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Trust the French to insist that a sensible, functional people mover doesn’t have to be boring.
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The fastest growing vehicle segment in Australia is that of medium SUVs. So it comes as no surprise that Fiat, which is currently undergoing rapid expansion in Australia, has entered the arena with a model called the Freemont.
Fiat Freemont, shares many components with the Dodge Journey because Fiat took over the American car maker when Chrysler/Dodge went under during the GFC. Chrysler has long been a major designer of what our cousins on the other side of the Pacific call ‘minivans’. Downunder we use the term ‘people movers’.
Though Freemont is more people mover than SUV, its styling leans in the SUV direction and Fiat Australia hopes many buyers will compare it with others in the huge range of SUVs now on sale. Despite its appearance, the Fiat Freemont isn’t offered with 4WD, the engine is connected only to the front wheels.
There’s no better way to grab the attention of Australian car buyers than with a low price tag. Hence the introduction of the Fiat Freemont with a price list that starts at just $27,000 driveaway. Our road test was done on a 2.4-litre petrol Freemont Lounge which came in at $30,300 plus on-road costs.
Fiat Freemont is available in three specification level: Base, Urban and Lounge. The so-called base Freemont ‘Base’ is far from being base when it comes to standard equipment. It even has Fiat’s Uconnect infotainment system with a 4.3-inch touchscreen; CD/MP3; and integrated telephone with voice command and Bluetooth audio streaming. There are USB and Aux inputs.
Freemont Base also features 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone air-conditioning and keyless entry and start. Then there are automatic headlights; rear-parking sensors; an alarm system with an anti-intrusion feature; and the added safety of a tyre pressure monitoring system.
The mid-range Fiat Freemont Urban receives a larger infotainment screen, at 8.4 inches; a DVD player; automatic temperature control in the air conditioning; six-way electronic adjustment for the driver’s seat; a leather-wrapped gear-lever; and Sunscreen glass.
Fiat Freemont Lounge tops off the lineup. It gets 19-inch alloy wheels; satellite navigation; leather upholstery and premium door trims; heated front seats; chromed roof bars; an Alpine audio system with a subwoofer and 368-watt amplifier.
Built-in booster seats for children are standard on all models, making the Freemont excellent value for cash-strapped people mover buyers.
The Fiat Freemont comes standard with a five-seat layout. A seven-seat configuration is available as an option, including three-zone climate control. The second row of seats can slide forward by up to 100 mm from their rearmost position, giving parents easy access to children sitting in the second row. All seats, including the front passenger one, can be folded down to create a vast flat load area.
Theatre-style seating in seven-seat Freemonts ensures good visibility for those travelling in the back seats. Though a lot of luggage space is, naturally, lost when all seven seats are in use it’s possible to fit three cabin bags upright in the remaining space. Cleverly this is supported by nets to prevent it falling when the tailgate is opened.
As well as regular crash avoidance electronics the Fiat Freemont also has a trailer sway control, roll mitigation and tyre pressure monitoring. Should a crash still occur occupants are protected by six airbags, with the side-curtain ‘bags extending to coverage of the third-row seat. Integrated child booster seats are another welcome standard feature.
Fiat Freemont is powered by either a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. The 2.4-litre petrol engine produces 125 kW of power, and 220 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. The diesel has up to 125 kW, and 350 Nm between 1750 and 2500 rpm.
Both engines drive the front wheels via either a six-speed automatic transmission when the petrol engine is fitted, or a six-speed manual with the diesel. So if you want the economy and added grunt of a turbo-diesel you will have to do your own gearshifting, which will hamper sales in Australia as local drivers don’t follow the European path of maximising driving pleasure.
On the road we like the way the Freemont rides and the excellent insulation from noise and vibration it displays. It really does feel as though it’s as smooth and relaxing as significantly more expensive SUVs and people movers. The vehicle’s Dodge underpinnings show in a slight vagueness in the steering, and handling that’s safe but with no sporting overtones. American roads are pretty rough and ready in many places and they like a soft ride over there in the US of A.
The petrol engine in our test car probably had enough power for the typical buyer, but its torque is developed high in the rev range (max is at 4500 rpm) so the six-speed auto is kept busy in hilly terrain and/or when there’s a big load on board. Not a problem as the auto is a nicely responsive unit that’s generally in the gear the driver would have selected manually.
Fuel consumption will be in the nine to ten litres per hundred kilometres range around town, falling to seven to eight litres in country running.
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