With the demand for SUVs and SUV-like vehicles increasing, every car manufacturer wants to have a product that fulfils this particular need of the Indian buyer. Ford too has come up with a product named Freestyle. They are calling it a CUV – compact utility vehicle. Well, rightly so, as the EcoSport has its own niche in the SUV segment and falls under a price bracket above the premium hatchbacks. So the challenge for Ford was to bring in a product which has proportions of a compact car and yet will deliver what an SUV can. Enter the Freestyle, which is based on the Figo hatchback but with an aggressive styling, bolder design and with some more cabin equipment. Furthermore, there is a new 94bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine from the Dragon series on offer. So will the new car, which is in line with the modern style and trends of today's youth, manage to impress? We find out on a media drive in Jaipur.
The Freestyle’s dimensions are slightly more than the Figo thanks to the body kit. It’s eccentric design is evocative of crossover body styling. To draw attention to the robust features, and add to its sporty demeanour, the Freestyle comes equipped with tweaked bumpers, faux skid plates, body cladding, muscular style wheel arches and roof rails too. It has certainly helped in differentiating it from the standard hatchback and lending to it an SUV-like look.
The interior is very similar to the Ford Figo cabin, apart from the chocolate overtones used on the dashboard here and the new fabric pattern for the seats. The dash also gets a new tablet-like touch screen system with SYNC 3 which adds a touch of pep to the cabin.
It’s responsive, hosts many practical features and is widely compatible, making it one of the best in the segment. Otherwise, the ergonomic cabin continues to get usable storage spaces and seven bottle holders in the front, but none at the back. The quality of plastics is still average. Thankfully the low seating still provides a commanding view ahead.
Also, the cabin space is sufficient for four average sized individuals like me, but will prove to be a little tight for tall people. Seats are supportive, but I couldn’t cotton to them on a long journey. The 257-litres boot with a high loading lip and prominent wheel arch intrusions will make utilising space challenging, but is still good enough to pack one large suit case and three soft bags. It’s the best in terms of safety features with this Titanium+ getting six airbags, ABS, ESP, TC, Hill-assist and active roll-over protection.
The 1.5-litre TDCi mill from the Figo has been retained in the Freestyle’s diesel version. What we have tested here is new 1.2-litre Ti-VCT Dragon series petrol mill that produces 94bhp and 120Nm of torque. This not only makes it the first model to get the new naturally aspirated three-cylinder engine in the carmaker's line-up, but it also makes it the most powerful amongst the NA 1.2-litre petrol mills in India. I was expecting this to be louder and rougher than the four-cylinder engine. However, it was surprisingly quiet as we made our way out of Jaipur city early in the morning. Although there is a typical thrum, the engine is surprisingly smooth. Even if it isn’t outright quick off the mark, it gets going post 2,000rpm. It's good enough to help push the car past slow traffic. Instead of the IB5 five-speed gearbox, Ford is using a new MX65 Getrag gearbox, which feels lighter to use and slots in well. The clutch complements it by being well-weighted and light enough to ease things while driving amidst city traffic.
Post the 3,000rpm mark, the engine performs with gusto and keeps that way while redlining at 6,800rpm. With a shorter gearing and quicker gearshifts, we soon managed to get out of the city limits where the Freestyle could stretch its legs. The strong mid- and top-end further aid the car's cruising abilities. Engine noise was only audible when I was shifting down a gear or keeping the engine on the boil. Even then, it never got to the point of sounding harsh, which is something I quite liked. Besides that, cruising at triple digit speeds felt like a breeze and the quick overtakes never made me feel nervous. Furthermore, the otherwise light steering at low speeds weighed up nicely to feel even more connected at higher speeds.
We then decided to push the car even further and on a few tight bends, it became evident how well-calibrated the steering is. Despite the slight slack at the centre, it quickly directs the car in the direction pointed at, while also providing a good amount of feedback. The wider tyres (185/60 section) have good grip and make the car feel planted, while the brakes have good stopping power that instil confidence to drive faster. The TCS and ESP kicked in on time and we had the backing of the active rollover protection on the Freestyle to let us do all kinds on antics on the flats around Sambhar lake. These electronic aids made sure we came back unscathed and more importantly with a wide grin on our faces.
Now, the ground clearance of this vehicle stands high at 190mm so you might general presumption is that the body roll must be so evident. However, Ford has beefed up the anti-roll bars to minimise this and it’s impressive for a car this tall. The biggest advantage of this is that the car dismisses big bumps and rough patches with ease. The bigger 15-inch wheels with a larger contact patch help in overcoming potholes easily. Sure, there's an up and down movement on bad roads at low speeds, but it settles with speeds above 40kmph. The suspension is nicely set up to absorb bumps and we managed to move through some beaten paths and off-road swiftly. Apart from a few jolts filtering into the cabin only on very bad patches, the car performed brilliantly off-road, living up to its butch character.
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||94bhp @ 6,500rpm|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||120Nm @ 4,250rpm|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||42|
|Tyre size||185/60 R15|
|Six airbags, ABS and Traction control||Yes|
|15-inch alloy wheels and roof rails||Yes|
|190mm ground clearance||Yes|
|Hill-assist, ESP and ARP||Yes|
|Automatic climate control, automatic headlamps||Yes|
|Touch screen infotainment system with WiFi, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||94bhp @ 6,500rpm||82bhp @ 6000rpm|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||120Nm @ 4,250rpm||115Nm @ 4000rpm|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||42||45|
|Tyre size||185/60 R15||195/55 R16|
Ford has nailed it with the Freestyle’s phenomenal ride quality, great drivability, confidence-inspiring braking, SUV-like looks and yet a compact footprint. It still loses out on some points for its average cabin, less rear headroom, no rear air-vents and no split seats. The Freestyle is impressive nonetheless! Let’s hope Ford prices it competitively to give a tough fight to the Hyundai i20 Active, Toyota Etios Cross and the Fiat Urban Cross.