At the Ford Freestyle media drive this month. I couldn’t help thinking about its prospects. After all, we’ve had a variety of cross-hatches but most failed to find any measure of success. Why did they fail? And could the Freestyle do better?
Let’s begin with the failures, starting with the Cross Polo. In standard guise, the Polo is far from being a bestseller, and for the Cross Polo, VW slapped on some stickers and cladding and that was it, no mechanical changes whatsoever. Furthermore, the angle of approach actually reduced thanks to the added lip spoiler. Customers naturally stayed away. Similarly, there’s the Etios Cross that didn’t do very well, as, like in the case of the Polo, the standard car wasn’t a bestseller, and all Toyota did was throw on even more cladding and leave the mechanicals as is.
Fiat, on the other hand, had a real go at a cross-hatch with the Avventura. For starters, it raised the ride height and tweaked the suspension, an anti-roll bar was added at the rear and the tyres were wider. The spare tyre was mounted on a swingarm over the rear tailgate to lend it that SUV look, and the cabin got the addition of an inclinometer and a compass. Of course, the Avventura also got the expected off-road bits. However, this too didn’t do well. Even losing the tailgate spare and launching it as the Urban Cross didn’t help. No detective work required here to figure out that the Fiat brand itself had done them in.
Then there’s the i20 Active. Hyundai did raise the ride height but its biggest strength was the very capable ‘base’ car, and, of course, the Hyundai brand. Naturally, compared to the others, the i20 Active did find some measure of success, but nothing to really write home about.
So why had success eluded them all? The problem was a fundamental one: the approach. All these manufacturers lacked a compact SUV and got their premium hatches tarted up as crossovers to address this gap. When presented with cross-hatches (often similarly priced), buyers would always find them not SUV enough. This brings me to the Honda WR-V and the Ford Freestyle.
With the WR-V, Honda added all the de rigueur off-road bits like cladding and rails, and also raised the ride height. But, it went one step further, making significant sheet metal changes to give the car a more upright SUV look, quite different from the car it was based on – the Jazz. SUV enough then, as its market success indicates.
What then of the Freestyle? It isn’t SUV enough like a WR-V, but Ford has taken a completely different approach. For an SUV buyer, a cross-hatch is likely to be seen as not-SUV-enough, whereas for a hatchback buyer a cross-hatch is likely to be seen as a car with some good SUV traits. Thus, while the others banked on cross-hatches to address their SUV gap, Ford has taken the cross-hatch route to address their premium hatchback gap – and it’s this differing approach that could make all the difference.
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