Fiat Freemont 2.0 16V Multijet Test: Is this the true SUV?
Since SUV have become trendy, MPVs have had a tough job on the market. This doesn't matter to the Fiat Freemont: it is everything in one. And as such it is truly multi-talented.
Nowadays, to elevate a car to a "Crossover", all you need is a few jostle-proof plastic panels on the side, and plastic cladding on the front and rear that claims to be "under-ride protection" – a wonderful example are the "Cross“' models from Volkswagen. The fact that these can do no more and no less than the large-series passenger cars that line up alongside them is no longer a stumbling block.
Viewed from the model variety perspective, SUVs are getting closer and closer becoming mainstream passenger vehicles. The Fiat-Chrysler Group is not excluded from this, where, for example, the formerly square-built and solid Jeep Cherokee offroader has now been degraded into a streamlined softy.
Fiat Freemont put to the test
There is one car that seems relatively unaffected by all of this confusion: the Fiat Freemont, a Dodge Journey with a Fiat diesel engine and European tuning, doesn't like to be pigeon-holed. More angled and upright than many a new era SUV that has been hyped up as an all-conquering hero, more individual than a standard compact MPV.
To get straight to the topic of SUVs, in its all-wheel drive version, the Fiat Freemont is no less offroad compatible than a Honda CR-V, for example, and like the Honda it will presumably only be required to conquer rougher terrain than a loose forest path or "offroad" holiday trip to the beach on the rarest of occasions.
So let's focus on what the Fiat Freemont really is: a car that actually earns the term "Crossover". The angular form stands out among its peers, a standard compact MPV seems rather arbitrary alongside the Fiat Freemont. If you compare the Freemont, which is perfectly fair, with seven-seater SUVs, the reasonably friendly price point stands out. Our test car, a Black Code special model, equipped with all of the attractive features such as leather, multimedia and ever a rear-seat entertainment system, comes in at just around the 37,000-Euro mark. Seven-seater SUVs are generally 15-20,000 Euros north of this. The already very nicely equipped basic model of the Fiat Freemont starts at around 27,000 Euros.Seven seats or storage space
The version with seven seats (doing without seven seats lowers the price by 500 Euros) must be viewed relatively in the case of the Fiat Freemont in the test. The additional seating slips away from the stowage space floor with a gentle pull on a strap, and then the issue of boot space is more or less resolved. Although at least the two passengers at the very back shouldn't, if possible, be any older than primary school age. Adults simply have no room in the third row.
The concept of offering the Fiat Freemont as a seven-seater with all-wheel drive conceals further compromises: in comparison with a pure front-wheel-drive compact PMV, the load capacity in the luggage compartment suffers due to the space requirements of the rear-axle drive system and lowering seats. Even when used as a five-seater, the boot space is not inspiring for a car this size.
Fiat Freemont with smart details
However, for all this, the Fiat Freemont in the test is highly variable and offers a host of nice detail solutions. This begins with the battery-powered torch, always ready to use, which can be clipped out of the rear side panel and goes well beyond the practical storage compartment beneath the passenger seat cushion. Hinged storage compartments in the floor in front of the back seats, a completely folding passenger seat for loading really long cargo, the separately controllable air-conditioning in the back, the holder for smartphones in the centre console including a slot for the cable, or the booster seats that fold down from the rear seating bench – in the Fiat Freemont you really notice its clear focus on family.
There are also drawbacks: the door compartments and the central storage in the centre console of the Fiat Freemont are relatively inaccessible - the door compartments in particular require acrobatics to fish out objects that have slipped right to the back. In addition to this, they are on the small side, there is a lack of storage in the doors in the back seat, and there is nowhere to satisfactorily store large water bottles.
With a view to reducing the number of switches, Fiat has equipped the Freemont with extensive controls operated via the central monitor, which in practice can be a little laborious. For example, those who don't set the air-conditioning system to automatic have to work their way through the menus to control the air distribution.
When it comes to driving, the Fiat Freemont seems more European in the test than the American base would suggest. The modern Multijet diesel, in the 168 HP version in the test car, really is lots of fun. Granted it is no torque giant from the lower revs, but it does nonetheless excuse the low-rev handling. At just over 1,000 revs it drives forward judder-free, even if it is a little restrained until the turbo charger is put to use. But then the diesel engine really goes for it, with sustained thrust even at a speed of 160 if you are heavy on your right foot. Our test car far exCee’ds the factory specification top speed and was only satisfied at 204 km/h.
However, you shouldn't expect large drive torque from the two-litre diesel. A shortcoming that the standard automatic in the all-wheel models compensates for, so as to also be able to start on steeper inclines without a smoking clutch.
The steering of the Fiat Freemont in the test is a little bit of everything, and this should be viewed very positively: the tuning is not excessively sporty, but sufficiently direct and with a sense of accuracy, and with acceptable support when manoeuvring. Added to this is the chassis: those who wish to can weave the Fiat Freemont fairly briskly through corners. In so doing, it is the seats, with their low lateral support, that dictate the drive dynamics limits, rather than the car itself. The suspension compensates for poor road surfaces, including frost buckling, with confidence, without the chassis feeling excessively soft or rough.
The Fiat Freemont is really quiet
The noise insulation earns great praise - up to a speed of 100 km/h, the Fiat Freemont is as quiet as a whisper and beyond this speed only gets a little louder. On the other hand, the restrained thirst of the Multijet diesel engine earns even greater praise. Driven at a leisurely pace without just crawling along, there is generally a five before the decimal point when driving outside the city, while in rapidly driven test mode, the consumption was 7.2 litres. It is all the more regrettable that Fiat hasn't given the Freemont a Start-Stop system, which would also enable it to achieve good scores in the consumption assessment in inner city traffic.
Sticking with the topic of consumption: because the Fiat Freemont/Dodge Journey can also optionally be powered by a rather powerful and not quite so economical 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine, which we also know from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, at 78 litres, the fuel tank is gratifyingly large for a car in this class. Driven steadily, the range display after refuelling promises travel distances of up to 1,200 kilometres, and it's no lie – we tried it out.
So things are looking good for the Fiat Freemont, but is it really the true SUV? Not quite. The low front skirt is a real stumbling block on slightly steep inclines, which is really annoying. With a wheelbase of 2.9 metre, the ramp angle doesn't cause a wave of excitement. And the permitted towing load of 1.1 tonnes is difficult to comprehend for a 4.9-metre-long, 168 HP all-wheeler weighing 2,000 kg. Even the little Opel Mokka can take more on the tow bar Lastly, a final point of criticism, albeit not an SUV-specific one: the driving light, even the full beam is decidedly modest, and so night-time driving isn't much fun in the Fiat Freemont. A remedy in the form of optional Xenon headlights doesn't feature on the price list.
Date20 July 2015