Before you ask, you’re looking at a compact utility vehicle (CUV). At least that’s what Ford will tell you anyway. But, we’re here to bust open all jargon and demystify Ford’s fascinating new Freestyle cross-hatch.

For starters, think of it as a Figo with teeth. Built on the same platform, it adds all necessary armour to the humble little hatch to tackle what we’re told by the government, are paved roads. Not only that, it eggs you on to take it anywhere you please.

To drive the point home (quite literally), Ford chucked us the keys to a shiny new White Gold version of the Freestyle and sent us along a route stretching 105km to the glorious Sambhar Salt Lake flats. All that to experience, what we consider the country’s largest automotive playground, and everything in between.

Design:

It’s no mystery how brands simply slap on some cladding on a regular hatch, add a suffix and call it a day. Not the folk at Ford, no sir. An all-new name comes with plenty of new bits that throw form and function into the mix in just the right amount. Ground clearance now clocks in at an impressive 190mm so the underbody doesn’t go around chest bumping obstacles along the way. It works both inside and out giving the Freestyle a butch stance like an excitable bulldog while lending drivers a commanding view from the vehicle’s cockpit.

Of course there are enough cladding and scuff plates to go around protecting the pretty paint job but there are also fully functional roof rails that’ll withstand up to 50kg loads. Up front, the c-shaped enclosure hosting the fog lamps adds to its appeal although the faux vents around the back step into ‘fake it till you make it’ territory. There’s little room for complaint though ‘cause with its blacked out wing mirrors, hexagonal mesh grille, and muscular body combined, the Freestyle oozes all the necessary attitude it needs to boost its occupant’s confidence and intimidate playground bullies. It even hints at a host of designs you’ll soon see on the upcoming updates to the Figo and Aspire models.

Drive

Pre-drive and post-presentation, we had a little chat with Ford India MD Anurag Mehrotra about the Freestyle’s fantastic intentions. Experience has taught us well to take slideshow bullet points with adequate salt to save us a visit to the ER and automotive brands any embarrassment. This time was positively different. Anurag assured us the Freestyle is built to brave abuse and insisted we give it the full beans on every possible terrain we encounter along the drive. Sounds like a bit of a challenge, don’t you think? Consider it accepted, Mr. Ford. This was music to my ears. I quite literally rode it like I stole it from our airport-hugging hotel all the way to the Sambhar Salt Lake a full 105km away. Speed-breakers, broken roads that’d disintegrate a lower underbody, and long stretches of tarmac were dismissed with ease.

Hustling under the hood is the new 1.2L Ti-VCT Dragon engine punching out 96 happy horses our way that seldom lose steam. Highway overtakes and even quick boosts off the line are handled in a manner that’s equally fun and engaging. Push that pedal hard and that engine sings a sweet throaty song pulling away with a healthy 120Nm of torque. The five-speed manual it’s linked to effortlessly slots into place feeling nice and light without ever slowing you down in any way. Getting back to its ride, it’s really commendable how that suspension seldom bows under the brutality of our roads powering along like a car above its class. Those last few words apply to a bunch of the Freestyle’s aspects including its NVH (noise/vibration/harshness) levels truly lending it a class-leading sensation inside the cabin.

That satisfyingly chunky steering gives you a firm grip on the reigns of this horse. Spin it around, something we did unhealthy amounts of once we hit the salt flats of Sambhar, and the car never feels like a hatch simply propped up on stilts. Ford’s completely nailed the balance between suspension, corner handling, agility and overall engagement. There are more reasons why we weren’t looking at the world upside down post our intoxicating hooliganism on the Sambhar Salt Lake which brings us to all the safety tech hiding within…

In-car Tech

As engaging for enthusiasts as the Freestyle may be, Ford’s ensured it doesn’t all end in a call to emergency services. Which, may we add, the car does itself if an accident were to occur. Provided your phone is synced to its systems of course. Anyway, remember how we were challenged to push the car over its raggedy edge without ever turning turtle? There’s tons of tech to back that kind of talk, not mere marketing spiel. What Ford calls ARP (Active Rollover Prevention) is the Freestyle’s ability to engage ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and lock individual wheels or cut engine power if a potential roll is perceived. Pretty clever, eh? There are even EBD-equipped ABS and up to six airbags to protect occupants from all kinds of disasters.

With all systems fully checked, we returned from our drive to meet Anurag gleaming like a proud father would. Checking if we’d successfully rolled the Freestyle over at all, we responded with the obvious only to receive a cheeky ‘Shameful!’ from the MD as a response. Well, we tried. Nonetheless, tech heads have more to look forward to. The 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system pleasing both Android and Apple geeks is an absolute treat of a toy. There’s plenty of charging options too as well as steering mounted controls with a dedicated voice command button working with SYNC 3.

Tech Specs 
Engine
1.2 TiVCT three-cylinder / 1.5 TDCi
Power
96PS (Petrol), 100PS (Diesel)
Torque
120Nm (Petrol), 215Nm (Diesel)
Infotainment
SYNC 3 via 6.5in touchscreen (supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto)
Ground clearance
190mm
Safety
Up to six airbags, Hill launch assist, ABS (with EBD), EPAS, TCS, Active Rollover Prevention (ARP), ESC

Where to buy Ford Freestyle First Drive: