Ford Freestyle, cross-hatch version of Figo, is the car to buy
The Freestyle’s raised ride height of 190mm does make the Freestyle look more substantial than the Figo hatchback and cross-hatch elements do give it more personality. Like the scuff plates at the front and rear, or the cladding that wraps around the wheel arches and the lower portion of the body along as well as the functional roof rails. Ford has upsized the wheels to 15-inch alloys and the split four-spoke design is attractive, but under the large wheel arches they still look a bit small
In essence, the new Ford Freestyle is the rugged, cross-hatch version of the Figo. Although, with its raised ride height, wider tracks and bespoke electric power steering tuning, it also promises to be much more than just a jazzed-up Figo. The Freestyle’s raised ride height of 190mm does make the Freestyle look more substantial than the Figo hatchback and cross-hatch elements do give it more personality. Like the scuff plates at the front and rear, or the cladding that wraps around the wheel arches and the lower portion of the body along as well as the functional roof rails. Ford has upsized the wheels to 15-inch alloys and the split four-spoke design is attractive, but under the large wheel arches they still look a bit small. The ‘V’ of the bonnet is more pronounced now and it flows into a sharper-cut iteration of the familiar hexagonal grille. There’s generally more attitude to the front end, and what helps the Freestyle’s appearance. Smoked-effect headlights, a sporty mesh for the grille and a contrast effect for the wing mirrors are other details that further enhance the look. There are stickers on the lower portion of the doors, and faux vents on the rear bumper along with and re-profiled tail-lamps. All in all, it is a handsome car.
Similarities to the Figo carry forward to the inside as well with the familiar dashboard although a unique chocolate-on-black colour theme gives the Freestyle’s cabin a different vibe. Drivers will find the large front seats with their long base nice and accommodating, but the overly simple instrument cluster looks outdated now and the quality of dash and door plastics feels a bit scratchy. Ford’s latest Sync 3 touchscreen system also hugely helps the look of things on the inside and is among the best units around with slick responsiveness, super-quick pairing w Bluetooth pairing, and inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The long equipment list continues with keyless entry and go, auto climate control, auto headlamps. There’s also Ford’s MyKey function that allows owners to pre-set max volume levels and speed limits to keep their children from deafening themselves and chauffeurs from breaking speed limits. In terms of safety kit, the Freestyle comes with dual airbags and ABS as standard. Top versions of the cross-hatch get six airbags, traction control, electronic stability program (ESP) as well as a unique active rollover protection feature. Handily, there’s not one but two USB slots up front, as well as a 12V charging socket; so multiple devices can be juiced up at the same time. At the rear legroom is good and the windows nice and large, the seat is a bit soft and there’s only one bottle holder here. Boot space is identical to the Figo so you can fit plenty in to the sizable 257-litre bay.
The Freestyle is the first model to be offered with Ford’s new naturally aspirated, 1.2-litre, three-cylinder Ti-VCT engine developing 96 horsepower, making it the most powerful of the naturally aspirated 1.2 petrols on sale in India. The engine is impressively quiet at town speeds, the build of speed is smooth and there‘s little of that low-speed hesitation you‘d expect at just over idle. This is also an engine that gets better the more you wind it, and around 3,000rpm you can feel it get a second wind. It‘s not the quickest revving of engines but the flow of power in the top end is strong, and there‘s actually quite a bit of performance to be extracted by revving it to the 6,800rpm limiter. The Freestyle’s also features a new Getrag-sourced five-speed gearbox too that feels light, crisp and comes with a well weighted clutch. The Freestyle is also offered in diesel form and borrows the 1.5-litre engine from the Figo and makes a healthy 100hp and 215Nm of torque and is as likeable as ever. While the new gear box is a boon, however clutch-action feels a bit heavy.
Where the Freestyle impresses big is in ride quality. There is a bit of jiggliness at low speeds but what’s amazing is just how well the Freestyle rounds off the bumps. The chunky tyres ably take the first ‘hit’, and the suspension beautifully softens the blow further. The Freestyle rides on 185/60 tyres on 15-inch rims and the larger rolling circumference means the tyres don’t get swallowed by large potholes. What also comes handy is the impressive 190mm of ground clearance. It’s no SUV, but it still feels like a rugged little thing. High-speed stability is impressive too but road and wind noise are not near class-best levels.
The Freestyle seems set up by driving enthusiasts. Body control is really good; there’s a beefier front anti-roll bar which helps here. The Freestyle turns into corner with great poise; it feels agile and there’s loads of grip from the tyres too. The electric power steering will also delight enthusiasts. There is a bit of slack at dead centre, but in the bends, it feels very communicative. The brakes are superbly calibrated and offer strong stopping power. Active rollover protection works well too, when we did chuck the car on the loose, gravelly surface, the electronics were quick to come to the rescue and ‘restore’ stability.
As a product, the Freestyle has some solid strengths. It feels made for bad roads, shines on twisty ones and the strong petrol and peppy diesel engines are rather nice too. It also gets most of the goodies you’d want, and, for some, the safety kit alone will be the big draw. We expect pricing in the range of Rs 6-8 lakh (estimated, ex-showroom) or about Rs 60,000 more than the standard Figo. Sure, the Freestyle may not have the most premium of cabin and it may not be the most spacious in its class, but if you like to drive, this is the cross-hatch for you.
(By Nikhil Bhatia, DNA)
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