2019 Indian Car of the Year announced

The annual award season has begun and kicking things off in style is the Indian Car of the Year (ICOTY) title. Modeled on the likes of similar titles handed out globally like the North American Car of the Year and the European Car of the Year, the ICOTY is considered the most definitive award in the Indian automotive industry. That's primarily because the award sees the coming together of automotive experts and journalists from almost every major publication and website in the country. Each of the jury members have been driving and reviewing automobiles for more than a decade each and the scoring process is claimed to be simple and transparent.

This year also sees the introduction of a new category under ICOTY called the Premium Car of the Year. Aimed at cars costing over INR 40 Lakhs ex-showroom, this award intends to recognize the best set of wheels for the super-rich Indians.

2019 Indian Car of the Year

2018 has been one of the busiest in recent years in terms of the number of new cars launched but the jury members spent a day driving all the new models at the Buddh International Circuit that allowed them to shortlist 8 cars for the final run-up to the title. The ones that made the cut are the Amaze and CR-V from Honda, the Hyundai Santro, the Alturas G4 and Marazzo from Mahindra, Maruti-Suzuki's Ertiga and Swift and the Toyota Yaris. As evident, each of these models are crucial launches not just for the respective brands but also for the segments in which they retail. 

In the end, it was Maruti-Suzuki's Swift that won the coveted award. Crowned last evening at a glitzy event in Mumbai, the Swift took home it's third ICOTY trophy having already won the title in 2006 and 2012. That makes the premium hatchback from Indian's largest car-maker the only car thus far to have won the award thrice. Offering a stylish, peppy and fun-to-drive package loaded to the gills with features and protected by the country's best after-sales network, the Swift is a "You can't go wrong" choice this side of 10 Lakh Rupees. It's no wonder then the sales are shooting through the roof with each passing month.

Though the other contenders provided strong competition initially, the Swift won by a significant margin of over 30 points in the end. Hyundai's Santro finished runner-up with the Honda Amaze rounding off the podium. 

2019 ICOTY Results

  1. Maruti-Suzuki Swift 
  2. Hyundai Santro
  3. Honda Amaze

Previous ICOTY Winners

  • 2018 - Hyundai Verna
  • 2017 - Maruti-Suzuki Vitara Brezza
  • 2016 - Hyundai Creta
  • 2015 - Hyundai i20
  • 2014 - Hyundai Grand i10

2019 ICOTY - Premium Car of the Year

Premium cars aren't always assembled or manufactured in India, given the limited sales and lack of volumes. That eliminates most of the premium cars from even competing for the ICOTY title. The Premium Car of the Year award, introduced this year, aims to set things right at the upper end by separating the luxury cars whose strengths and evaluation criteria are often different from mass-market cars.

The inaugural edition of the ICOTY Premium Car of the Year title had 11 contenders. The list included Audi's Q5 and RS5, the X3 and 6-Series GT from BMW, the Mercedes-Benz E 63 S, Mini Countryman, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Velar and the XC40 and XC60 from Volvo.

While the jury crowned the Volvo XC40 as the winner this year, it's bigger sibling - the XC60 - finished runner-up. 

That's quite a message from Sweden to the well-established luxury marques from Germany and the United Kingdom. It's going to be really interesting to see how things in the premium segment shape up in the coming years. 


2018 Los Angeles - Jeep Gladiator, the brand's first pick-up in 26 years, makes its debut

Americans love Jeeps. And they are obsessed with pick-up trucks. Ironically though, Jeep has not had a pick-up in it's portfolio for the last 26 years. Having missed out on ever-growing sales and ever-soaring profits from pick-ups for more than two decades, Jeep has decided they have had enough. In comes the Gladiator, making it's much-awaited global debut at the ongoing 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show. 

As soon as the officials at Jeep wanted to make a pick-up, it was clear that it would be based on the Wrangler. The spy-shots that came in later was more proof that the pick-up bearing the Jeep name is an extension - quite literally - of the Wrangler. Now that the curtains are off, that's exactly what the Gladiator is. And we're glad at that, given Wrangler's iconic looks, rich legacy and crazy fan-following. 

As Jeep proudly claims, the Gladiator is a modern take on authentic Jeep design cues that we have seen and grown in love with. Those familiar seven slats that form the grille, the circular headlights, that clam-shell hood with side opening levers, the foldable windshield, the detachable doors with external hinges, those massive wheel arches that protrude from the body, you name them and the Gladiator has them. What's new though is the bed aft of the rear doors. Like the facelifted Wrangler that made its debut earlier this year, the Gladiator also gets LED lighting signatures that look super cool.

Jeeps have always had the go to match their show and the Gladiator is no different. Armed with Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems, third-gen Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, a segment-exclusive electronic sway-bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires, the Gladiator can take you to places only a Jeep can. If you think all those off-roading credentials come at the expense of practicality, you're wrong. This Jeep pick-up has best-in-class towing and payload capacities amongst all mid-size trucks. Yes, it can tow upto 7,650 pounds and carry upto 1,600 pounds, more than what a Ford Ranger or a Chevrolet Colorado could.

Jeep is well aware of the fact that Gladiator customers are likely to buy it as a lifestyle choice rather than a workhorse truck. That explains why this truck comes with open-air motoring ability - sans windshield and doors - that's unique to the Jeep and a long list of official accessories for taking along your ATV, dirt bikes, skateboards and even speed boats. Mopar, Jeep's official customizing arm, is likely to have it's own list of goodies for the Gladiator right from launch too.

The cabin features an upright design and stance that's pretty much the same as that in the Wrangler. Unique metal-plated accents abound as do bolts on the shifter, grab handles and the infotainment screen's frame. Instrument cluster features a standard 3.5-inch screen or an optional 7.0-inch TFT LED screen that allows the driver to configure information in more than 100 ways. Depending on the variant, the UConnect infotainment system gets a 5.0-, 7.0- or a 8.4-inch touchscreen seated atop the center stack. Safety is taken care of as well with features like Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, Adaptive Cruise Control and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Electronic Roll Mitigation being part of the kit.

Powering the Gladiator is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 gasoline engine that churns out 285 horsepower and 352 Nm of torque and comes mated to either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic transmission. Come 2020, a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 joins the lineup too generating 260 horsepower and 599 Nm of torque. The diesel is exclusively paired to the 8-speed automatic gearbox that's tuned to handle the massive torque rating of this engine. 

Production of the Jeep Gladiator would being in the first half of 2019 with the truck expected to go on sale shortly afterwards. With Jeep posting impressive gains on the sales charts and demand for pick-ups continuing unabated, the Gladiator is all set for a homerun in the United States of America. The mid-size pick-up truck slug fest just got a whole lot tougher!

2018 Los Angeles - Hyundai Palisade debuts as the brand's new flagship

The 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show that's currently on at the popular California city might be the last big automotive event of the year but it appears to be packing quite a punch with several high-profile global premieres. One such potential big-hitter is the Hyundai Palisade, the marque's newest flagship. With three rows of seats that could accommodate eight people and measuring close to five meters in length, this all-new mid-size SUV is Hyundai's biggest and most spacious model till date.

Yes, the Palisade is late to the party that has quite a few popular models like the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. But, has it got what it takes to do the role of a flagship, attract footfalls and bring in profits? Hyundai certainly thinks so!

For starters, the Palisade looks bold and fresh. Featuring the brand's latest design language first seen on the Kona and later adopted by the Santa Fe, the Palisade features split light clusters up front on either side of the now-familiar 'Cascading Grille'. If distinct styling is what Hyundai's designers were after, that goal has been achieved, albeit in a bit "in-your-face" manner. Move over to the silhouette and the car's size makes its presence felt. While the long hood, the generous wheelbase and flared fenders look intimidating, the profile itself is generic save for the tasteful application of chrome over the window-line and the wraparound effect given by the D-pillars. The rear, in Hyundai's own words, recalls Cadillac's design language with vertical taillight elements accompanied by metallic garnishes.

Being the flagship of a brand comes with it's own set of benefits and the Palisade gets them in abundance too. The interiors, with quilted Nappa leather and smooth wood-grain finishes, are tastefully done with the Palisade aiming to impress the occupants with a sense of space and plushness unseen in a Hyundai thus far. The second row gets two captain's chairs or a bench for three depending on the seating configuration chosen. The dashboard, like in most cars these days, gets two screens - a 12.3-inch digital TFT cluster behind the steering wheel and a 10.25-inch widescreen display in the center console for audio and navigation display. 

Standard safety features include a class-exclusive Blind Spot Monitor that provides the driver with an easy-to-see body-side views whenever the turn signals are activated in addition to Forward Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Collision Avoidance, Driver Attention Warning, Lane Following Assist, High Beam Assist, Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, Safe Exit Assist that uses radar to detect cars approaching from the rear and warn occupants accordingly and seven Airbags. 

Creature comforts are in abundance too, keeping in mind the Palisade's target group of large families. Yes, the Palisade gets seven USB outlets, sixteen cup holders, option to connect two BlueTooth devices at once, a "Rear Sleep Mode" that adjusts the audio output to the front speakers alone to enable easier sleeping for those seated at the back and an intercom system that allows the front occupants to communicate independently to the second and third row or to both rows together. The parents seated at the front as well as the kids at the back are going to have fun in the Palisade, it seems!   

Under the long hood of the Palisade is a 3.8-liter V6 engine that works on the Atkinson Cycle for better fuel efficiency. Generating 291 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 355 Nm of torque, the Palisade's power and torque figures are amongst the best in the segment. Mated to this engine is a 8-speed automatic transmission that delivers power to the two front wheels or all four wheels depending on the configuration chosen. The HTRAC all-wheel drive system comes with selectable driving modes that changes the torque distribution to the wheels at the touch of a button.

The Palisade goes on sale late 2019 as a 2020 model. Yes, that's a rather delayed entry given SUV sales are booming worldwide 'right now' and Hyundai needs something bigger than the Santa Fe 'right now'. But as they always say, it's better late than never.


All-new Hyundai Santro launched between ₹3.89 - ₹5.64 Lakhs

When Hyundai unveiled the made-for-India Santro at the 1998 Auto Expo in New Delhi, not many expected the car to succeed in India. That’s not surprising, given Hyundai was pretty much an unknown entity and the car itself, with it’s odd-ball styling and weird tall-boy proportions, looked funny. Let’s also not forget that the Tata Indica and Daewoo Matiz made their debuts at the same event. But what happened when the car went on sale in September that year is history. The Santro took the market by storm, usurped hitherto-unchallenged market leader Maruti-Suzuki and laid the foundation stone for the success enjoyed by Hyundai in India till date. 

That explains why Hyundai went all out in building up hype around the all new Santro that’s making a comeback in India after a six year hiatus. Though the car was officially launched and prices were revealed today, India’s second largest car-maker had revealed the car and opened online bookings earlier this month. The response, as one would expect, has been great. The new Santro had garnered 23,500 bookings at the time of its launch, underlying the reach and popularity of the nameplate.

Slotting in below the Grand i10 in Hyundai's lineup, the Santro will eventually take the place of Eon as the brand's entry level hatchback in India. Available in five variants - D-Lite, Era, Magna, Sportz and Asta - the Santro is priced between ₹3.89 Lakhs and 5.45 Lakhs ex-showroom pan India. The Magna and Sportz variants are also available with a factory-fitted CNG option (₹5.18 - 5.46 Lakhs) and an Automated Manual Transmission (₹5.23 - 5.64 Lakhs) developed in-house. 

These prices put the Santro firmly between cars like the Maruti-Suzuki Celerio and Tata Tiago at the lower end and the Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R, it's big rival for almost two decades now, at the higher end. Hyundai's new hatch is expected to pull customers from all of these cars as well as legacy customers who are still holding on to their old Santros for the space and practicality it offers in a compact footprint.

Santro has always split opinions when it comes to design and styling and the new model stays true to that tradition. When Hyundai released images of the new Santro two weeks ago, the first reactions were that the car is overstyled. That's particularly true when the Santro shows off its profile where the unusual kink in the window line and the busy character lines vie for attention. Out at the front, the Santro gets Hyundai's new Cascading Grille that now extends the full width of the car even encompassing the high-set fog lamps. A pair of swept-back headlights - not too dissimilar to the old i10 - complete the front end. The rear gets a sculpted tailgate and a two tone bumper with built-in reflectors. 

One area where the Santro knocks the competition out of the park is with it's interiors. The biege and black cabin is well designed, well equipped and appears nicely put together. Smart touches include propeller-shaped side air-conditioning vents, a trendy instrument cluster with standard tachometer and champagne gold inserts that syncs perfectly with the beige cabin plastics. An array of first-in-class features - rear air-conditioning vents, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system equipped with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Mirror Link and Voice Recognition and rear parking camera with display in the touch screen - make their debut in the Santro. 

While Antilock Braking System with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and driver airbag are standard across the range, only the top-end Asta gets a passenger airbag. This is disappointing given the increasing levels of awareness and focus on safety. What's more annoying is Hyundai's stubbornness in not giving the buyers an option of a top-end automatic model. You can't get a Santro with a passenger airbag and an AMT!

Powering the Santro is Hyundai's tried and tested 1.1-liter engine that produces 68 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 99 Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm. In a segment where rivals use 3-cylinder engines, Santro's smooth and refined 4-cylinder mill will be an advantage. The engine comes mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or an Automated Manual Transmission dubbed 'Smart Auto'. Both the variants come with an ARAI-certified fuel efficiency of 20.3 km/l. If you opt for one of the two CNG variants, the power and torque figures drop to 58 hp and 84 Nm respectively.

The Santro is built on Hyundai's newer, bigger and stronger K1 platform that uses Advanced High Strength Steel at critical places on the body.

With over 1.86 million units sold in India and abroad during its first stint, the Santro has a huge customer base to build upon. And with the new Santro already off to a great start, things are looking brighter than ever for that number to swell considerably in the car's second stint in India. Let's watch this space!


BMW X7 breaks cover, to go on sale early 2019

Given the pace at which the German luxury trio - Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz - have been filling niches after niches in the automotive industry, it was quite a miss from the folks at BMW who had nothing in their range to go against Audi's Q7 and Mercedes' GLS. These two, together with Lexus' LX, Volvo's XC90 and Infiniti's QX80, have not just been popular but also very profitable for the respective car-makers. Making a belated entrance then is the all-new X7, BMW's first-ever full-size crossover SUV with three rows of seats. 

Have one good look at the X7 and we bet you'll end up being intimidated. Firstly, the X7 is huge, coming in a whole lot bigger than the X5 and measuring almost the same length as the 7-Series. BMW's flagship sedan is soundly beaten in terms of width and height as well. Secondly, the trademark 'kidneys' up front have grown in size and are massive. Their sizes are further accentuated by thin headlights on either sides. Viewed together, the X7 looks trendy and menacing at once. The profile is conservative featuring a strong shoulder line and a flat window line that appears to have clearly placed function over form. The rear gets slender taillights that are connected by a thick chrome bar and a chiseled tailgate. Chrome embellishments are used extensively with the shiny metal occupying prominent spots all around the vehicle. 

For those that want their rides to look sporty, there's the 'M Sport' package that offers bigger (and, of course, sexier) wheels, upgraded exhaust system and brakes, bumper bars, side skirts and body panels that are devoid of chrome. Some interior bits have changed too in line with the sporty theme this package is supposed to convey.    

In it's standard configuration, the X7 seats seven but if specced with the optional captain's chairs on the second row that comes complete with all the adjustments and settings that the driver and front passenger get, the vehicle seats six. Hardcore BMW fans no longer have to contend with the optional third row in the X5 to accommodate their near and dear.

The interiors, as such, are plush, classy and inviting. Though the design and layout are not very dissimilar to the X5 and other recent BMWs, the X7's cabin exudes a sense of richness unrivaled by the other cars from Bavaria. Two large screens - a digital cluster and an infotainment screen - occupy prime spots in the dashboard while the center stack that's angled towards the driver houses two single rows of neatly-stacked buttons and knobs to control the audio and air-conditioning. The two-tone cream and blue upholstery with those nice and glossy pale brown wooden trims interspersed look fabulous. A three-panel panoramic glass roof is standard as are a ton of creature comforts and safety assists.

High-end equipment on offer include five-zone automatic climate control, Ambient Air package, Bowers and Wilkins Diamond Surround sound system with 20 speakers, soft-close doors, heated armrests, heated and cooled cup holders, gesture control, Siri-like 'Voice Recognition' system that responds to "Hey BMW" command, Rear-seat entertainment and a sunroof with optional embedded LED lights to give that starry sky effect (like a Rolls-Royce, no less!). The list just goes on and on. 

Top notch safety kit on board include Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, Driving Assistant Professional with Steering and Lane Control Assistant, Lane Change Warning and Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assistant and Side Collision Protection, Evasion Aid, Crossing traffic warning, Priority warning and Wrong-way warning, latest generation of the BMW Head-Up Display, Emergency Stop Assistant and Parking Assistant. 

Powering the X7 are a pair of gasoline engines - a turbocharged 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine producing 335 horsepower and 447 Nm of torque and a 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8 that generates 456 horsepower and 649 Nm of torque. In the few markets where diesel cars are still in demand, BMW offers the option of either a turbocharged 3.0-liter mill that produces 256 horsepower or a quad-turbocharged unit good enough for 400 horsepower. Irrespective of the engine powering the vehicle, transmission duties are handled by a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic gearbox that transmits power to all four wheels. 

All X7s feature a fully-independent suspension with dual wishbones at the front, a five-link setup at the rear and air springs that can raise and lower the ride height as required. Optional off-road package enables selection of xSand, xGravel, xRocks and xSnow driving modes at the touch of a button.

The X7 goes on sale early 2019 and when it does, expect this mammoth BMW to pose an equally mammoth challenge to the segment best-sellers. It's game on, then!


Driven #36: 2018 Ford Freestyle

Variant Tested: 1.2L Petrol (Titanium +)

Though Ford wants you to believe otherwise, cross hatchbacks aren't exactly new in India. Volkswagen, Toyota, Fiat and Hyundai have all tried their luck in this segment. The American car-maker joined the party recently with the Freestyle, albeit with changes that are more than skin deep. By doing so, Ford has also given it's Figo (and the Aspire that shares the underpinnings) another chance to prove their mettle.

Will Ford's efforts in a segment where success has traditionally been elusive pay off? We spent a few hours in a Freestyle Titanium +, powered by the all-new 1.2-liter Dragon petrol engine, to find out.

Design & Styling

Walk to the Freestyle and it's clear this is a Figo on stilts. Yet, Ford has done enough to give the Freestyle an unique personality that complements it's 'Compact Utility Vehicle' tagline.

Head-on, the now-familiar hexagonal grille gets a gloss black paint job and looks brilliant. That, together with the smoked headlights and redesigned bumpers with prominent C-shaped fog lamp enclosures finished in - you guessed it right - black, gives the Freestyle a classy look. The theme continues in profile with smoked gunmetal alloy wheels complementing the full-length cladding and dark grey decals. At the rear, the taillights get revised detailing while the bumper gets faux vents that matches the shape of the ones found in the front bumper. 

Unlike most if it's rivals that have just visual add-ons to bring about that crossover effect, Ford's engineers have actually upped the utility quotient of the Freestyle with thoughtful changes. The ride height is up 16mm over the Figo and measures an useful 190mm, so you don't have to think twice when hitting potholes or speed humps that dot our cities. Roof rails aren't just cosmetic and can hold loads up to 50kg. The track is wider than the Figo's and the Freestyle also gets bigger 15-inch wheels shod with beefier rubber.

In all, the Freestyle looks more attractive and refreshing than the Figo, more so in the Canyon Ridge paint job you see here.

That said, this is a case of missed opportunity as well. At a time when car-buying masses go gung-ho about visual illumination elements like projectors, DRLs and LEDs, the Freestyle is completely devoid of them. Even if these add a few thousands to the cost, Ford should have incorporated them at least in the top-spec Titanium + trim level we drove. 


When Ford released images of the Freestyle's dual-tone interiors with the brown and black colour combination, "not again" was our first thought, with memories of that awful red-coloured dashboard of the old Figo haunting us. But, we will admit the Freestyle's dash doesn't look half as bad as we thought when seen in person. In fact, it looked quite premium and Ford has nailed it by making this exclusive to the top trim level.

While the basic design and layout of the cabin is the same as the Figo and the Aspire, the addition of a long-overdue touchscreen infotainment system has jazzed up the Freestyle's interiors. The dated Nokia smartphone-inspired center console is out with a slick 6.5-inch screen popping out in it's place. Right below the screen are buttons and knobs for physically controlling the infotainment system while climate control buttons and knobs are located further below. Ford has equipped the Freestyle with an extensive feature list that includes keyless entry with push button start, climate control system, Microsoft's SYNC 3.0 infotainment system (covered separately in our post), rear parking sensors with camera and a full set of active and passive safety features (covered separately in our post). 

While the interior quality doesn't hold a candle to the Volkswagens and Hyundais of the segment, it is still decent enough to withstand abuse on Indian roads. Attention to detail, though, has been great. The knurled effect on the climate control knobs, for example, is an impressive touch as is the thick-padded storage tray below that for your smartphone. There are pockets to hold upto eight water bottles in the front row alone and there's also a hidden storage spot that can be accessed only if the driver's door is open for keeping your wallet or other valuable items safe from prying eyes. In such a loaded car, some features like a dead pedal, driver's armrest and adjustable rear head restraints have been given a miss. The bean counters clearly had their say!

The steering wheel is big and meaty and adjustable only for tilt. But the front seats are long, wide and comfortable enough, so finding a good driving position isn't all that difficult. While space at the front is generous, move over to the rear and the space on offer can be, at best, termed adequate. The Baleno and Jazz are miles ahead when rear seat space and practicality are what you are looking for. Apart from fixed head restraints, rear passengers also lack door pads, air vents and central armrest and have to make do with just a single bottle holder. It is clear Ford's focus was on those occupying the front seats. 

Boot space, at a good 257 liters, can easily accommodate a family's weekend luggage and a bit more. Moreover, the rear seat can be folded forward to further increase luggage space.

Steering Wheel & Instrument Cluster

Unlike the EcoSport facelift that gets a new steering wheel design, the Freestyle continues with the same design as the previous-generation Ford models like the Fiesta, Figo and Aspire. Despite being a tad bigger than what we would have liked, the steering is good to hold with well thought-out recesses for your thumbs. Piano black detailing on the spokes look great though you will have a tough time keeping dust off it. Controls for BlueTooth telephony, Voice Commands and audio are located on the left spoke while chunky Euro-style stalks behind help control the various vehicle settings. 

The instrument cluster is a simple, functional unit dominated by a large circular speedometer in the center flanked by a tachometer and a fuel gauge on either sides. A small Multi Information Display (MID) screen is placed at the bottom of the speedometer. With read-outs for odo, trip, average speed, average fuel consumption, instantaneous fuel consumption and distance-to-empty, the screen gives you what you would require. It's just that the visual flair you come to expect these days is lacking. Given this is what most owners would spend time staring at, Ford should have given the Freestyle - a car aimed at young urban dwellers from Ford's own launch slides - a trendy, upmarket cluster.

Infotainment System

Love them or hate them, floating infotainment screens are here to stay and Ford is one of the many car-makers that has adapted it across the lineup. The old-fashioned button-clad entertainment system has been rightfully shown the door, replaced by a sleek, advanced SYNC 3.0 system.

Armed with seamless connectivity options, slick responses to the touch with zero lag, a crystal clear display and intuitive features that let you explore and master, the SYNC 3.0 has got to be one of the best entertainment systems in the mass market. From the screen that lets us adjust the Balance and Fade settings to it's unique feature set that includes Emergency Assistance (automatically dials 108 in the unfortunate event of an accident), Valet Mode (locks the system before handing over the car to a valet), Ford MyKey (programmable settings for vehicle speed and in-car audio volume), SYNC 3.0 is a masterstroke! Just like the EcoSport, rotary knobs and physical buttons are available for frequently used controls, thereby preventing the need to take your eyes off the road for those quick changes.

In a system this comprehensively equipped, the absence of an in-built navigation system is a bit of a surprise. But then that doesn't matter as the unit is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ford's AppLink also lets you access and control a handful of applications from our mobile phone as well.

Engine & Transmission

The next big thing in Ford India's powertrain portfolio is the all-new 'Dragon' family of gasoline engines. While the EcoSport facelift debuted the 1.5-liter mill, the Freestyle debuts the smaller 1.2-liter unit that's been developed to comply to the tax concessions being handed out by the Indian Government.

Boasting 95 horsepower and 120 Nm of torque, this new engine is the most powerful sub-1.2-liter unit out there on paper. It's also incredibly refined, especially once it settles down at idle. A gentle dab at the throttle is all that's needed to realize the new Freestyle is peppier than the current Figo and the Aspire. Gone is that lazy and strained build-up of speed, the 1.2-liter Dragon engine is lively right from the word go and retains that characteristic up until it's marked redline of 6,800 rpm. There's a flat zone in the middle and the engine isn't as free-revving as Suzuki's 1.2-liter unit for instance. Moreover, it gets quite vocal at higher revs.

Mated to this engine is an all-new 5-speed manual gearbox sourced from Getrag. The new transmission is a remarkable improvement over the older one with a light clutch complemented by short and crisp shifts. You don't have to put up with the rubbery feel of the gearbox anymore. Automatic transmission is not being offered at the moment, a shame given the increasing acceptance of slush boxes in India.

While we haven't driven that yet, the Freestyle also has a diesel engine powering it, the same tried-and-tested 1.5-liter TDCi unit that churns out 99 horsepower and 215 Nm of torque.

Official fuel-efficiency figures are 19.0 km/l for the 1.2-liter petrol and 24.4 km/l for the 1.5-liter diesel variants. That said, an enthusiastic early morning sprint like ours with ample idling is likely to drag that figure lower, like our 8.0 km/l readout proves.

Ride & Handling

The original Figo launched in 2010 was a benchmark in the small car segment, thanks to it's exemplary ride and handling balance. The second-generation Figo strayed off this line before Ford did some course correction with the S variant launched a couple of years back. We are happy to report the Freestyle is more Figo S than the regular Figo when it comes to exhibiting trademark Ford DNA.

Ride quality is supple and the car absorbs bumps and potholes with remarkable poise. Go faster and the Freestyle isn't unsettled as a softly-sprung car would be. With a far stiffer ride, Ford's own EcoSport has to learn a thing or two from the Freestyle's suspension tuning. The MacPherson struts up front and the twist beam at the rear do their jobs exceedingly well and leave no room to complain. Handling is spot-on as well despite the Freestyle being a high-riding cross hatch. Body roll is non-existent at slow and medium speeds and well-controlled at high speeds. This, coupled with a responsive steering and superb straight-line stability at high speeds, make the Freestyle one fun-to-drive car. 

The 185/60 R15 tires offer sufficient grip for everyday driving with the ventilated discs up front and drums at the rear endowing the car with good braking abilities. 


Ford, along with Toyota and Volkswagen, is at the forefront when it comes to exhibiting utmost commitment to safety. Have no doubt, all you need is a glance through the Freestyle's brochure to put those concerns to rest.

Freestyle's standard safety kit across the lineup includes dual front airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), seat belt reminders for the driver and front passenger, reverse parking sensor and speed-sensing automatic door locks. The top-spec Titanium + variant, the one we drove, is even more generously equipped with features like side and curtain airbags, Active Rollover Prevention (collective term for Hill Launch Assist, Electronic Stability Program and Traction Control System), Emergency Assistance, Ford MyKey and rear view camera.

With such armory, it is clear the Freestyle is amongst the safest car in the country this side of 10 Lakh Rupees. Well done, Ford, for leading the way!


From the very beginning, it was pretty clear the Freestyle is unlike any other cross hatchback we have seen. This car is not just a hatchback with a few cosmetic embellishments and plastic panels added on. Now, after spending quality time with it, the Freestyle has moved itself out of the Figo's shadow and emerged as a genuine contender for the segment honours. Sure, there are a few essentials missing from the package and the car isn't as spacious as some of its competitors are, but by virtue of offering so much more in other aspects for significantly lesser money than its rivals, the Freestyle might just be the success that has eluded Ford recently in the mass market.

Photography: Bharath Rengaraj
Content & Editing: Aravind Ramesh


Datsun Go and Go+ facelifts caught testing in Chennai

It's been over four years since Datsun made its debut in India with the Go amidst much fanfare. While Nissan's plan was to gain sales and market share in emerging markets like ours with the resurrected Datsun brand, it didn't quite go to plan. Yet, remarkably, Brand Datsun sells more cars today in India than it's more-popular parent Nissan. Most of that though come from the redi-Go - Datsun's version of the successful Renault Kwid. The Go and later the Go+ haven't made an impact here, struggling with monthly sales of a few hundred units each. 

Despite that, Datsun is not giving up on the Go duo. These test mules, caught in stop-start Chennai traffic last Sunday, is proof Datsun is cooking up something to make the Go and Go+ more appealing. While both the cars are heavily camouflaged, they still reveal interesting details about the impending facelift. Moreover, Datsun officially unveiled the facelifted Go and Go+ in Indonesia earlier this year, hinting at what changes could be heading our way.

These are the clearest spy-shots yet of the facelifted Go and Go+ with one of the images even giving us a glimpse of the center console. We can now confirm the Indian models will have similar looks and features as the models unveiled in Indonesia.   

External changes are subtle with the biggest change being the new mesh pattern in the grille and an all-new bumper with vertically-stacked Daytime Running Lights. The headlights and the taillights see some minor tweaks as well while the car appears to be shod with bigger 14-inch alloy wheels that fill the wheel wells better. The Go has always been a decent-looking car while the same can't be said of the Go+. This facelift would do nothing to change that with the Go+ still looking disproportionate and awkward from certain angles. 

The interiors are said to have a major revamp which is great news for anybody who have sat inside the current model's bare-bones cabin. The center console is now all-new featuring trapezoidal air-conditioner vents with the camouflage beneath hiding what could potentially be a touchscreen infotainment system. That's quite a jump considering the current Go didn't even have a proper music system at launch. Features like electrically-adjustable mirrors and power windows for all four doors are expected too. 

Another noticeable change is the presence of two individual bucket seats in front with integrated headrests. That would ensure the gimmicky and frankly-unsafe seat extension in the first row is done away with and the awful, dash-mounted, pull-type handbrake lever is replaced by a conventional unit between the seats.  

This being a mid-cycle facelift, mechanical or structural changes are not expected. The 1.2-liter 3-cylinder petrol engine will continue powering both the cars. Datsun could still spring a surprise by beefing up the safety quotient by throwing in an airbag or two and making Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) as standard.  

Coinciding with the facelift, Datsun is expected to re-position the Go and Go+ a few notches higher up the order. So, will the prices go up? Of course they will but the stiff competition in entry-level segments from Maruti-Suzuki would mean Datsun has to play it safe than sorry. Will the facelift make the Go and Go+ more desirable? Let's watch this space.