The Fiat Freemont Crossroad V6 has arrived in Australia priced at $36,500, with the new range-topping seven-seater pitched firmly at two-wheel-drive versions of the Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory and Hyundai Santa Fe, and the AWD Holden Captiva 7 LTZ.
Powered by a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine punching out 206kW of power and 342Nm of torque, the Freemont Crossroad also has identical front-drive, petrol V6 mechanicals and an identical starting price to the Dodge Journey R/T (the Fiat is a re-badged version of the American option).
Despite the fact that the Freemont Crossroad and Journey R/T are almost identical in other ways, Fiat Chrysler Australia says it will persist with both at least for the short-term because not all of its dealer franchises have both Dodge and Fiat showrooms. This way, all of its franchisees will have at least one version of the seven-seater twins on offer.
The $36,500 price also puts it atop the range above the $33,000 diesel manual Freemont Urban model. In comparison, the front-drive Kluger kicks off at $40,990, the rear-drive Territory TX at $39,990 and the budget Captiva 7 LT mid-range model is $36,990.
It is differentiated from the rest of the Freemont range by new front and rear bumpers with chrome inserts, the glossy black front grille and fog-light frames, chrome-coloured side skirts and roof rails in the same colour, underbody protections and 19-inch burnished black five-spoke alloy wheels.
Inside are new black leather seats with cloth mesh inserts, and ‘Liquid’ Graphite colour finishing on the dashboard, instrumentation, central console, door panels and steering wheel.
Like its Dodge sister model, the Freemont Crossroad offers seven seats in a wagon body with a commanding, SUV-like driving position. It also offers a level of standard equipment as long as your arm and undercuts rival Japanese and Korean large SUVs by thousands.
So far, the existing Freemont range is ticking over in the sales race but remains a niche player. Its 889 sales so far this year equates to 1.4 per cent of the large SUV market. Many rivals such as the Territory, Captiva 7, Kluger and its Jeep Grand Cherokee stablemate regularly sell more in a single month than the Fiat has all year.
At 4.91 metres long, 1.87m wide and 1.69m tall on a 2.89m wheelbase, the seven-seat Freemont is about the same size as a Territory. Storage space with the second and third row seats folded is 1500 litres, about the same as average mid-sized wagon.
We spent a few days behind the wheel of the new range-topping Freemont Crossroad and came away impressed by its value-for-money, despite a few rough edges, though found it a little less spacious in the rear rows than some rivals. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of metal for the money.
The cabin is full of clever hidey-holes — up to 20, with a claimed 140L of total capacity — notably including a massive space below the instrument fascia, nets running along the transmission tunnel, a flip-up cubby under the passenger seat and another below each rear floor mat.
There are a claimed 32 seat configurations, with the 60:40 middle row able to fold down, albeit on an angle rather than flat, and tilt/slide. The rear row of seats fold flush into the floor and are easily pulled up into place by two small straps.
Each outboard seat in the middle row also has nifty integrated pop-up boosters for children weighing between 15kg and 36kg, a la the Volvo XC60, while each row gets roof-mounted air vents and aeroplane-style circular map lights, and the middle row gets roof-mounted temperature controls.
However, while all of this is undoubtedly clever, the middle row is a little squeezy for anyone taller than 180cm, and the middle seat in this row is perched flat and high. Ten points for the takeaway bag-hooks on the back of the driver’s seat, though.
Taller occupants - like myself, at 194cm - may have a few ergonomic issues with the driver’s seat. The steering column does not rake up high enough, and even with the seat in its lowest setting it was hard to see the instruments through the steering wheel.
There is also no driver’s footrest, though at least there is a ‘proper’ hand-brake rather than the tawdry foot-operated park brake offered by some rivals.
Cabin plastics quality inside does not feel quite up to the standard of, say, the Kluger, with a few mismatched surfaces and a mild gap inconsistency on the fascia surround. The plastic that covers the transmission tunnel also felt cheap, but everything else was well screwed-together.
These quibbles aside, the Freemont’s cabin is pretty impressive. Not only is it clever in its configurations, but it also comes with plenty of standard equipment and gets a ripping 8.0-inch Uconnect infotainment system lifted from the Chrysler 300 and (high hush now) Maserati Quattroporte.
Standard features include satellite-navigation, an Alpine audio system with subwoofer and a 368-watt amplifier, tri-zone climate control air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry and push-button start, reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors, heated folding rear-view mirrors, electric sliding leather/cloth driver’s seat, illuminated cup-holders and front/rear fog lights.
Safety equipment includes six airbags (including side bags that cover all three rows of seats), ISOFIX child-seat anchors, rollover mitigation and trailer sway control. However, last year ANCAP tested the Freemont diesel against its criteria and only gave it four stars.
Fiat offers three years or 150,000km of new-car warranty coverage, whichever comes first, plus full roadside assistance over the same period. However, there is no capped-price servicing guarantee like many rivals.
Behind the wheel, the Freemont’s Pentastar V6 is notably punchier than the 125kW/220Nm 2.4-litre four-pot doing duty in entry versions. It’s a creamy smooth unit that loves a rev and makes a meaty snarl while doing it, and makes light work of the car’s hefty 1820kg (UPDATED) kerb weight.
That said, the 1100kg braked towing capacity is quite low for the class.
When the road gets wet, the power can overwhelm the ability of the front wheels to put it all to the road. Plant your foot and the car will scrabble for traction, though we’ve experienced worse from similar SUVs. The European AWD version of the V6 Freemont will not come to Australia because, CarAdvice understands, the company sees such a car as competition for its Jeep brand, although no Grand Cherokee comes with seven seats.
The six-speed automatic transmission had a tendency to send a mild shunt or jolt through the driveline as it changed ratios either down or up, meaning forward progress is never quite as seamless as it should be. The decent dollop of torque means the gearbox rarely needs to hunt, though.
Fiat claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 10.4L/100km, and on our mixed bag of roads and driving speeds we managed to nudge pretty close at around 11.8L/100km. For such a heavy car, and such a large-displacement engine, this is actually quite a reasonable figure.
The ride on the big 19-inch wheels was a little busy over lower-speed corrugations, with the car showing a tendency to pick out road bumps and joins and amplify them. We found the car not as resolved and cosseting as it should be despite the rather soft suspension setup, and it was rarely settled.
The steering rack is on the slow side with three turns lock-to-lock, meaning plenty of arm-work in urban driving, though it does offer a pleasant weight. Despite the ride issues, the body itself did not pitch and roll to any great degree, and a sequence of right-to-left handers was dispatched without overt fuss.
Our brief time behind the wheel of the newest variant of Fiat’s largely unheralded Freemont showed us that the Italian (by way of America) offering has plenty of bang-for-buck.
It may not be as well-rounded and spacious in the back as a Kluger or as sharp to drive as a Territory, but it does bring to the table plenty of value and a largely well-thought-out cabin. Take a glance before you buy that Captiva 7 LT AWD, at least.