For performance and style

The rapid growth of the SUV market in South Asia has prompted many automakers to offer small SUVs that offer the comforts of a conventional car with big wheels to provide moderate off-road capabilities. Now Ford, who are already marketing the big Endeavour and the very successful EcoSport have launched the Freestyle that is a still more compact SUV. Ford, wanting to emphasise that it is not just a hatchback with bigger wheels and fancy cladding, call it a Compact Utility Vehicle (CUV) with new engines and suspension capable of handling fairly bad roads.

At first glance - and the Freestyle deserves a second look - Ford have done a good job of making it a very good looking and well-proportioned car that does not look like a small car on big wheels and is appealing from every angle. A modified version of the revolutionary 124HP 3-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine that drives the EcoSport - and won the global Engine Of The Year award for two years in succession - is now offered in a 1200 cc version delivering a peppy 96HP. The seasoned 1500 cc diesel mill delivering 100HP is also available. Both engines claim impressive performance, reliability and fuel efficiency. They are both mated to 5-speed manual transmissions and Ford needs to soon offer an automatic to cater to the growing demand.

The car meets the road with big 15 inch, 185 mm wide low profile tires mounted on attractive alloy rims to give a very substantial ground clearance of 190 mm. The robust Ford twist beam rear suspension has been beefed up and fitted with a fistful of electronic gadgets to offer a smooth jerk-free ride through almost any terrain. Apart from ABS brakes with EDB it offers a hill launch assist that enables a driver to easily start his or her car on a slope without having to worry about rolling backwards. For adventurous drivers there is also Active Rollover Protection where another bunch of electronic chips override the commands of an inexperienced driver to send the right power to each of the wheels to keep the car stable on exceedingly fast cornering.

When you slide inside the first thing that hits the eye is a big vertical feature loaded touchscreen looking like an i-Pad propped upright in the centre of the dashboard. It however provides easy access for all the infotainment that young drivers crave for.

Needless to say there is keyless entry, push-button starting and a rear camera for easy and safe parking. The system also supports Apple CarPlay and Android systems. These can be managed not only by their buttons but also with voice commands.

The upholstery and plastics are quite attractive and the rear seat legroom and headroom are adequate. Ford claims that the air-conditioning is top of its class. They have also scattered 20 different pockets and cubby holes for bottles, glasses, and other objects including a small tray under the AC controls with an anti skid base to stop your mobiles from sliding around as you drive.

As always Ford claims to offer a large bouquet of safety features including front seat airbags on all variants and a radio signaling system to alert the nearest police station in the event of an accident. The Freestyle is offered in four trim variants in six colours.

The Freestyle may not be the most premium of cars but does offer excellent interior space, great performance on almost any surface and almost all available features for comfort and convenience.

The author is the region's most celebrated automobile columnist.