Bet you thought Australia’s cheapest mid-size diesel SUV (2WD) was Korean. We’ll you’d be wrong – it’s from Italy via Toledo, Ohio (USA) and it’s the Fiat Freemont.
Fiat owns Chrysler and of course the Freemont is a ‘do-over’ of the Dodge Journey so the good news for the Italian-American is cost-saving and resource-efficient platform sharing across multiple brands – for which Germany’s Volkswagen Group has been widely praised by journalists and analysts across the globe. After-all, if platform sharing is smart in Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic, it doesn’t become any less smart in Italy and North America.
Just launched in both petrol and diesel form, the Fiat Freemont has been priced and specified thoughtfully for the local market to strongly launch Italy’s number one brand as a wholly-owned factory operation (previously Fiat and Alfa Romeo sales in Australia were handled by a private importer). In fact there’s history here – the Freemont is actually Fiat’s first mid-size SUV.
Fiat Freemont Overview
There’s an easy way to pick the difference between the Fiat Freemont and the Dodge Journey – the Dodge has two more cylinders under the bonnet. Naturally it’s not as simple as that – there are specification and styling differences – but the bottom line is the Dodge Journey (V6 petrol) starts at $38,350.
Although officially classified as a mid-size SUV, like the Mazda CX-9 2WD, the 2WD Fiat Freemont is more MPV than SUV. Now, having got that old SUV/MPV chestnut out of the way, we must say Car Showroom has always liked the Dodge Journey and much of our enthusiasm stems from its ‘American-ness’…compared to rivals from Asia and Europe, the interior felt more comfy with its large seats, large steering wheel, American instrumentation etc.
Pleasingly, the Fiat Freemont has lots none of this, even with the switch to four-cylinder engines (2.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel). And it has picked-up a new tag: great value-for-money.
Fiat has launched the Freemont in three models grades – entry-level ‘Base’, mid-spec ‘Urban’ and range-topping ‘Lounge’. The diesel-powered variant (as tested by Car Showroom) is only available in ‘Urban’ grade and drives via a six-speed manual transmission (the others run a six-speed automatic).
‘Base’ spec in Fiat-speak is actually rather impressive – included are a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone air-conditioning, automatic headlights and a CD/MP3/Bluetooth/voice command audio system with a 4.3-inch touchscreen.
Amongst its extras, mid-grade Fiat Freemont ‘Urban’ gains an 8.4-inch audio screen with a DVD player, dual-zone climate control and electronic adjustment for the drivers’ seat.
Top-of-the-range Fiat Freemont ‘Lounge’ goes further with satellite navigation, leather seats (fronts heated), 19-inch alloy wheels and a 368-watt Alpine audio system.
On the options list are seven seats (fitted to our test car), a power sunroof and a rear seat DVD screen with wireless headphones.
The full range is:
Base 2.4-litre petrol (6-speed automatic) $25,990
Urban 2.4-litre petrol (6-speed automatic) $28,300
Urban 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (6-speed manual) $32,600
Lounge 2.4-litre petrol (6-speed automatic) $30,300
Fiat Freemont Engine
Fiat Freemont diesel scores the Fiat 2.0-litre, four-cylinder MultiJet 2 turbo-diesel with 125kW of power at 4000rpm and peak torque of 350Nm from 1750rpm – 2500rpm. Combined cycle fuel economy of 6.3l/100kms ranks amongst the pace-setters in this league.
With a variable geometry turbocharger and eight injections per cycle, the MultiJet 2 turbo-diesel complies with Europe’s tough Euro5 regulations for fuel-efficiency and exhaust emissions (the latter rated at 169g/km).
Fiat Freemont diesel exclusively drives the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.
We have taken a ‘spin around the block’ in a Fiat Freemont powered by the 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. Although not a match for the diesel in terms of torque (220Nm to 350Nm), both offer 125kW of power and the petrol engine seemed to be nicely quiet hauling the 2890kgs, Freemont even at freeway speeds.
Both engines were developed in Italy by Fiat Powertrains.
Fiat Freemont The Interior
The American origin of the Fiat Freemont is obvious when you climb inside – in a good way. That means broad, comfortable seats and plenty of space.
And that means the hallmark instruments of Chrysler models (before the current 300) – crisp graphics and green-hued information screens (the 300 has gone ultra-modern/slick with ice-blue back-lighting and more). And that means a nice, thick three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel with massive adjustment for rake/reach so bodies of all shapes and sizes can secure a good driving position.
In fact the Fiat Freemont secures its own dashboard design with nice chrome highlights for the instruments and, in the case of the ‘Urban’ grade we tested, a 8.4-inch colour touchscreen audio system.
The rear doors open wide to 90-degrees and the second row seat incorporates the Chrysler Group’s two built-in child boosters which slide out when needed and the ‘Tip ‘N Slide’ function for quick, easy access to the third row.
Passenger seats are theatre-style with the second row 44mm higher than the front and the third row (optional and fitted to our test car) 17mm higher again (thus 61mm higher than the front row). Tug a lever behind the third row seats and they fold flat for cargo versatility as a five-seater and the second row (and front passenger seat) can also fold flat.
Like similar rivals, the Fiat Freemont isn’t overly-endowed with luggage space when all seven seats are occupied (167-litres) but fold the third row flat and you get 784-litres (passed our golf club test) and fold everything flat and you score a moving-house-handy 1461-litres.
Fiat Freemont Exterior & Styling
At 4910mm in length, 1705mm high, 1878mm wide and with a wheelbase of 2890mm, the Fiat Freemont isn’t the behemoth of the Mazda CX-9 and is actually closer to the Honda Odyssey in size
But its possesses a look which is uniquely Fiat-Chrysler Group - a muscular on-road stance highlighted by pronounced wheel-arch flares (highlighting width), prominent bonnet sculpturing (promoting strength) and a broad front grille in honeycomb (a sporty touch). And as car enthusiasts we must say it’s great to see the Fiat badge on the front as Italy’s number one car brand jumps into the SUV/MPV/Crossover pool.
That muscle continues at the rear with a sturdy bumper and large, modern tail-lights.
Our Fiat Freemont diesel rode on 17-inch alloy wheels (range-topping ‘Lounge’ scores good-looking 19-inch alloys).
Fiat Freemont On The Road
Regular Car Showroom readers will know we’ve long been keen on the Dodge Journey, especially for the lusty 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine (its 206kW/342Nm leaving the rival Honda Odyssey’s 132kW/218Nm 2.4-litre, four-cylinder looking tame).
Enter the Fiat Freemont and its 125kW/350Nm four-cylinder turbo-diesel likewise leaves the Odyssey looking insipid.
Now the Dodge Journey was no V10-powered Challenger drag racer and we’re not suggesting the boys at Fiat’s Turin HQ should be rushing down to Maranello to ‘hot-lap’ the Freemont around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track – it’s not that kind of car.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test loop, the Fiat Freemont did a good job of isolating us from the bumps and was nice and predictable through the swoops and curves.
Around town, the Fiat Freemont was easy to maneuver and - aided by good visibility and a 10.0-metre turning circle – easy to park.
Fiat Freemont Challenges
If we were buying a Fiat Freemont, we definitely would be going for a diesel automatic ‘Lounge’ grade (the latter to get the good-looking 19-inch alloys as much as the leather interior).
Boom! There’s no diesel auto and the diesel manual is only offered in mid-grade ‘Urban’.
Baffling on both fronts.
Fiat Freemont Verdict
On the basis we’ve always liked the Dodge Journey, we’re fans of the Fiat Freemont – styling that’s different to the rest and a spacious, comfy interior designed with families in mind. The switch to a Fiat badge can’t take those qualities away.
What have changed are the engines and the Fiat Freemont delivers a slick European diesel and a nice six-speed manual transmission (the combo preferred by European buyers).
Also what has changed is the value equation. While the V6 petrol Dodge Journey starting at $38,350 was good value, the Fiat Freemont starting at $25,990 ($32,600 for the diesel we tested) is tremendous value.
Fiat Freemont The Competition
‘Crossover’, MPV or SUV – that’s the question for the Fiat Freemont. Only sold in front-wheel-drive, we reckon (like the front-drive Mazda CX-9) we can rule-out the latter.
And comparisons to the CX-9 are questionable too – it’s just so much bigger and so much more expensive (starting price $44,425).
So it’s the Odyssey then and likewise Honda’s hero is looking under-powered, under specced (no diesel) and overpriced (starting at $37,100). Where the Odyssey does score is driving dynamics and on that front it not only leads the Fiat Freemont, it leads the entire segment.
Mitsubishi’s Outlander (starting at $29,340) also doesn’t offer a diesel and is outclassed by the premium interior of the Fiat Freemont.
Nissan Dualis (starting price $24,990 for the five-seater or $29,990 for the seven-seater) has just launched a diesel version and is a CarShowroom favourite.