Freed is liberating but not on a bed of roses

Published on June 4th, 2010

Life requires that we be flexible in order to work through it, therefore the tools of our trade should be multipurpose as well. Mobility is a very important aspect of our everyday lives, needing to do the school run for the kids, perhaps the occasional lugging of certain things that are of large dimensions and reliability on the road.

So not all of us have kids or are monetarily limited when it comes to buying a family mover but an MPV is looking mighty multipurposeful in fulfilling the requirements above. The latest addition to the local MPV stable is the Honda Freed, tagged as a premium compact MPV to cater for the young executive with a family that needs a practical yet stylish family hauler.

So we recently got a chance to liberate the Freed on the road in a short jaunt up north. The proposed route had a nice balance of freeway and B-roads to try and give us a good driving impression of the Freed.

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First things first, the Freed stays true to the ‘compact’ description in its designation. It measures up slightly shorter than the City, whose platform it shares together with the Jazz. Since it shares the same platform with the City, it’s logical to assume it has decent ride and handling like its brethren and we set out to confirm that along with the other aspects of it.

The open walkthrough concept of the Freed is made possible with the six individual seats laid out in three rows. Ingress and egress is god-sent due to that and the wide opening front doors together with the auto sliding doors on both sides. Of course, being the inquisitive kind, we had to put it to the test so we made it a point to enter and exit from all the doors to get to all the seats. Driver’s seat from the side sliding door, check. Third row seats from the front passenger’s seat, tick. Safe to say the walkthrough concept works, unless you’re horizontally-challenged.

With the third row seats down, the Freed can seat six in total comfort but the luggage for those six might not be as well off. In fact, its almost impossible to fit luggage for the amount of people an MPV can seat with all of the seats in place. Lucky us, only three journos were assigned to each car.

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So we folded both the third row seats up to clear the rear for the bags. While most folding rear seats go down, the Freed’s one is folded up and to the side. Now this could make things slightly inconvenient, especially when holding four grocery bags and opening the rear hatch to realise that you need both hands to lift and hook the seats up.

Honda’s explanation was that folding the seats up maximized storage space and it was impossible to achieve a flat floor if dropped on its feet. We have to nod in agreement but only to a certain extent. While there was much more space for the luggage with the seats up, sometimes practicality has to take a back seat to convenience.

We were however baffled by how three adult men on an overnight stay had enough luggage to fill the entire rear space that would have otherwise been occupied by the third row seats. It’s also important to note that it wasn’t because the luggage area was on the puny side.

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Having three designated drivers allowed us to experience both the driving and riding along aspect of the Freed. Settling into the second row captain seat, we passed the orders to haul anchor and set sail. Now was as excellent a time to get about exploring the interior to determine if the Freed walked the premium talk or if it balked.

First impressions are cardinal in leaving a lasting impact and unfortunately the Freed’s handshake wasn’t as firm as made out to be. Bear in mind the interior worked fine; it’s just that with the word ‘premium’ thrown around so much we expected something that tickled our fancy more.

Space was conclusively premium with enough room to stretch out in the captain chair, even in the aft row. Getting in was a breeze though, with the one-step floor and side handle but you’d soon start to miss the top grab handles that are missing-in-action for the second and third rows. That feeling will soon deepen when the drive gets a bit spirited and there’s nothing to grab onto.

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Furthermore, as we looked for a pocket to stash the directional tulips we realised there was only one, behind the front passenger’s seat. Now would it really have added an extra zero to the list price to add another storage pocket behind the driver’s seat?

Captain chairs are supposed to be a pleasant thing and these were no different; except when you reach for the arm rests, note the plural imposition. However, there was only one arm rest for each chair, on the inside. And resting your outside arm on the sliding door isn’t an option with the undulated surface and height difference.

It does exactly get better from there too. The second and third rows are devoid of air-conditioning vents, something that should be a given in our soaring temperatures and with an MPV. The effects were blazingly, pun unintended, evident. It took a good 10-15 minutes for the behind rows to get some semblance of cooled air.

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According to the project leaders of the Freed, its design and layout made installing rear AC blowers arduous. However, they were considering rear-mounted blowers to distribute the air quicker.

Now considering that come of its peers, even the ones that go for far less coin, come with rear-mounted AC vents, the premium tag seems to be wrongly pinned on this compact MPV.

Just for arguments sake though, you can say that it’s the only one in the segment to have dual automated sliding doors apart from the most flexible seating layout but the devil is always in the detail and minor things like the AC vents can have huge repercussions when it comes time to put pen to paper.

Of course with a number of Freed’s in convoy on the freeway, it was a golden moment for those tracking shots that make awesome pictures. So down goes the sliding door’s window but unfortunately not completely all the way. The only thing that bothered us about that was how annoying it made taking pictures but it shouldn’t really be a problem in everyday life, after all you could just slide the door out of the way with a flick of the lever.

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The final part of the interior would be the big piece up front. Perhaps the best bit about its dual-layer layout is the futuristic aura it projects. On the upper half is the double-din Kenwood audio head unit that’s USB compatible and the meter console. Headlining the meter console is the speedo with a floating meter and the tacho plays second fiddle on the side.

Splitting it from the lower half is a somewhat table-top that s perfect for placing things on that you don’t intend to stay there, problem being the slight gradient that sees all the stuff falling off most of the time. Good spot to invest in those non-slip pad thingys though. Calling the lower half home is the AC controls and the gear lever. The parking brake is moved to the foot well to clear up the space in between for that awesome walk-through concept.

Having sampled life as the occupant of a Freed, it was time to whip out the driving gloves and grab the wheel. So maybe we’re beating this with the exaggeration stick a bit too much but you still need to know how it drives and handles right.

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Working those front wheels is the same 1.5-liter i-VTEC lump found in the City but of course a new course has been charted in its ECU to bump up torque. Ratios are commanded by the 5-speed slushbox with shift hold for third if you’re climbing Uncle Lim’s playground with a full load.

Now as we mentioned earlier, it shares its platform with the City and should therefore be pretty decent on the B-roads. And we’re happy to note it is. Power is adequate although you shouldn’t be expecting G-forces higher than the blowback from a sneeze.

The extra torque dialed in shows and it gets going without complain. Floor it though and you’ll be reminded it’s still a 1.5-liter rolling the front wheels. Trawling the B-roads, it actually trekked pretty well and took some of the corners with only a pinch of body roll. The slight tyre noise was usually sufficient to jolt us and reign her back in.

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Ride quality was a bit harsher than you’d expect from an MPV but without it the handling wouldn’t have been that impressive, again, from an MPV. Most importantly though, the ride is nicely balanced with comfort and would never be an issue for those long trips.

Speaking of which, the long trip we took in ours proved that the Freed was equally at home on the freeway. Comfortable cruising would be in the 120-130km/h range. The maximum velocity that we managed to clock was 175km/h on a slight negative gradient, probably with some tailwind and a whole lot of nads.

So what’s the final verdict on the Freed? Well the pros are that it’s perfectly functional as what it was intended to be, a compact MPV. Space, practicality, a decent powerplant, nice ride and auto-sliding doors make it one hell of a family mover. However, the downside is that the Freed is hardly premium, as it’s marketed to be. Arguably the only thing premium about it would be the sliding doors and its price.

In the end, the Freed is something that works like a well-oiled machine but is unfortunately blessed with a bit too ambitious of a list price.

text: Dinesh Appavu

pix: Honda Malaysia & Dinesh Appavu

Comments

  1. Posted by Kon on June 26th, 2010, 21:18

    Bro, excellent piece of work!

Reply

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