Considering the popularity of SUVs in India, it's no surprise that carmakers try and offer vehicles that give the SUV experience to customers who can't buy one. Even hatchbacks are put on visual steroids to bring about a crossover look but the recipe hasn't worked yet. Hyundai Active i20, Toyota Etios Cross and Volkswagen Cross Polo testify my statement. Ford India, now has decided to take a fresh aim at this segment with its latest sub-compact crossover, the Freestyle. It won't need a trained eye to make out that this is a Figo injected with muscle-enhancing stuff. That said, Ford has made the effort of going beyond putting an inflated body suit on the Figo. Whether that effort is enough to be enough to convince buyers is something we found out in Rajasthan.
Ford Freestyle Design
The Freestyle is based on the Figo and Ford designers have made no attempt to hide that fact. They have, however, added multiple elements that give it a more beefy stance than the hatchback the Freestyle is based on. At the front, the three-dimensional mesh grille along with a new bumper and redesigned fog lamp housing. Scuff plates at the front and rear along with body-cladding add further to the objective of adding muscles. Freestyle does have about 30mm wider track than the Figo and coupled up with the mentioned visual elements, it does look quite wide, which is a good thing.
On the side, beyond the body-cladding, there are new alloy wheels, which are one size up at 15-inch but still look a bit small. The design though goes well with the theme of a car that can move fast. There are roof rails too, which aren't just cosmetic but can support weights of up to 50 kg. Combine this with the increased ground clearance of 190 mm and the Freestyle does look considerably different and more muscular than the Figo. It might not look much like an SUV but it does come across as a strong and dynamic hatchback that deserves a second glance.
Ford Freestyle Interiors & Cabin
Again, familiarity with the Figo was expected and unsurprisingly it's there. That said, there are enough changes to ensure it has its own identity. The dual-coloured dashboard now comes in a chocolate and brown shade, which might not be to everyone's taste from what I could gather from fellow journalists at the drive. Personally, I liked the combination and found it to infuse energy and youthfulness in the cabin. The key highlight in the cabin is the new 6.5-inch touchscreen, which like the EcoSport has been mounted on top of the centre console. The system has a simple interface and slick touch response, making it much like a smartphone to use. Connectivity includes Bluetooth, USB, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There is no in-built navigation but you can stream it from your phone to the screen. The instrument cluster, however, looks quite basic and there's a lot Ford designers could have done at least with the background design.
Space at the rear is decent but not among the best in this segment. While headroom is ample, legroom can be a slight issue for occupants taller than 6 feet. The rear seat though is quite comfortable and now comes with better under-thigh support, which will add significantly to comfort during long journeys.
Storage spaces too are abundant, 20 of them around the cabin to be precise! Front door pockets can easily hold up to three bottles on each side but rear doors, unfortunately, do not get any door pockets. Rear occupants though have a bottle holder between the front seats.
While the combination of connectivity and comfort turned out to be impressive in the Freestyle, there are some things it misses out on. These include front and rear armrests along with the lack of rear AC vents. Having driven on the Sambhar salt flats on a hot day, I can assure you that the AC cooling won't make you miss the rear vents much but armrests should have been there on a vehicle that is so good for long-distance driving.
Ford Freestyle Engine & Gearbox
The Ford Freestyle comes with two engine options, a brand new 1.2-litre petrol motor and the tried and tested 1.5 litre TDCi engine found in the EcoSport as well. Both of these engines are mated to new 5-speed manual transmission We drove the petrol version and there were a lot of things to notice. The 1.2-litre three-cylinder TiVCT unit develops 96 ps and 120 Nm of torque.
The motor has been tuned to develop more power in the lower revs so you get an engine that is less hesitant at a slow pace. That said, you'll still need to slot in 1st gear more often than other cars in this segment. Once the tacho needle swings past 1,500 rpm, the engine accelerates at a healthy pace and it's around 3,000 rpm that things go into fun mode. Past 3,000 rpm, the engine accelerates rapidly and the well-matched gearbox with smooth and short throws make driving more joyous. The engine feels happy being revved high and you can take it all the way up to 6,000 rpm, after which power starts to taper.
The powertrain also feels quite refined and coupled with a host of NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness) reduction measures, the cabin remains a fairly silent and refined place. The engine sound is a bit funny though and it might take some time getting used to. Mind it though, there's nothing of the three-cylinder tell-tale signs evident as all of that has been masked very smartly with good engineering. Even at high rpm, the motor lacks bass and that makes for an odd-sound but it's not one that you would dislike.
Ford Freestyle Ride & Handling
Unlike most cars in the segment, the Freestyle doesn't come with just a raised suspension and visual bits. Ford engineers have tuned the suspension in favour of performance so despite the increased effect of gravity, body-roll is very much in control. We cornered hard on roads and at the salt flats and came back impressed with the predictable handling of the car. Even on the broken and sandy terrain, the Freestyle was pretty much a point and shoot affair as far as the directional intent was concerned. Switching the traction control off on the salt flats made things more fun and the brilliant steering acted like a cherry on top of a great pie.
One might think at this point that with all the focus on handling, ride quality must have gone for a toss but thankfully, that's not the case. Freestyle's ride quality, although slightly on the firmer side, remains good enough for daily usage. Most potholes and bumps are filtered well by the tyres and suspension, translating into a comfortable cabin, even on long journeys.
Nicely balanced is what I would say for the ride & handling combination of the Ford Freestyle. It lets you have fun when you want to but doesn't sacrifice the much-needed everyday comfort.
Ford Freestyle Safety
Beyond the solid build quality associated with Ford cars, the company lays down a lot of focus on providing a nice set of active and passive safety features. Same is the case with the Freestyle, which gets front-dual airbags and ABS as standard. The top variants come with six airbags, ABS, Traction Control and Hill Launch Assist. A new and notable inclusion in this list is the ARP (Advanced Rollover Prevention), which regulates the torque to each wheel in order to prevent an imminent rollover. The system worked like a charm in the salt flats and wasn't intrusive, which didn't spoil the fun of driving quick and sideways.
In simple words, the Ford Freestyle is a good car. It's a jacked-up Figo but with numerous upgrades and most of them being functional, which makes a big difference. If you're someone who loves driving, likes exploring a bit and wants good connectivity and safety, the Freestyle definitely is worth considering.
The whole point of sprucing up hatches to look like SUVs or somewhere in the middle hasn't really worked well in India so far. The Freestyle though could make a difference as it has the right hardware. Most importantly, it's not a car with an inflated body suit to just look the part. It has genuine muscle underneath when it comes to performance and this is what could work in its favour. Indian buyers are smart and value-conscious so cars with body kits not being a hit doesn't come as a surprise. The Freestyle delivers form and function and only for that reason I believe the Freestyle could make a difference.
Prices of the Ford Freestyle are not out yet but the car will be launched soon. While the hardware is right, Ford will need to ensure the pricing is not just competitive but attractive if it wants to taste success. Stay updated to this space for more details and the action-packed video review of the Ford Freestyle soon.
|Prices||Yet to be announced|