fitted.

While the aforementioned tall seating position adds to an initial top-heavy feeling in the Ford, it takes a few kilometres of driving to appreciate just how engaging and light on its feet the Figo is. Like the Baleno, the Ford’s India-sourced suspension architecture is engineered to cope with most road imperfections, while the Figo does a decent job of hiding corresponding body roll.

The Suzuki feels equally fleet of foot and is easily manoeuvrable around town. Unfortunately, a lightweight, vague electric power-steering system on this Baleno test vehicle meant it needed small but constant corrections to maintain a true course on the highway. While it’s inevitably something a Baleno owner would get used to, the Vivo and the Ford both feel more planted.

Each vehicle makes do with drum brakes at the rear coupled to an ABS system and all three vehicles were able to stop from 100 km/h in a consistent, confidence-inspiring manner.

Peace of mind

While resale values favour the Volkswagen, there’s a lot to be said for the proven track record and reputation for reliability the Suzuki brand has established through the years. In the meantime, Ford continues to deliver impressive new products, including the new Fiesta and Focus, and it’s therefore easy to see why it’s the third-largest manufacturer in South Africa.

Offered on the new Figo range is a four-year/120 000 km warranty and standard four-year/60 000 km service plan. Suzuki matches this service plan while offering a three-year/100 000 km warranty on its Baleno range. We criticised Volkswagen before for not offering a service plan as standard on the Polo Vivo range, and this shortcoming remains. A five-year/60 000 km service plan costs R8 210.
PRETORIA – The refreshed Ford Figo range has been cut down from nine derivatives to five (three hatchbacks and two sedans; check out pricing here), each powered by a new free-breathing three-cylinder engine. The updated models boast a new grille and lower-section front styling, plus a few nips and tucks here and there.

As before, Ford sticks to 14-inch wheels that look a little lost inside the wheelarches, but at least replacement tyres will be very affordable. Entry-level Ambiente variants run on steel wheels while Trend models receive the alloy treatment.

Interior space is as before, and the luggage capacity of the hatch is not great (though the sedan’s looks capacious). Rear-end styling hasn't changed much and the sedan is not as neatly styled as the hatch, looking somewhat generic for a four-door.

While the Trend specification brings a chrome-effect grille, I actually prefer the more affordable Ambiente spec, which features a black grille. Trend models furthermore gain front foglamps, electrically adjustable mirrors, colour-coded door handles and mirrors, and a perimeter alarm.

The interior design is a vast improvement over the previous generation. Gone are all the fussy buttons with odd shapes, replaced by sensible, straightforward and easy-to-figure-out switchgear. No large touchscreens here, though.

The new TiVCT engine is, without doubt, the most outstanding feature of the entire package. When you start up the naturally aspirated 1,5-litre three-cylinder, it feels like a four-cylinder ... or, in other words, it runs smoothly. But when you accelerate, you get a three-pot thrum that sounds rather appealing.

It’s an all-aluminium design with independent variable valve timing on both camshafts. A balancer shaft helps retain NVH refinement. Other features include a cambelt that runs in oil and a two-stage oil pump. The claimed fuel consumption with a five-speed manual gearbox is 5,7 litres per 100 km with 132 g/km CO2 emissions. If you choose the automatic version, you get a six-speed conventional torque converter gearbox and consumption increases somewhat to 6,5 L/100 km and 150 g/km of CO2.

The other notable feature is that a four-year/60 000 km service plan is part of the package (the pre-facelift model came with a two-year/40 000 km plan), with 15 000 km service intervals. No diesel engines are available, unfortunately (the pre-facelift hatchback could be had with a 74 kW/215 N.m oil-burner).

Safety-wise, the extra airbags of some previous (and expensive) models have been dropped in favour of the front two (so as to contain the price levels), plus ABS with EBD. Ford has catered for the increasing trend towards using your own cellphone for music and navigation by including a docking station in the flip-up dash-top storage compartment. Plug your phone into the USB port and close the lid onto it. A word of warning: if your phone is over 5 inches in screen size, it might be too large to fit properly under the lid.

Fords usually excel in their driveability and even on the budget Figo, this is still the case. The steering, although electrically powered, has good feel without a lack of directional stability. The suspension absorbs poor-quality road surfaces well and sound levels are fine apart from some predictable road noise.

Remembering that we were driving at Gauteng altitude, the 88 kW engine (up from the previous 1,5-litre four-pot's 82 kW) and 150 N.m of torque (up from 136 N.m) proved more than adequate. Overtaking slower cars and trucks could be completed without having to wait for large traffic gaps, which in itself could be thought of as a safety feature. This engine will be even more lively at sea level.

The new powerplant is what places the updated Figo above some of its rivals and I believe this will especially endear it to owners living away from the salty sides of the country. No performance figures have yet been provided, but we will be conducting a full road test here at CAR magazine in the near future, so stay tuned...
Ford Figo

Latest Resutls for Ford Figo

Full Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 2
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • Approach home safe lighting time delay park headlights: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • CD player: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: front
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Frontfog lamps lights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear fog lamps lights: Standard
  • Rear spoiler: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 737 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 5
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Front tyres: 175/65 R14
  • Reartyres: 175/65 R14
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 3886 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1695-1899 mm
  • Height: 1525 mm
  • Wheel base: 2491 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 174 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 9.8 m
  • Load volume / capacity: 256 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1047 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1450 kg
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 42l
  • Fuel consumption average: 5.7 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 132g/km
  • Power maximum: 88 kW
  • Power maximum total: 88 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6300 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 84 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 150 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 4250 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 150 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 143.3 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: n/as
  • Maximum top speed: 175 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1498 cc
  • Engine size: 1.5l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.5
  • Engine + detail: 1.5
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 3
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i3
  • Valves quantity: 0
  • Warranty time (years): 4
  • Warranty distance (km): 120000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 4
  • Service plan time (distance): 60000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 3
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Brand: Ford
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 22020261
  • MMVariant: FIGO 1.5Ti VCT TREND (5DR)
  • Introdate: 2018-06-18
  • DuoportarecordID: FordFigo2Fh2

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