2014 Fiat Freemont Lounge review
Isaac Bober’s 2014 Fiat Freemont Lounge review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.
The Fiat Freemont offers best-in-class pricing, a seven seat option and a flexible and spacious interior. Squint, though, and you can probably still see the marks where they pried off the Dodge Journey badge, says Isaac Bober.
When Fiat stepped in and saved Chrysler from total collapse in 2009 few would have guessed that within just a few short years the American brand would be providing 75% of Fiat’s operating profit. Indeed, as I write, Fiat is contemplating shifting its international headquarters from its Turin birthplace to the US.And that brings me perhaps not so neatly to the Fiat Freemont.
The Fiat Freemont is the first result, at least here in Australia, of the tie-up between Fiat and Chrysler. It sells alongside its virtual twin under the skin, the Dodge Journey, although it’s considerably cheaper (from $25,990+ORC vs from $34,081+ORC), is available with seven seats but misses out on the Journey-only 3.6-litre Pentastar V6. I’m testing the Fiat Freemont 2.4L Lounge ($30,300+ORC).
The Fiat Freemont makes do with either a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (mated to a six-speed automatic) or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (mated only to a six-speed manual). The Freemont is standard with five seats, but a third row (taking it to seven) can be added for $1500, but more on that later.
If you’ve been trawling the internet you’ll have no doubt come across numerous references to the Fiat Freemont being an SUV. It isn’t. It’s only available as a front-wheel drive (an all-wheel drive version is available in other markets), so, it’s a people mover in the same vein as a Honda Odyssey (only much cheaper: from $25,990+ORC vs from $37,100+ORC).
ON THE OUTSIDE
The Fiat Freemont might be little more than a tarted up Dodge Journey, but it looks good
Park the Fiat Freemont next to a Dodge Journey and there’s no mistaking they’re virtually the same vehicle. But Fiat has done a lot more with the Freemont than just add a Fiat badge to the front of a Dodge. The front and rear of the vehicle have been given a tweak here and there with the Fiat Freemont looking more purposeful than its Dodge Journey sibling. As for the rest of the vehicle, well, bar a few cosmetic flourishes, like a blacked-out side strip to create the impression of there only being a single side window, it follows the look of the Dodge.
ON THE INSIDE
The Fiat Freemont has a quality look and feel
Clamber up inside the Fiat Freemont and you’re immediately hit by the quality look and feel of the dashboard. Swathed in soft-touch materials and beautiful soft matt finishes on the plastic bright work, big buttons, and a nice high-set driving position all combine to give the Freemont, at least initially, an air of feeling more expensive than it actually is.Sadly that feeling soon wears off, though.
The test vehicle had only travelled a tick or two over 2000km and already the light switch felt wobbly, the lid of the centre console/armrest was loose and squeaked whenever I rested my arm on it. When I shifted from D (for drive) to R (for reverse) there was a horrid drive-line shudder, and the sat-nav took almost five minutes to calibrate…but I’ll come back to this.
Sitting up nice and high, and with big wing mirrors, the Fiat Freemont offers good forward and side vision, but with numerous pillars in the way and a small rear windscreen, you have to be extra careful with lane changes, shoulder checks and reverse parking. Luckily the Fiat Freemont has front and rear reversing sensors and a camera display on the huge 8.4-inch (touchscreen) colour display; the only problem is the picture, even in full sunlight, is grainy at best, becoming worse in low-light or when it’s raining.
In the Freemont Lounge the touchscreen is the interface for the vast majority of controls, from connecting your phone to adjusting the seat heaters, and just about everything else in between. And, on the whole (besides the length of time it took for the navigation unit to recalibrate, or even keep up, at one stage the system was a good five streets/turns behind where I actually was) it’s a good system. And you can navigate your way from pairing your phone to looking up an address quickly and easily.
Away from some of the touch points and control units, the Fiat Freemont is a practical beast with a flexible seating arrangement that’s one of the best in the business. Indeed, because every single seat in the vehicle can be folded flat there’s a staggering 32 different seating configurations.
A big boxy vehicle, there’s plenty of room inside the Freemont
The Freemont’s dimensions of 4910mm (long), 1880mm (wide) and 1710mm (high) and a wheelbase of 2890mm means there’s plenty of room inside to accommodate a potential seven passengers. The stadium-style seating arrangement (meaning the second row is mounted slightly higher than the front, and the third row is slightly higher than the second) in the Fiat Freemont allows for all passengers, even those right down the back in the third row, to have a view, not just to the side, but also of the road ahead.
Speaking of the seats, both the second and third row can be folded totally flat into the floor offering storage space of 167 litres (or enough for a soft bag or two) with the third row in place; 784 litres if the third row is folded flat; and 1461 litres (or enough for 10 suitcases, says Fiat) with both the third and second row folded flat.There are two children’s booster seats set into the second row (at the pull of a lever you simply fold-up the seat base, and it can be raised by up to 102mm). That’s a nice touch (the seatbelt geometry is already optimised to suit).
The tilt-and-slide function on the second row of seats makes climbing into the back seats, even for a six-footer like me, a relatively simple affair. But the two seats that make up the third row really are best kept for children; I had minimal leg room and wouldn’t have been comfortable on anything other than a short drive. But, I like the fact the rear doors can be opened right out to 90-degrees to make it easier to get in and out of the third row, and the doors seems solid enough too. Anyone with children will know how they like to lean hard on them to climb up into their seat.
According to the press pack, the Fiat Freemont contains more than 20 storage compartments and I found just about all of them. There’s a storage compartment beneath the passenger’s seat, and two big bins under the floor in the second row (and these can be taken out and washed), there are numerous cup holders and a whole host of other hidey holes (like in the boot floor behind the third row) to keep your odds and ends away from prying eyes.
As mentioned earlier, the Fiat Freemont offers minimal boot space when all three rows are being used, but the simple fact that every seat can be folded flat means you can load bulky items inside the vehicle quite easily. And the flat, low load lip means heaving items into and out of the boot is a cinch.
The Freemont is a little undergunned and likes a drink
Under the bonnet of this Freemont Lounge there’s a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 125kW at 6000rpm and 220Nm at 4000rpm. This is mated to a six-speed automatic and fuel consumption, according to Fiat, is a combined 9.8L/100km. I’d suggest this is an optimistic figure, because in my week with the Freemont I couldn’t better an average of 10.9L/100km, while the worst average for a 200km trip was 13.9L/100km, and that was with just me in the vehicle.
Part of the problem is the tall gearing and the fact that peak power and torque are delivered quite high in the rev range. It means that unless you’re simply pootling along on a whiff of throttle the Freemont is in a gear lower than you would have expected and it’s revving hard. It’s doesn’t help that the Freemont weighs a hefty 1874kg.And speaking of the gearbox, despite being a six-speed unit, it feels more like an old-school four-speed automatic transmission. It hunts around for the right gear when you’re driving on hills, it’s clumsy in its transition from gear to gear, and shudders moving from Drive to Reverse. The whole ensemble comes off feeling unrefined, coarse and laboured when you’re travelling with more than one on board.
GOOD TO DRIVE
Fiat’s engineers gave the Freemont a once over, but should have done more…
While the mechanicals of the Fiat Freemont are largely a carry-over from the Dodge Journey, Fiat’s engineers have apparently tickled the suspension, steering and brakes. It hasn’t helped. Much.
The Freemont’s steering builds weight inconsistently as you’re turning the wheel, it also feels overly sprung towards the centre and there’s no feel whatsoever. Turn into a corner and you find yourself see-sawing (slightly) at the wheel to get a sense of where the front wheels are pointing.
As for the ride, well, no doubt the engineers have done the best job possible with what they had to begin with. At around-town speeds the Freemont deals well with minor undulations and smaller bumps without fuss, but as speed builds and the quality of the surface deteriorates it’s not so good.
The short-travel shock absorbers top and bottom out easily, although the ride isn’t upset (meaning the rebound spring rate is just about right); so, while it becomes crashy it won’t buck you off the road. And the brakes, which Fiat’s engineers also had a look at, are strong and progressive.
The test Freemont was showing signs of severe wear and tear
This can be a hard one to evaluate in only a week of testing, but luckily for us the Fiat Freemont presented (and remember it had only just travelled over 2000km) with a few issues. There was the wobbly light switch that felt as if it might push through the dashboard (so I left the lights in auto mode), and the centre console/armrest lid flexed and squeaked. The sat-nav too often struggled to keep up with us on the road, and there was that clunky gear shift.
The plastics used inside the Freemont and the leather used on the seats (we haven’t yet tested a Freemont with fabric seats) seem tough and hard wearing and so should put up with kids reasonably well. But the flimsiness of some of the switchgear and the complexity of the seats means there’s plenty of potential for problems.
The Freemont’s brakes have been tweaked, but apparently they have on the equivalent Dodge Journey too in an effort to avoid the pads and rotors being chewed out after just 12,000km (new pads and re-skimmed rotors – which is quite expensive) – a big complaint from owners.
The location of the battery, too, could be a problem for some; it’s buried deep beneath a fuse box on the left-hand side of the vehicle and will be tricky to access when the time comes to replace it. All up, the Freemont feels fairly solid, but whether it’ll hold up to abuse of children, well, only time will tell. We’d love to hear from any owners about their own experiences with the Fiat Freemont.
EQUIPMENT & PRICING
The Fiat Freemont offers a lot of car for a little bit of money
Glance at the list of standard features on the Fiat Freemont Lounge and you can’t help but be impressed. Listing for $30,300 (+ORC), the top-of-the-range Freemont Lounge gets: 19-inch alloys (but only a space-saver spare wheel); dual-zone climate control (although the test car ran the $1500 Flexible Seating option which includes tri-zone climate control); Bluetooth and iPod connectivity with audio streaming; sat-nav and 8.4-inch touchscreen with reversing camera and rear parking sensors; plus leather interior and an alarm with anti-intrusion system.
The Fiat Freemont just missed a five-star ANCAP rating
In terms of safety, the Fiat Freemont received a four-star ANCAP crash safety rating (based on EuroNCAP testing) and much has been made of this by other motoring sites. The Freemont missed out on scoring five stars by just 0.35, scoring 32.15 out of 37 (32.5/37 is needed to achieve a five-star rating).The Freemont is fitted with six airbags, active front head restraints to reduce whiplash, rear parking sensors and reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring system, traction and stability control, ABS, Brake Assistance and Hill Holder and Electronic Rollover Mitigation, and disc brakes front and back.