FIAT is attacking the Australian market with a determined product line-up.
The Italian brand has linked with Chrysler and the combination has given Fiat a new lease on life.
Recently, the pint-size 500 was released with a base-model starting price of $14,000 drive-away, and this new SUV also comes with a strong value proposition.
The Freemont starts from $27,000 with an option for seven-seats - making it the cheapest vehicle to carry a netball team after Kia upped the price on its Rondo. But despite its SUV exterior lines, beneath its skin the Freemont is cut from the same cloth as a Dodge Journey. Roomy with impressive internal flexibility, it may not have traditional Italian flamboyance yet it will win family fans seeking bang for buck.
Sampling the range-topping Lounge and the diesel's Urban, we saw both ends of the spectrum.
Families would appreciate the easy cleanliness of the leather interior, but the entry level cloth trim seemed pretty hard wearing while the seats offered reasonable support.
The instruments are clear and legible, bolstered by a digital trip display which provides various economy information and speedo.
There is reasonable use of hard plastics which detracts from the overall finish, although families would appreciate the hard wearing attributes.
Decent leg and head room is available front and back. Getting into the middle row is especially easy with doors which open nearly 90 degrees.
For Freemonts with seven seats, the third row is really territory only for children but smaller adults could use the pews on short journeys.
On the road
Looks can be deceiving, this is a seven-seater and it performs more like a people-mover than an SUV.
Sharing its platform with the Dodge Journey, the Freemont does its best work as a cruiser and eating up highway kilometres.
Cornering can be a little unwieldy if you are too enthusiastic with light steering which lacks feel and feedback.
Our choice would be the diesel, due to its stronger acceleration and mid-range torque.
With the petrol, conquering steep hills can take some encouragement and we were inspired to go for the whip on several occasions which really makes the engine sing. There is no automatic with the diesel which could be a major drawback for some buyers.
What do you get?
The range-topping Lounge had an impressive list for the price-tag, with features including 19-inch alloys, sat nav which uses a larger 21cm colour screen, dual zone air con, leather trim on the seats and doors, upgraded Alpine stereo with subwoofer, heated front pews and a DVD player.
Options are for seven seats, power sunroof and Rear Seat Video Group which provides a second row overhead screen with wireless headphones.
Safety includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control with hill-holder and electronic rollover mitigation which was enough for a five-star rating in Europe but only four in Australia.
Another seven-seater worth considering for similar coin is the Holden Captiva 7 (from $32,490), and, of course, the Dodge Journey (from $32,400), while there are also the elongated hatches like the new Kia Rondo Si (from $29,990), and the Toyota Prius V ($35,990).
We managed less than six litres for every 100km with the diesel, courtesy of some easy highway stretches. That's super thrify for a car of this size.
The petrol was a fair bit heavier with figures well above 10. Servicing shouldn't provide too many nasty shocks, while insurance is expected to be at the lower end of the scale.
There is an excellent deep bin in front of the shifter for phones and other items, while the Freemont has more than 20 storage areas - including underfloor bins in the second row, a perfect hiding spot for valuable gadgets and toys.
In the centre console are dual cup holders while each door can cater for a bottle. Luggage room is compromised with seven seats in play, but with five pews there is 1461 litres of space. With seven-seat models, the outer seats in the middle row have boosters for the kids to improve the view while the seats also have a split, fold and slide feature to make getting into the third row easier.
It's really a people-mover in SUV clothes. That and the price will make savvy mums happy.
Given its underpinnings, the Freemont can't shake its people-mover origins. Driving can feel floaty and sometimes soulless, but it is impossible to ignore the value proposition.
For seven seats at this price, it looks more SUV than people-mover but doesn't have the heavy and more expensive technology that goes with off-roaders.
If you can cope with a manual, the diesel is a grunty and economical ally for day-to-day living.
What matters most
The good stuff: Cool interior set-up, outstanding fuel consumption from the diesel, impressive value in the seven-seater realm
What we'd like to see: Improved economy from the petrol, curtain airbags extended to the third row, five-star ANCAP rating but Fiat is working on that, automatic option for diesel.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/150,000km warranty. Maintenance is annually, with oil and filters at every 15,000km or 12 months with servicing every two years or 30,000km.
Model: Fiat Freemont.
Details: Five-door five- or seven-seat front-wheel drive mid-size SUV.
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 125kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 220Nm @ 4000rpm; 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel generating 125kW @ 4000rpm and 350 @ 1750-2500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic (petrol) or six-speed manual (diesel).
Consumption: Petrol - 9.8 litres/100km. Diesel - 6.3 litres/100km.
CO2: 233g/km; 169g/km.
Bottom line: Base $25,990, Urban $28,000, Lounge $30,300 (plus on-roads). Diesel Urban $32,600. Extra $1500 for seven seats and third row air conditioning vents.
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