We usually associate Fiat with its most iconic model, the Fiat 500. It’s a charming little car that is full of fun and character (read our review here). However, with only two doors and four seats, things start to get a little tricky if you have a family and a pooch to haul.
When it comes to moving people “en masse”, the vehicle of choice is usually an SUV, one which the Italian brand doesn’t have. Happily, Fiat is a majority shareholder of the Chrysler Group and in the good old tradition of badge engineering, the quickest way to bring a product to the market is to slap your own badge on someone else’s product.
That’s exactly what Fiat has done with the Freemont. It was born a Dodge Journey in the US of A, and given an Italian passport and a new name.
We recently spent some time with the Italian with an American accent to see if it is a worthy family taxi.
Design and Comfort
Fiat left the Journey virtually unchanged from its transition from Dodge to Fiat. Its strong and muscular stance remains, while a restyled front and rear bumper, and slightly different front grille and LED taillights sets it apart from its twin from across the Atlantic.
Similarly, the cabin has been carried over almost entirely unchanged, with only the Fiat badge on the steering wheel to tell you you’re sitting in the Italian, rather than the American model. A brand-new instrument panel rounds up the minor variation. The cabin layout is one that is modern and clean, with soft touch materials and chrome elements.
This is not a bad thing as the Freemont is spacious and comfortable, something which the Americans do particularly well.
Offered in three trim levels – Base, Urban and the range-topping Lounge tested here, the car sits on a generous wheelbase of 2,890mm and comes standard with two rows of seats. Our test car is optionally equipped with a third row that can be easily accessible via an effortlessly operated seat slide system, and rear doors that open to 90o. When not in used, the third row folds completely flat for 784 litres of luggage space. Should the needs arise, the 2nd row tumbles forward for an even larger 1,461 litres. All in, there are 32 different seating configurations.
The Freemont’s family-friendly attributes are further reinforced with theatre-style seating for the 2nd and 3rd row seats where they are mounted slightly higher than the row before, allowing the little ones unrestricted views of the scenery that rushes past the vast glasshouse. The 2nd row also has built-in child booster seats that raise the seats by up to 102mm.
There are over 20 storage compartments on-board to cater to a family’s diverse needs, from a deep front centre armrest to an under cushion compartment under the front passenger seat. At the back, there’s also under floor compartments in the second row footwell.
Mum and Dad could also specify an optional video player, complete with roof-mounted 9” screen and wireless headphones to keep little precious occupy on long journeys.
Performance and Handling
Unlike the Dodge Journey which is only available with a Chrysler 3.6-litre V6 petrol, the Fiat Freemont is offered with a pair of Fiat developed and produced engines.
There’s a 2.0-litre MultiJet II turbo-diesel that produces 125kW @ 4,000rpm and 350Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm, or a 2.4-litre petrol that delivers 125kW @ 6,000rpm and 220Nm @ 4,500rpm, as fitted to our test car.
Like an American who has had one too many Big Macs with fries, the petrol engine struggles under the 1,874kg weight of the car. As a consequence, you’ll have to surf through almost the entire arch on the rev counter before any decent power is put down at the front wheels.
Paired with a 6-speed automatic (the diesel is married to a 6-speed manual), its gear changes are smooth but have a tendency to hunt around frantically for gears on inclines.
The Freemont is most at home cruising on the straights at constant speeds where its superior refinement shines. The cabin is enveloped in a bubble of serenity that is only punctured by the occasional wind noise that rushes around the giant wing mirrors.
Carry too much speed into a tight corner though and the car will pitch and roll as the chassis scuffles to rein in its lumbering mass. Any sudden changes in direction will also unsettle the car, and anything contained within.
Compounding the mediocre handling is a rather numb steering feel. It is however light and makes parking manoeuvres a breeze.
The American built Freemont is surprisingly well made. There are hardly a squeak or rattle in our test car and all switch gears have a robust feel to them.
Unsurprisingly, the Fiat Freemont returned an unremarkable 13.4L/100km of unleaded fuel, due to the constant need for the engine to pile on revs.
The $25,990 entry price for the ‘Base’ buys 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone airconditioning, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, auto dipping rear-view mirror, keyless entry and start, alarm, integrated child-booster seats, tyre pressure monitor and Uconnect infotainment system with 4.3-inch touchscreen CD/MP3 and integrated telephone with voice command and Bluetooth audio streaming.
Mid-range ‘Urban’ adds a larger 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system which includes DVD player, dual-zone climate control, six-way electric adjustment for the driver’s seat and Sunscreen glass.
The range-topping Fiat Freemont ‘Lounge’ is delivered with satellite-navigation, accent-stitched leather upholstery and premium door trims, chrome roof bars, Alpine audio system with subwoofer and 368-watt amplifier, 19-inch alloy wheels and heated front seats.
The 2013 Fiat Freemont is a car the whole family could enjoy. It is spacious and comfortable, and there is a lot of car for the money.
If you can live with DIY gear shifting and put up with average dynamics, the diesel variant would be the pick for its pulling power and economy.
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||From $25,990 to $32,600|
As tested: $33,750*
|Engine:||2.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol 125kW @ 6,000rpm, 220Nm @ 4,000rpm, front-wheel drive||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo-diesel 125kW @ 4,000rpm, 350Nm @ 1,750 – 2,500rpm, front-wheel drive|
|Transmission:||6-speed automatic||6-speed manual|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 9.8|
|Safety:||Not rated||4-star ANCAP|
|Dimensions (mm):||Length: 4,910, Width: 1,878, Height: 1,705, Wheelbase: 2,890|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1,874|
|Max Towing Capacity (braked) (kg):||454||1,250|