People movers aren’t quite as big business as they used to be and you can thank the rise of the SUV for that. However there’s still a few out there including the Italian as apple pie Fiat Freemont. A Wheel Thing gets family oriented for a week sampling the top of the tree Freemont Lounge (ahead of Base and Urban) and finds out that there’s still room for people moving vehicles.
The Driven Heart
As one would expect at the top of the tree, there’s no manual with the petrol engine (there is, oddly, with the diesel, which should have the auto and vice versa) but it’s a good one; six ratios connected to the front wheels and largely crisp when changing, especially under hard acceleration. Under normal driving it’s quiet and smooth, as is the 2.4L 125kW petrol donk. Given its head, it’s revvy, buzzy, peppy and too thirsty for this kind of vehicle. Consumption of over 13L/100 km is unsuitable, hence the need to swap to the diesel with an auto or, better yet, a V6 as it’s torque this family wagon needs, with just 220Nm on tap @ a high 4500 rpm, whilst the diesel twists out 350 torques.
On a flat road it’s responsive enough, reacting quickly enough to a prod of the pedal but loses energy quickly uphill with first or second gear being chosen as the norm, revving past 5000 and not aiding economy by any measure. Over 4000 the powerplant throws out a metallic, high pitched thrum as it heads towards the redline of 6500 revs and it pulls harder from around 3500. It sounds good without being harsh but isn’t really needed to be pushed to that limit around town. Gears themselves are selected by a fingertip throw J gate style lever with manual selection available at the end of the lever’s travel but somewhat redundant in that there’s no obvious need. Economy finished on 12.3L/100 kays….not exactly frugal.
Based as it is on the Chrysler/Dodge Journey, Fiat have barely touched the exterior. Freemont badge, Fiat badge, change to the grille, LED taillights add to a somewhat boxy shell. It’s inoffensive, a touch bland and somehow makes it look like it’s an SUV when it’s not. In a market of people movers with just a couple that aren’t SUVs it needs something to make it visually “pop”; a jewelled style headlight cluster and driving lights pushed to each corner, flared guards, very stylish alloys plus simple yet effective black highlights struggle manfully against a shape that is as generically boxy as they come. The Freemont rides on 225/55/19 inch Kumhos wrapping the sweet looking wheels which succeed in filling the vast wheel arches, aiding the almost SUV look. The tailgate is upward hinging and light on the gas struts, with the external handgrip on the right hand side. The driver’s door has a touch tab on the inside of the handle, with the outside having a simple touch tab on the outer…important to note that it won’t lock from the outside if the inside tab is touched.
The Office Space
It’s in the interior where the Freemont Lounge not only pulls out the family badge, it waves it around whilst doing a jig. Roof mounted DVD player, seven seats, separate aircon controls, roof mounted vents, flip up mid seat cushions for extra height for the kids, 90 degree opening rear doors for access, lift up front passenger seat storage and mid mounted lift up floor storage (removable and washable), slip and slide seats in the middle plus a centre console with cupholders and storage, a almost totally horizontal load space with seats folded down, making it an exceptionally family useable package.
The dash itself is a simple and clean design, with a clear family (no pun intended) resemblance to its American cousins, not unexpectedly. Two dials frame a small LCD screen with a multifunction interface, operated by buttons on the steering wheel (not exactly intuitive to use without checking the user manual) with generic looking plastics around, in black and a brushed chrome look plus a streak running across the upper console framing the aircon vents and housing the buttons for them. In the lower centre console resides the ergonomically simple fan speed/temperature and volume dials; on the other side of the bar is the brilliant touchscreen with everything from navigation to heated seat control. It also displays outside temperatures plus gives you an in screen or full screen option for the map display.
Above the centre mount passengers is the DVD screen plus the controls for the rear aircon; simple and effectively accessible and laid out, a great indication of smart thinking. The rear seats eschew complication also, relying instead on a simple and effective full strap setup which works and works well. Soundswise there’s Alpine on board, with good depth and clarity matched by a well balanced bass system.
On The Road
Underwhelming engine numbers dull an otherwise well sorted mechanical experience; it’s mostly point and shoot for the steering, aided by the big and grippy Kumho tyres, with ride quality surprising in its suppleness. The Freemont was punted hard across speedhumps and succeeded in reducing the intrusion to a barely audible thump, with the chassis deviating only minutely in a curve. There’s no noticeable wallowing or floating either whilst on the flat it simply rolls along nicely. The donk’s lack of torque isn’t an issue here but becomes noticeably missed on hills. Sydney’s Old Bathurst Road is a prime example, forcing the petrol/auto combination into high rev and low gear mode. When wrestled around town the Freemont Lounge is admirable in its indifference to road inconsistencies, adapting to varying road surfaces easily. This is where Fiat’s engineering prowess comes in play, the Freemont being the first joint project between Chrysler and the Italian owners, giving the family orient vehicle a family safe ride.
Quite simply, the Freemont aims for a target and succeeds (mostly) in hitting it; it’s family oriented and it shows in the design and features. The mismatch comes in the form of not having the diesel and auto as the class head rather than the petrol. Otherwise, it’s well engineered, well built and ticks most of the boxes you would expect. With the range kicking off at $27000 it’s also well priced, this first joint venture between Fiat and Chrysler. Check it out here: http://www.fiat.com.au/freemont?gclid=CMD33pf1mrsCFcYzpAodZg8AOw