Car reviews - Fiat - Freemont - range
Standard equipment for the money, heaps of clever cabin storage, seven-seat availability for well under $30k, cushy ride and front seats, spacious third row
Room for improvement
Flat middle seat-row, wooden brakes, no diesel automatic option, petrol engine a bit lethargic
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9 Apr 2013
IT’S no secret Australians are ditching people-movers in favour higher-riding (and frequently two-wheel-drive) SUVs.
Not surprising, then, that Fiat has its sights set on the like of Holden’s Captiva 7 rather than Kia’s Carnival when it comes to nominating rivals.
In reality, buyers chasing seven seats on a tight budget – regardless of the bodystyle that cloaks it – are sure to take a look at the Freemont, considering its starting price.
At $27,000 drive-away, its undercuts most smaller SUVs and people-movers, let alone similarly sized rivals. And shelling out $32,000 gets you a top-spec, leather-trimmed seven-seater with a standard equipment list that leaves most at this price point in the shade.
Try an 8.4-inch touchscreen (the same excellent system as used in the Chrysler 300), a reversing camera, triple-zone climate control and 19-inch alloy wheels. For a further $1500, you can add a nine-inch rear screen.
The Freemont, then, is an attractive proposition on the showroom floor. But the question is, what’s it like to actually live with?
Well, the cabin is flexible, with clever folding seats, integrated middle-row boosters (a la Volvo) and the plethora of hidden hidey holes (under the passenger seat, under the middle footwell, under the rear cargo area).
The van-like dimensions and boxy shape give the Freemont an airy and spacious cabin, with sufficient headroom for your 194cm writer, even in the third row. The second row of seats are easy to slide fore and aft, and the large door aperture makes third-row access better than average.
The second and third rows also fold completely flat, giving a large and rectangular loading area of 1461 litres. Our team managed to move house, stop by IKEA and cart around a pushbike on the same weekend, and the Freemont proved an able companion.
Having air vents on all three rows in a welcome touch at this price point, while kids in the back will appreciate the large glasshouse afforded by the boxy styling (unlike more stylish, but less passenger-friendly models such as the Hyundai Santa Fe).
Finally, we liked the clever drop-down separate mirror that gives a good view of the rear seat rows – allowing you to keep an eye on the kids.
However, while the front seats are relatively comfortable, there isn’t much room for the long-legged, and the lack of a designated footrest on the manual diesel rankled.
Furthermore, the second-row seats are flat and have a short base – you sit on them, rather than in them.
The driving position is comfortable and quite commanding, with a logical instrument fascia and plenty of seat/wheel adjustment. The large 8.4-inch screen in the middle and top-spec variants is one of the better units around, and the reversing camera image is crystal clear.
However, the short-shifter in the manual diesel makes the car feel almost van-like at times.
Most of our time was spent behind the wheel of the diesel in question. With 125kW and 350Nm, it’s sufficient grunt to haul a family or a load about. Its a little rough and noisy by modern standards, though.
However, the fact that we averaged fuel use of around 7.0 litres per 100km in metro driving is pretty damned impressive.
Fiat surely rues the lack of an automatic transmission option, but the standard manual shifter is at least fitted with hill-start assist to prevent roll-backs and has a light clutch operation.
The 2.4-litre petrol with six-speed automatic – predicted to be the volume seller – is noisy and a touch lethargic, with the tacho frequently reading at 5000rpm or higher. It’s by no means awful, but could struggle under full load.
The Freemont is not exactly the last word in dynamic finesse, with hydraulic steering that is both vague off-centre and heavier than average at low speeds, and a propensity to wallow in the bends.
The wooden brakes don’t help the situation.
However, the ride on the all-round independent suspension is cushy and soft – its American underpinnings make this no surprise – and the 225/65 tyres make little intrusive noise, although the front hoops do have a propensity to chirp at take-off.
We’re willing to let a few dynamic shortcomings slide, anyway. As we said before, the Freemont is about maximum space and practicality at minimum cost.
On that front, with its roomy seven-seat cabin, replete with plenty of features, and that sharp pricetag, the Freemont hits something of a home run.
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