Ford has decided to enter the crossover segment with the FreeStyle. So, is the FreeStyle a raised hatchback or is it truly a compact utility vehicle? Will it manage to revive this class and be the leader of the pack? We find out.
Ford has decided to pull a rabbit out of a hat by entering the crossover segment where many have burnt their fingers, except Honda – the WR-V recently crossed 50,000 units in one year. Honestly, the American manufacturer’s decision to break into this division was quite surprising. So, naturally we couldn’t resist asking Anurag Mehrotra, president and managing director, Ford India: ‘why enter this division?’ He said, ‘the lack of intent and attributes could be the reason many have struggled in this segment, but in case of Ford, we have worked on tweaking the FreeStyle mechanically, therefore it’s not a hatchback with just additional exterior cladding.’ What caught our attention was the fact that Ford has tuned the suspension set up and the electric assist steering wheel for a more involving driving experience. So, is the FreeStyle all hype or is it really a genuine compact utility vehicle (CUV)? To answer this question, we took the car for a drive as we negotiated the chaotic traffic in Jaipur and switched to free spirit mode on the India's largest inland Salt Lake, Sambhar lake.
Let’s start with the FreeStyle’s brawny rugged look. We love the return of honeycomb mesh grille, as it brings back memories of the suave Mondeo. It does add a bit of sophistication without going overboard and trying to look like an SUV. Apart from this, the impressive 190mm of ground clearance puts the FreeStyle in the region of the sub-4 metre SUVs. The CUV is 16mm taller than the Figo. Ford has also ditched the Figo’s 14-inch alloys and replaced them with the eye-catching fifteen inchers all-black alloys. Although we do praise the manufacturer for upsizing the alloys, unfortunately, due to its flared wheel arches, they look puny. Sticking to the off-roading theme, the crossover also comes with front and rear skid plates. What would a crossover be without roof rails? In case of the FreeStyle, they’re not just cosmetic, as they can carry a load of 50 kilograms. This is ideal for adventure seekers, as they can load up their bicycles and explore the unknown.
The FreetStyle boasts of a lot of nip-and-tuck upgrades like blacked out headlights with smart looking C-shaped fog lamps housed in the muscular front bumper and outside rear-view mirrors in contrasting black colour. To add to its rugged look, the sloping bonnet has prominent creases running down in the centre. Coming to the rear, the FreeStyle keeps a clean design, though it could’ve done without mock vents on the bumper.
Step inside the cabin, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the dual dark brown and black interior. When it comes to features, Ford seemed to be lacking behind – the absence of a touchscreen infotainment stood out like a sore thumb in the Figo. But not anymore – the FreeStyle comes with a 6.5-inch entertainment system powered by SYNC 3. The touchscreen is responsive and intuitive like a smartphone and is capable of putting many SUVs above the sub-4 metre segment to shame. It is also user-friendly – we managed to pair our smartphone without any hiccups. The infotainment system comes with usual features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it lacks a navigation system option. We, honestly, couldn’t resist playing Bomfunk MC's Freestyle track, but the sound quality left us slightly disappointed, as the speakers were fairly average unlike the first generation Figo’s boom-box-like phenomenal ones. The FreetStyle also has an automatic climate control, with beautifully crafted chrome finished dials. Like other Ford’s cars, the FreeStyle too comes with MyKey feature, which can be used to set speed warning and limit the top speed.
Unfortunately, the FreeStyle ends up compromising in rear comfort and cabin space, as the rear bench is flat and there is hardly any thigh support. It also feels quite cramped in the back, and the C-pillars eat into the headroom. The front seats, on the other hand, are big and have comfortable seat squab. They also provide decent lower back support. Safety has always been paramount for Ford, and it’s quite evident in the FreeStyle. It comes with dual airbags and ABS as standard. The top variants, however, come with six airbags, traction control, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) and Hill Launch Assist – a first in the segment. This CUV comes with an additional Active Rollover Protection, which works in tandem with the Traction Control system to sense imminent rollover and applies the brakes in an attempt to stop it.
Behind the wheel
The all-new 3 cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol engine is easily the most refined motor in its class. With 94bhp, this Dragon powerplant is the most powerful in its segment, though one has to get used to its initial lag. It would have fared much better if it had more torque, as 120Nm is simply not enough for this crossover. The power surge can be felt till 3,000rpm, and then horses start to gallop. However, once the speedometer crosses the three-figure mark the climb becomes effortless. It is a gem to drive on open roads or on highways, but in slow city traffic, you end up fidgeting with the gear stick.
Speaking of the transmission, the FreeStyle is mated to a new five-speed manual gearbox, which is 15% lighter than the previous one. It is slick and precise, as Ford has kept the first two gears on a shorter ratio.
Being a typical Ford vehicle, the FreeStyle doesn’t shy away from corners, as the 185/60 tyres provide the much-needed additional grip. During our test ride the high ground clearance never once affected its handling capabilities. Ford has also stiffened the suspension set up. Therefore, it may be the sultan of swing in the crossover segment, but the ride does get compromised, especially for the rear passengers – you feel a thud every time it goes over a ditch.
Moment of truth
The new Ford FreeStyle has a lot of things going for itself. For starters, Ford has ensured that it's not a hatchback on stilts by tuning the steering wheel and the suspension set up for a sporty driving experience. It comes fully loaded with features like the much needed 6.5-inch infotainment system, which is responsive and intuitive, and two USB ports in front, along with a 12V charging socket. When it comes to safety, the FreeStyle is equipped with ABS, ESP, traction control, hill launch assist and Active Rollover Protection, which is a first in the segment. The new 3-cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol engine is fairly peppy. Even though it would have been better with a bit more urgency at low-end torque, it does manage to pick up some serious speed in the mid- and high-range torque. Since it's a Ford, the FreeStyle handles confidently around corners, though the suspension set up could be a bit softer. The FreeStyle will be definitely a value for money, as Ford will price it between the Figo and the EcoSport. So, if you aspire an SUV but are limited by your budget, then the FreeStyle is a good option for you.
- Ford FreeStyle 1.2L Petrol Titanium+
Engine : 1,194cc / 3-cylinders / 12 Valves / DOHC
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
Power: 94bhp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 120Nm @ 4,250rpm
X-factor: Class leading 190mm of ground clearance and a slick 5-speed transmission.
• Refined 1.2-litre engine
• 6.5-inch infotainment system
• Cramped cabin space
• Stiff ride quality