Ford Freestyle First Drive Review : Can this challenge the i20 Active & Etios Cross?

Ford Freestyle First Drive Review : Can this challenge the i20 Active & Etios Cross?

What is it?

Ford’s ticket into the world of cross-hatchbacks comes in the form of the new Freestyle. This is based on the upcoming facelift Figo and is its rugged cousin. Known internationally as the Ka+ Active, the Freestyle will make its Indian debut later this month. It will lock horns with the likes of the Hyundai i20 Active and the Toyota Etios Cross. Is it any good? To find out just that, we drove it around the pink city of Jaipur and came back to Delhi rather impressed!

Looks smart enough?

Definitely! Its no fact that we Indians love our vehicles to be big with enough road presence and the Freestyle manages this easily. It has the same length as the Figo but with a raised height, body cladding, roof rails and 15-inch alloy wheels, it does turn heads easily. This was evident on Jaipur roads and onlookers were rather curious about this new car.

Bumpers at both the ends are heavily revised and a lot has already been said about these. The clever C shaped inserts, pseudo skid plates and absence of chrome whatsoever works well in its favour. The headlamps get black masking and the rear tail lamps too are tweaked. From the side profile, you also notice the roof rails which are functional as well – these can take a load of up to 50 kilos. Ford has also tied up with a renowned cycle brand for showcasing the Freestyle’s ability to carry two cycles on the roof. Nice!

The Freestyle is available in a choice of six color options. Ford will also be offering an array of official accessories including alloy wheels, body stripe kit, roof wrap, sun visors, rear spoiler etc.

On the inside?

Familiarity with the Figo continuous on the inside as well. While the overall design remains largely unchanged, Ford has played with the colour theme here and introduced a combination of chocolate brown for the upper part and black for the lower fascia. This does lend some fresh air inside though we wished certain bits could have been redesigned to give it a ‘different’ character than the normal Figo. For the example, the steering wheel, speedometer console, air vents etc.

The Freestyle we drove was the range topping Titanium+ version and this packs in a lot. The talking point here is the new 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system that works really well. Ford had already upped the game in the compact SUV segment with the EcoSport’s interface and this one too is no different. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and also gets the latest SYNC 3 tech.

In terms of space and comfort, I have absolutely no complaints up front. The seats feel nice and after the 5-hour drive, I wasn’t really tired and this also allowed me to continue back to Delhi in our long-term Compass for the 4-hour journey. That said for those long weekend drives, I would have appreciated a dead pedal for the left foot, an arm-rest up front and if I can be a critic, a cruise control too. Ditto for a lever to open the boot from the outside.

I did take a ride in the back seat for a good half an hour and was impressed with the visibility, ride quality and space. True, head space is just about fine for a 6-feet tall rear passenger, but there is no dearth of leg room / knee room here. And while Ford has given generous space in the front door pads, the rear ones have zero storage space. And blame the Jaipur heat, but I did miss dedicated rear ac vents.

How does it drive?

All these little shortcomings take a back seat the moment you drive the Freestyle. We got a chance to sample the new 1.2-litre petrol motor that puts out 96 PS of power and 120 Nm of torque. These figures are 10 % and 7 % higher than the older 1.2 unit. Plus, this Dragon series engine is a tad more efficient as well. For the record, we got a just under 12 kmpl for a mix of city and hilly terrain and this was with four people on board and air-conditioning running overtime.

As I mentioned above, we started the drive with the Freestyle loaded up. Four of us, including two well built adults, had the suspension sit down appreciably. The boot had our luggage and off we went searching for a good shoot location. The 3-cylinder motor seemed worry free, pulling strongly at part throttle inputs with no unwanted stress. Then we drove up the Nahargarh fort through the uphill bends and once again, the motor seemed to impress. It isn’t as free revving as the KB12, but once on the boil, sounds well and builds up speeds quickly.

Post lunch, I drove the car alone and oh boy, was I in for a good surprise! The 1.2 can put a smile on your face and pulls all the way to 6800 rpm. The limiter cuts in very softly and those who love numbers will be happy to know that the Freestyle does about 50 in 1st and 88 in the 2nd gear. And the engine sounds wild (in a good way) while doing so. Talking of gear shifts, the Freestyle gets an all-new 5-speed gearbox with good shift-actions, if not excellent. The throws are short and we believe the shifts will become even better as the car runs-in properly.

Is it comfortable?

Tick. Inspite of all that weight, the suspension did not bottom out even once. We drove through the heart of town (yes, via the infamous narrow roads around the older pink town) and the re-tuned suspension gobbled it all. The struts are same as the Figo but fine tuning of the springs has helped a lot. Around the fort area, for a few shots, I loved nailing the Freestyle into tight uphill corners and she responded positively. The steering remains light for most parts and provides enough feedback to keep you in control.

The ride quality with the driver on board changed a lot. There is an underlying firmness but nothing that was throwing me around when driven over potholes. And the best part? NVH levels are so good, absolutely no suspension sound filters into the cabin. Ditto for road noise and insulation from the outside world. The cabin of the Freestyle is a quite place to be in.

What else?

The Freestyle is a safe car and we mean it. Not only are there two airbags and ABS with EBD standard across all versions, the higher trim levels get 6 airbags, active rollover protector, TCS (traction control), ESP (electronic stability control) and hill launch assist. And then you also get Emergency Assist via the SYNC 3 set-up.

Ford is betting heavily on marketing its after sales support and confirms that the petrol and diesel versions have a low running cost of just 41 and 51 paise per kilometer for usage upto 1 lakh km. Now that’s really impressive.

Verdict

The Ford Freestyle seems to be a perfect fit between a compact SUV and a conventional hatchback. The segment in which it is positioned does not have fierce competition and this might just work in its favour. It looks smart, drives really well and comes loaded with tech and safety features. Agreed some features have been given a miss but if Ford can price it about Rs 40,000 – Rs 50,000 over the regular Figo, the Freestyle might just have a free run in the Rs 6-8 lakh bracket.

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