The newest Ford in town – the Freestyle – is what the company calls a compact utility vehicle or CUV. Based on the Figo platform, Ford India claims the Freestyle is an almost entirely new product. And it is new in many aspects – it’s a new body style for Ford, it gets a new engine and a new transmission too. The company invited us to drive the Freestyle from Jaipur to the Sambhar Salt Lake, India’s largest inland salt lake in Rajasthan recently. We delve under the hood of the new Ford Freestyle.
At the first glance, the Freestyle is unmistakably a sturdy, tough, crossover hatchback version of Ford’s small car, Figo. Having said that, the Freestyle – as Ford claims – is indeed an entirely new product. Sure it looks different, but Ford has also got the Freestyle a new heart – a new 1.2 l petrol engine and a new 5-speed manual transmission.
With its position as a CUV, Ford India is clearly trying to create a niche between the crossover hatchbacks and the compact SUVs. It gets the compactness of hatchbacks, and is also given the body style and performance characteristics of a sports utility vehicle. Ford has made the product all the more compelling for interested customers with a fairly aggressive pricing strategy. Starting at a price of Rs 5.09 lakh, it actually undercuts the Figo.
We’ll get to the details of how the vehicle drives a little later in this report. For now, let’s consider the technical highlights of the Freestyle.
HEART OF THE MATTER
Ford has two engine options on the Freestyle – a 1.5 l TDCi diesel unit that produces approximately 100 hp of peak power and 215 Nm of torque, and a new 1.2 l Ti-VCT petrol engine that generates around 95 hp of peak power and 120 Nm of maximum torque around 4,250 rpm.
The new 1.2 l petrol engine has been derived from the 1.5 l petrol unit Ford introduced earlier in the EcoSport. The compact three-cylinder engine is made of a lightweight aluminium engine block and cylinder head, and features an integrated exhaust manifold that is aimed to lower NVH levels. The use of aluminium is claimed to have considerably reduced the weight of the engine. The exhaust manifold, on the other hand, is integrated into the cylinder head, which heats up the catalyst faster, thus leading to decreased emissions.
The belt-in-oil primary drive system helps prevent the timing belt from increased wear & tear. Compared to traditional chain-driven components, the belt-in-oil system weighs less, has lower stretch, reduces friction and is relatively quieter. Using this system leads to better engine performance, lower emissions and improved
The Twin independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT) system on this engine, allows each intake and exhaust cam to function independently of each other as operating conditions change. This ensures improved fuel efficiency and faster throttle response. Ford engineers have also optimised the engine’s bore and stroke ratios to produce higher torque at lower engine speeds. This was clearly evident during the drive through the city and highway traffic in Jaipur.
There are several optimised measures in the engine that aids improvement of fuel economy. A double stage variable oil pump that operates at a lower pressure at slower speeds with reduced friction loss is one such innovation. Then, to promote standardised and efficient combustion, the engine features spark plugs that have been placed centrally in the combustion chamber. Aiding that is the use of the coil-on-plug system, which delivers better combustion and quicker engine start. The other key feature on the engine is the crankshaft off-set from cylinder centre line. This, Ford claimed, improves performance and fuel efficiency.
The other key mandate for Ford engineers was to significantly improve the engine’s NVH levels. Towards that, the engine’s balance shaft is supported by hydrodynamic bearings and works to eliminate natural first-order vibrations typical in standard three-cylinder engines. Furthermore, to reduce friction, a valve actuation system with hydraulic lash adjusters and roller finger followers has been used. Ford also features an acoustic-isolation system that is meant to cuts down on engine noise. This system is likely to keep vibration produced by the engine from being transmitted to the vehicle frame, as well as from being transmitted to a sensitive piece of electronics or sensors.
From a drive perspective, the engine feels smooth throughout, and is quiet (on most counts) and peppy. The more we revved the engine, the better it seemed to perform. This should excite customers, who prefers the adrenalin kick and who isn’t too worried about the economy the engine delivers.
NEW MANUAL TRANSMISSION
The new 5-speed manual transmission has been sourced from Ford’s joint venture with GETRAG, produced at the GETRAG Transmissions India plant in Sanand, Gujarat – close to Ford India’s manufacturing facility.
The unit used on the Freestyle is the new MX65, which is a modular manual transmission that is available in three variants. The MX65 covers engine torque segments up to 150 or 215 Nm and gross vehicle masses up to 1,600 or 1,750 kg. Maximum number of parts is being shared between the three derivatives. The wide gear ratio spread from 4.8 to 6.0 allows the transmission to be fitted to a broad engine range of petrol and diesel engines. The MX65 will be available in a 5-speed or 6-speed configuration.
The two larger versions of the MX65 for up to 215 Nm have a slightly larger centre distance and differential. All three variants share a large number of common parts, contributing to a favourable cost-benefit ratio. The new transmission family shares attributes like low drag and friction losses, best shift-ability, further improved NVH characteristics and low weight. With a dry weight of mere 27 to 30 kg (without dual mass flywheel/ absorber), the MX65 currently offers best-in-class torque density.
Together with the new 1.2 l engine, the new MT contributes significantly to the Freestyle’s fuel efficiency. Keeping upcoming CO2 targets in mind, major focus during the design process of the MX65 transmission was to reduce the parasitic losses and a strict focus on lightweight design. To minimise metal-to-metal contact, thus improving transmission efficiency, low-friction transmission oil has been used.
The transmission is built with a Synchronised Reverse gear, which is claimed to result in improved shifts. Also, the use of triple synchronisers for the 1st & 2nd gears and double synchronisers for the 3rd gear allows tuning of shift-ability with low efforts. The other significant aspect of the MX65 is the use of a single mass flywheel, instead of a double mass flywheel – resulting in further cost savings.
Additionally, the MX65 is also capable of AMT and hybrid applications. We asked if Ford would consider an automatic option for the Freestyle. Considering the nature of the product, the company believes manuals will be the way to go for the Freestyle, at least in the near-to-mid-term.
The segments that have seen bulk of the action in the past few years are the premium hatchback segment, crossover hatchback and SUVs. That Ford is trying to create a segment in between these reflects the strong competition among manufacturers to find a niche. Will the Freestyle be able to build a unique identity for itself? Time will tell. There are many things going right for the Freestyle – it is built well, performs and handles beautifully, is loaded with features (both convenience and safety) and technology. Going by the package that Ford has been able to build into the product, we expect customers to appreciate and invest in it.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
PHOTO: Ford India