Ford is betting big on SUVs and crossovers, not just at the global market but in India too. It has already tasted success with the EcoSport and the Endeavour and well, here is its third contender. It’s a crossover called the Freestyle and as the name suggests, it’s a SUVized (If that’s a term) model added in to expand the range of Ford’s entry-level models.
The Freestyle debuts an updated design language that will also be used for the updated versions of the Figo and Aspire. The most noticeable aspect on the face is the blacked out version of the American automaker’s signature trapezoid grille. There’s a mere suggestion of the Fiesta when you look at the car headlamps which is nice considering that the current Fiesta (hatch and sedan) is quite a looker.
On the side of the car, you can see the clearly defined outline of the black cladding that puts the style in Freestyle. Here, you can also see the hatchback origins of the Freestyle. But then again there are quite a few character lines that add strength to the look of this cross hatch. Of these, the most prominent is, of course, the shoulder line that runs under the door handles and adds some distinctive styling to the overall appearance.
While the front and sides are filled with multiple design cues, the rear seems to be a in a different zone. The badging and shapes are minimalistic and the most prominent element appears to be the bumper. It’s chunky and adds some life to what is otherwise a very plain section.
Step into the cabin of the Freestyle and you greeted by familiar but a two-toned space of black and chocolate brown across the cabin. The space within looks quite familiar as much of the design has been carried over from the current Figo and Aspire. The instrument cluster, dashboard and even the air con vents all carry the familiar Ford family look but now in a brown and black colour scheme. The quality is acceptable considering that this vehicle will be priced lower than the compact SUVs.
The centre console is a new design and has been lifted from the slightly larger EcoSport compact SUV. Where the older design was cluttered with buttons and looked like an after-market fitment, this new one looks far more cohesive and pleasing to the eyes. Its minimalistic design appears quite modern with most of the buttons being easy to reach and operate.
One of the main highlight is, of course, that you get a touchscreen system on offer across six of the eight variants. It’s a capacitive unit for the lower spec models while the top-of-the-line Titanium+ models comes with Ford’s latest SYNC3 infotainment system. This is the same unit that debuted in the 2017 Ford EcoSport. Space and comfort for the front seat occupants is pretty good as you get a pretty wide and lengthy seat base, a great boon for a person like me with ‘generous+. during long journeys.
The rear seats have never been a strong point for Figo and it’s not really quite different here. The headroom is cramped thanks to the sloping roofline and even on this top-of-the-line Titanium+ model you do not get an arm rest, 12V outlet, rear vents and door pockets. The only standard useable space being a bottle holder between the front seats.
You get the same boot as the Figo which means that at 257-litres, it is not particularly big and at best, it will hold 3-4 small bags with a bit of shuffling around. The rear seat back does, however, fold down for additional space.
Finally, the feature list for this top-spec model that we drove is quite comprehensive. You get automatic climate control, touchscreen infotainment system, automatic headlamps, button start, rain sensing wipers, six airbags and ABS with EBD, traction control as well as hill start assist.
The Freestyle that we drove is powered by a new 1.2-litre unit three-cylinder unit producing 94bhp/120Nm and is mated to a new Getrag five-speed speed manual gearbox. You can also have the Freestyle with a diesel engine. It is Ford’s trusted 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit producing 99bhp/215Nm with power going to the front wheels via a five-speed manual.
Despite being a three-cylinder and sounding quite thrummy when idling, it is a fun engine to play with. At the lower end you get access to the 120Nm of torque pretty easily and this means that you would not tire out working the clutch and gearbox in heavy traffic or in city driving speeds. This ability to offer such an easy driving experience is no doubt helped by the new gearbox which has smooth throws, light clutch action and a large chunk of its ability in the mid-range.
The other end of the spectrum is not too shabby either and out on the highway, you can get up to three-digit speeds without much effort and cruise comfortably. However, go in for a quick overtake and you will need feel the small capacity of the engine and will need to shift down to gain some more momentum. By this point the engine has also become quite vocal and this quite audible in the cabin.
Where Ford has really seemed to put its weight behind the Freestyle is the ride quality. Our drive took us from the heart of new Jaipur to the Sambhar salt flats about 105kms away and during this ‘quick’ journey we got to experience a variety of terrains and the Freestyle responded sublimely to each of them.
On the smoother bits, the car glided along silently and when the going got tougher the suspension setup was able to absorb the impact from the imperfections and pot holes without sending much back much more than a muted thud back to the cabin. Even when things got really rough on some of the pockmarked inner village roads, the Freestyle did not lose its composure to point of unsettling the occupants badly.
We expected that with such a high ground clearance and a relatively soft ride quality, the Freestyle would struggle a bit in terms of handling. But surprisingly, the car holds its own quite well through the corners and the body movement in terms of roll and pitch is quite controlled. In fact, with the all safety nets on, you would have to do quite a bit to upset the car.