Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Honda Freed Complete Review

With the ever rising global oil price, Honda finally unveils a minivan to answer the global demand for a people mover which adheres to current global energy crisis. Entering the compact minivan, on 29th of May 2008, Honda of Japan unveils its latest addition to the compact minivan car category, the curiously named Freed. A review from information established on a website might be corny, but you will find a lot of enlightening facts, especially if you can’t read Japanese Kanji. So, a complete paper review based and witty comments from yours truly, after the click.

Hands on review near the bottom…
A compact minivan… What do you expect from a car on that category? First a compact… Small… Then mini… Small again, and minivan… Synonymous with large. So how can two definition of small can combined with one definition of large? Well, you got Honda Freed, Honda Japan latest weapon in the war to take the hearts of people movers everywhere.
The category for this car might be a little misleading. The Freed is neither large nor small, it’s both. Kind of confusing isn’t it? Well, let’s see from its size first.

As wide as Fit, but bigger everywhere
Interior size for the 7 and 8 seater
Honda Freed size
Honda CR-V size
The Freed is smaller than the CR-V

If you look carefully on the figures, compared to Honda CR-V the Freed is smaller both in length and width. The CR-V length and width is 4520mm and 1820mm respectively, while the Freed bows down at 4215mm and 1695mm. It does brings up the compact aspect of the car isn’t it? With the bigger CR-V seats 5 and the smaller Freed seats 7-8, does it make the Freed totally cramped on the inside? Well, let’s take the subtle design cue from the first Honda Freed teaser movie.
Freed’s concept design, staying true to the real model

Honda used triangle and a box to indicate the base design of the car. Any 5th grader would know that box/square shapes offer the best optimal space in geometry. However, any industrial design graduate can identify that a box shaped car is not the best of design applied to a car. It offers the best optimal space yes, but it sure is damn hard to make it look attractive… Unless they put a “retro” marketing gimmick on the promotion front. There’s also the problem with box design equals to bad fuel consumption as the coefficient drag from said design is phenomenally bad. So to answer those questions, Honda of Japan came up with the triangle box combo. The triangle symbolize the front of the car while the box symbolize the rest of the car shape. Therefore, this design philosophy holds several obvious meaning. The car will still be aerodynamic enough as not to hamper its coefficient drag and offers an optimal amount of cargo/passenger space.

Now… I’ve received lots of inputs from my readers about the Freed’s ground clearance. Well, you can see clearly from the dimension size above, the Freed comes with quite puny 150 mm of ground clearance. Now, although this is not a deal breaker, but some people are very concern about the potholes and the unforgiving developing (do I have to say it the politically correct emmerging?) countries especially in Indonesia. I’ve been there… And 150 mm of ground clearance in Indonesia capital is already bare minimum. My only tip to workaround this problem is to drive slowly on “special stage” roads. OR change the rims to jack the car’s height a little bit more. However, the 150 mm of ground clearance is from Freed’s G trim which uses 14″ rims. How about the optional 15″ rims? No relevant data, but at least, the use of 15″ rims will increase the car’s ground clearance by 10 or so mm. I heard from my friends at local Honda dealers, the Freed is coming with a set of 15″ rims… Considering that its competitors are using 15″ rims and the Freed is supposed to be “a class” higher, it might just be. 

Update: Indonesian Honda Freed has 165 mm of ground clearance. It should be the same with other ASEAN models.

39 cm of entry point might be high, but it’s still comfortable enough

But why the car is so tall? At 1715mm, the Freed towers over the CR-V at just 1690mm. Considering that the Freed uses 14” rims and the CR-V uses a set of 17”. It is apparent that the Freed engineers decided to maximize the interior space of the car while working around the technical aspect of it. You see, the Freed is available in either Front Wheel or Four Wheel drive mode. Which means, the car needs to have the dreaded tunnel to channel that driveshaft to the rear axle. But as you can see on the following pictures, there are no visible hump on the Freed’s interior whatsoever… This is because the engineers raised the floor of the interior and hid the the tunnel underneath it, thus flat floor. However, raised floor means reduced interior space, and the next logical thing is to raised the roof line, and there you have it, Freed’s sorta lanky design.
Honda freed 2nd row seat tight
Raised floor have to be balanced with raised roof

The Freed uses a modified version of Fit’s global platform, still retaining the same suspension setup, but having the fuel tank moved underneath the second row seat. Off course you cannot see any indication or the bulge of the tank as the floor is completely flat. Honda engineers might have a tough time working around Freed’s drivetrain “leftovers”. Well, technically, the Freed is Honda answer to a global people mover. Therefore, it caters to wide demographics available, thus the car offers a four wheel drive option for people living in snowy area as it offers superior traction.

One more design cue that the Freed is based of the Fit is its suspension system. Like the Fit, the Freed uses Mcpherson Strut on the front wheels and torsion beam setup on the rear wheel. The width of the car is also the same, hovering at 1695mm, the Freed is only taller and longer than the Fit. Now, usually Honda doesn’t mess with their global platform and will not try it according to economic of scale rule. This is because Honda and other Japanese auto maker have a magical gnome that enables them to produce cars which share platforms at a very minimal retooling cost. Well, truth be told, the bigger Honda StepWGN also features a McPherson Strut front suspension with H-Shape Torsion Beam on the rear. It also features fuel tank underneath the 3rd row seats, just like any other car. So does the Freed is a stretched Fit or a smaller StepWGN? Well, you decide, whatever it is, all retain one Honda DNA.

What about the interior size? Honda Freed seats 7-8 people, while having a size smaller than the CR-V that seats 5. Well, from the paper review, we see that the interior width of the Freed is comparable to the CR-V. Weighing at 1440mm for the Freed and 1465mm for the CR-V; a 25mm difference is not noticeable in real world application. However, one can judge the interior size of the car judging from the length of its wheelbase. Although shorter, the Freed actually has longer wheelbase, allowing more room inside the car compared to the CR-V. For example, the middle seat of Freed is bigger by 5mm… Too small to be noticed, but it can still be considered as bragging rights.
Rule of thumb: If you seat comfortably in the front seat, you seat comfortably… Anywhere

The front seats are also comparable, with the CR-V front seats has a width of 530mm and the Freed is 510mm. Mind you that the physique of Mongoloid race are considerably smaller than Caucasoid race, so 510mm is enough to accommodate Asians generally small posterior.
Then we come to the biggest question of them all… What about its leg room? Especially on the 2nd and 3rd row seats. First look at the pictures with the people here.

Honda Freed 3rd row seat
Noticed that the 2nd row right hand seat is slightly more forward than the left seat

Ah! An ample space… And a whole lot of visual trickery. Honda recently used foreign, and mostly used Caucasians as their display model, why? Because usually they are bigger and thus when they are smiling, they are not sitting in a cramped car. But look carefully. The 2nd row right hand seatbelt looked awfully stretched, indicating that the right hand 2nd row seat is slided to the extreme front. Why? Because the 3rd row seat leg room is way cramped for the models. Just look at the next picture.

Honda Freed 2nd row seat
Look carefully at the head rest position in relation to the C-pillar

See the difference? The head rest and seats sits right next to the C-pillar, indicating that the seat is slided back for her to seat comfortably. As you can see, the models actually making the Freed looks small.If Honda ever to use Asian models, or at least Japanese in these pictures, the car will be visually more comfortable. But I’m not running Honda of Japan.

Now… I read in forums, that people in America wanted this car to be made available there… Well guys, you truly are out of luck. This car will never fit 7 of your size and stature… Except if you are ABC or the likes. The Freed is specifically tailored to Asians generally smaller stature. So it might be comfortable for us, but might not be other’s piece of quiche… Did I spell that right… Quiche?

The trim levels: 5-7-8 seater
Now, the Freed came standard with a 14” rims, CVT and a 1.5L i-VTEC engine producing 118PS @ 6600 RPM. Even though it’s the same engine found on the new Fit and soon Fit-Aria (that’s Fit sedan), I’m flabbergast about the power decrease from 120PS. Freed’s engine bore-stroke is the same as the Fit’s engine, and so does the compression ratio. So why the power decrease? The torque is similar (down 1Nm), but the power comes a bit short. But well, 2PS difference will never be noticed… Especially on a minivan.  

Update: It seems that ASEAN Spec Honda Freed have better torque rating than the Japanese model. Honda Indonesia website indicates that the Freed power/torque rating as 118ps@6600RPM/146Nm@4800RPM. Whereas the Japanese Freed power/torque rating is 118ps@6600RPM/144Nm@4800RPM. 

Freed engine i-vtec
2PS less than the Fit RS 120PS engine

Although using the same engine as the Fit, and the same gearbox, the Freed only returns 16.4 Km/Liter of fuel (Honda internal test). Compared to Fit’s 19.6 Km/Liter of fuel. Considering the Freed weighs starting at 1300KG, and the Fit at 1080KG, it’s obvious that the size, weight and aerodynamic profile of the Freed stressed the 1.5L engine by a lot. But still, Freed’s fuel consumption can still be considered good especially considering it seats more.

Honda freed 8 seater
Optimal use of interior space

Honda Freed tumble 2nd row seat
The 8 seater version has tumbling seat, making way for a roomier entrance to 3rd row seats

The Freed pricing starts at a modest 1.638.000 Yen and tops at 2.257.500 Yen. For the dirt cheap version, The Freed got another nick name for it, called the Freed Flex, as it only features two row of seats. Paying more for this car will gives you all the premium features of an expensive car. Power sliding door, smart key system, 15” wheels, Vehicle Stability Assist system complete with ABS and traction control, front airbags, and self leveling head lights. For an extra, you can also choose Honda Navi system (Japan only navigation system) and panoramic roof for the Freed Flex (only!). There’s also a 4WD system that comes with a 5AT transmission, but it also comes with a worse fuel consumption.

freed flex luggage
Plenty of room, Freed Flex offers a huge cargo area

The standard 3 row seats Freed comes in two flavors, the 7 seater or the 8 seater. As the name implies, the 7 seater comes with pilot seats on the 2nd row and is expected to be the most popular model. Unique to the 7 seater type, standard for all seating configurations, both the 7 and 8 2nd row seats have a sliding mechanism for better leg room adjustment. The 8 seater have a 60:40 split tumble mechanism. Finally, the 3rd row seats folds 50:50 upward to the sides, not very efficient and not very Honda like, but it gets the job done.

The alleyway might be tight, but still sufficient for its width

The seat arrangements are the standard fanfare you can see on basically all 7 seater cars. Second row tumble fold seats and third row tumble up seat are very basic seat folding design you can see on Toyota Innova, Fortuner, and everyhing in between. Honda engineers just simply doesn’t have much to do because the Freed passenger area is basically a hollow box. There has to be sacrifice between engineering marvel and simple space.
Technically speaking, the 7 seater version will be more suited to seat 6 adults comfortably. The front seats has a width of 510 mm, each while the second is 555 mm each. The third row seats can seat 3 people, indicated by the center seatbelt availability. However, it’s too small, and might just be enough to seatbelt a toddler, or a very small person (see that, politically correct). In fact, the rearmost seat individual width is 620 mm, the widest seat available. So, for people with a… ummm… huge… not that… Very visible (tried to be politically correct, but failed) posterior, seating at the rear is the best seat in the house.

Cheaper model Freed AC control above, expensive model Freed AC control below. No rear AC, 

For those who want to import this car, might just buy the 7 seater version as the car doesn’t feature rear air conditioning system. At least with the 7 seater version, cool air can blow directly to the third row unblocked by the second row seat. Sure privacy window film can reduce the heat for the third row seaters, but oh my… Asians weather are precariously evil in the summer time.

Honda Freed tumble seat
The 3rd row seats tumbles sideways
Honda freed entry
A montage of Honda Freed powered sliding door and smart key entry

Interior wise, the Freed stands out on many levels. First, there’s the two tier dashboard. Different from Honda Civic’s multiplex dash, the one on Honda Freed feature smallish digital tachometer to display engine’s RPM. The stripe tachometer might need sometime to get used to but with a CVT, who needs to watch the tachometer at all? On the upside, the dashboard have an internal mileage calculator and outside temperature information. Then, there’s the fact that the dashboard has a huge flat area to store and display various things on it. It’s actually dangerous to put any hard objects, but Asians loves to put something on the dashboard. Plush dolls, religion related ornaments (big and small), miniature cars, Gundam figures, anime figures, etc. So Freed’s dashboard allows for those who wants to put something on a flat surface.

Honda Freed Dashboard
Unique two tier dashboard to store things

Honda Freed speedometer
Smallish tachometer but lots other useful stuff

I do want to criticize the air conditioning system on this car. It doesn’t have any rear vents to direct cool air to the back. It will be overwhelming to the guys sitting at the back on long hot summer trip. Especially on the 8 seater version where the cold air from the AC system is blocked by the 2nd row seat.

My take on this car
Personally, I like the car, but not so much. It starts at 1.6 Million Yen, 400 Thousand Yen short of entry level Honda StepWGN which features much more ample interior room. Sure the K20 on the StepWGN makes this car as a gas guzzler compared to the Freed (12.2 Km/Liter compared to 16.4 Km/Liter), but it’s much of a better choice as family hauler on long trips. I imagine that the Freed is intended for Keii car owners who wanted a second car for short family trips.

Honda StepWGN
Honda StepWGN, bigger, stronger, better… But more demanding

Here’s my short pros and cons about the car:

  • Great CVT transmission.
  • For ASEAN market, the Freed will come with a conventional 5AT transmission… Which is still great considering the competitors only has 4AT
  • Powerful engine for its size 118ps @ 1500cc.
  • Frugal fuel consumption at 16 Km/L (Mfr claim).
  • Power sliding doors.
  • Very modern styling.
  • Very nice dashboard.
  • Ample interior space.
  • Perfect for Asian generally small posture.
  • No rear airconditioning.
  • Tall, technically unsafe to drive fast and furious… But who would anyway?
  • Expensive compared to its competitor.
  • Ground clearance borders the unsafe for developing/emerging countries road .
  • Not so perfect for “westernised” (in terms of size) Asians.
All in all, the Freed is a nice car from Honda. It’s compact, frugal and seats 7 to 8 people. For those who wanted to import this car, I personally recommend the G-Aero trim, the most expensive trim available. It lacks rear air conditioning system but the split captain seats will allow cool air from the front reach the back without problem. 

-Honda Freed test drive-
Driving the Freed like seeing the car is something that you need to try it personally to pass the correct judgment. Frankly speaking, most often I saw that the Freed is a small car, heck, even smaller than its competitors. But just looking at the numbers, the Freed is far from small, the car body lines creates a sense of compactness that constantly fooled my eyes. The same thing goes towards the driving impression of the car.
The Freed does look like your regular Japanese compact minivan, it might stand out amongst its peers visually but still it’s a minivan. My first subjective impression about driving experience is not good at all. It is after all a minivan, something that wasn’t famous for neither drivability nor stability… I was totally dead wrong.
This test driving write up is a culmination of almost a year of experience driving various Honda Freed, be it a loaner, a test drive unit or just seating on the back seat. However, I’m going to mainly write my last test drive experience with the Freed using an official test drive unit which has clock in more than 8000 Kilometers.

Your eyes on the road
Opening the driver’s door, I was greeted with a very unique two tier dashboard. Not as flamboyant as Civic’s multiplex, but still it is quite a refreshing sight after all the one dimensional minivan dashboards. Buttons arrangements are too scattered for my taste. For example; side view mirror adjustment is located on the dashboard and not on the usual door armrest along with the power window switch. This is a bad design decision because I have to lurch forward from my comfortable seating position to correct the viewing angle. Therefore, I have to guess the correct viewing angle from my lurched position to my best seating position. Thankfully, this is just a minor quirk as the instrument panel that contains the speedometer and tachometer is beautifully positioned just below the frontal view.

This is definitely not your average minivan, modern design is hot!

The digital + analog tachometer and speedometer combo on the instrument panel is almost perfect for me. The use and position of the digital tachometer near the edge of the instrument panel housing allows me to glance at the engine revolution so I can maintain the car at its most efficient engine revolution range. Well, yes, the instrument panel also includes a digital real time fuel consumption meter. However, the position of said instrument is below the speedometer, and I have to look down, away from recommended driving view and there’s saying in my country “meleng dikit nyaho!” or “just a brief lapse of concentration and you have to take out insurance claim for that motorbikes/guy/kid/bus/cat/chicken/goat/miscellaneous you clip with your bumper”. Still though, the digital real time consumption meter is useful, but don’t observe it at it at busy traffic.

Nicely done instrument panels, evenly lit

Rear visibility was okay, the D-pillar a bit too thick but I can glance through the third rear side window so I can observe a car going past me on the fast lane. All in all, visibility is great with this car, I was expecting the seating position to give me great viewing with some sacrifice, but it turns out great.

Seating in the driver side of the car and you’ll soon realize this is not your average minivan. The first thing you’ll notice from seating in the driver position is the seating position; it’s very laid back, like driving a sedan, albeit slightly heightened like any minivan. Just from this driving position, I can conclude that Honda wanted the car to be enjoyable too for the driver. However, there are two peculiar things that I noticed with this driving position. First is the frontal visibility; you need to lurch your head forward to see directly in front of you, even then the steeply raked windshield is going to restrict your head movement. Second, the gear shift knob is located inside the dash, so your hand needs to reach further to shift between gears.

These peculiar things means only one thing, this car is meant to be driven leisurely. You need to have good clearance judgment, meaning no “snap turns” on bumper to bumper condition, and your hand just need to rest silently on the handrest without constantly clicking the “D3” button on the gear lever knob. Couple that with the laid back driving position you know this is a family car that demands for the driver to drive it responsibly.
Home away from home
The Freed I test drove was off course Indonesian version (make that ASEAN version), so unlike the Japanese version it has no telescopic steering wheel, only tilt. Thankfully, I can get a comfortable seating position straightaway without meddling much with the steering wheel. I slide the seat just a couple clicks from full extension.

Speaking about seats, the Freed is not exactly Elysion or Stream in size and wheelbase. So leg room wise, there are some consideration need to be applied. The thing is, this car has peculiar seating arrangement, I don’t know if it’s by design or by accident. One of the glaring peculiarities is on the dashboard side of the front passenger area. On the driver’s side, the center console area near my left leg curved inward so I have extra knee room. However, on the passenger side, there’s a huge storage tray that clips the knee room considerably. Although the line of the storage tray beautifully flows from the passenger side door towards the center console, I’d prefer more knee room than design aesthetic.

Generous knee room for the driver side

Limited knee room for passenger side (that’s the leg of the Honda official who’s shorter than me)

Seating arrangement wise, I personally advised for tall people not to seat on the front passenger seat. It’s better to have a shorter person sit in the front passenger seat, slide the seat forward and the taller person sits directly behind for that extra leg room. This consideration needs to be taken because the Freed doesn’t have an “optimal position cue” like Stream sliding seats. On Honda Stream second row seat backrest, when you tilt it front side (to allow rear passenger entry to third row) and push the backrest rearwards to close it, the seat slides and locks in place. However this first lock is not the seat final position, it’s just that Honda installs a mechanical cue to signal that the seat is in “optimal passenger position”, it can still slide back to allow more leg room on the second row (by killing the third row leg room). The Freed doesn’t have this feature, so you need to manually adjust the seat yourself to give leg room for the third row. So it’s more of an exercise in respecting others leg room needs.

Comfortable seating position is achieved, don’t forget leg room below front seats

The second row seat is by far the best seat in the house. Like the front row seats, the “captain seats” can slide front and back, and the backrest angle can be adjusted freely. I can get a comfortable seating position, but I have to slide the seat fully. This essentially kills the third row leg room, as I can’t seat behind my comfortable position. However, when I applied a little moderation by not fully sliding the captain seat back, I can make a good room for the third row. I just need to slip my foot inside the front seat mounting. So remember, moderation makes this car great! Egocentric people need not apply.

Akin to travel class in flights, second row is definitely the first class, the most comfortable seat position in the car, while the first row passenger seat is your business class. The classic question however, what class is the third row seats on the Freed? Most often, third row passengers are classified as “kelas barang” or cargo class, too small to seat adults, and just okay for small kids. Well, the third row is indeed still a cargo class, but at least it’s comfortable. Theoretically speaking, if you only need to sit two people on the third row, the seat cushion width is the largest. At 620 mm wide per seat, the third row seat sounded not too bad at all. The only problem is just the leg room, whereby you can just kindly asked the person sitting in the first class to scoot slightly to the front.

On a side note, Honda engineers and designers seems to strike that seldom “oneness” in design and engineering with the Freed. Freed’s seating position is somewhat heightened because the car even though based of a stretched back Fit has a raised floor to allow flat floor while maintaining the option to have a 4WD (Japan only). This raised floor means that the seating position of the car is also raised. The good thing? Getting in and out of the car is effortless.
The problem with low slung cars is that they force the occupant to seat low in the car especially with low ceiling. This means that getting in and out of a low slung car needs more effort than with a high seat cars like the Freed. On low slung cars, because you sit down low, when going out of the car, you need to grab the overhead hand rail and pull your body weight up. The same thing with entering the car, you need to duck to clear the body panel. With Freed tall cabin, you need to duck only ever so slightly when entering the car to seat on the second row. Going out of the Freed is even better. Going out from the Freed involves only two things, getting up from the captain seat and going down Freed’s “stair case”, no need to pull your weight up and no need to space your legs to evade the infamous “Britney moment”.

Frankly speaking, and confirming my suspicion, this car is best as a 6 seater. 
In fact, I want to go out on a limb that the Freed is basically Honda Edix replacement. Honda Edix offered 6 seats sideways, but the Freed offered 6 seats rearward… Perhaps I’m going over my boundaries by saying that the Edix demise is partly because of the arrival of Freed… Nah… Just something I throw here and there.
Freed’s power sliding door is one of its biggest selling point, but little is documented about its capability. Perhaps the folks back in Japan considers power sliding door to be a regular feature, but here, the concept is very much limited to cars with price tags above US$50K. In a nutshell, the Freed power sliding door is like Elysion/Alphard/Elgrand. It is driven with a pulley system, has anti pinch function to retract the door when there’s obstacles (hand/head/body/etc), can be open remotely or be turned off to operate the door manually. One thing that I dislike about the power sliding door is the fact that it doesn’t sound a warning when opening or closing. The system actually has a warning tone, but only after it detects obstacle. I once tried to put my head on the door and close it, the door pushed me a little and retracts back with an audible warning. Kids shouldn’t play with this system because the anti pinch function is activated when it physically hits an object, not through visual sensors like in lifts. So unwary people might fell down after being hit by the door.

Finally we came to the most important aspect of them all, the air conditioner system. Even though the Freed is a small minivan, it seats three rows, and people expect for the passenger in the third row doesn’t faint in the heat of the tropical countries. The Freed comes with a single blower unit built in the dashboard. Given, because there’s no more room for second blower unit; the rear quarter is already housed a set of speakers and the jack housing, putting it on top would shorten the roofline and kills the larger room effect. With a single blower, does the third row passenger comfort a lost cause? Not quite.

Cooling this much space means to fully utilize the AC blower

My previous test drives with the Freed involves night time. So I can’t fully test Freed’s air conditioner system in the middle of the day. Finally, my last test drive involves bright, clear sky and 1 PM. I asked the Honda official who accompanied me on the test drive and I asked him how can the air conditioner system cools all rows without a double blower system. The answer is simple; the car is using a double fan single blower system thus air is cooled at much faster rate than with a single fan double blower system. Frankly, I didn’t know what he means because all I know typically there’s only a single fan blowing cool air from the evaporator and the blower (that 1-2-3-4 knob) blows that cool air inside the cabin. Does that mean there are two fans on the evaporator?

Well, I do feel the air conditioner system blows cool air faster than my current car. The trick is to set the blower to full blast (at “4”), and set it to “1” for two passengers, “2” for four passengers and optimally “3” for full row of passengers. At “2”, there’s a nary of cool air on the third row passenger. Surprisingly at “2” the blower doesn’t sound all that rough, even at “3” the blower sounds just slightly above my blower noise threshold.

Hear that Aih-V-TACH joo!!
Starting the engine, I hear that beautifully sounding starter motor… Yes, I judge the small thing because when somebody couldn’t manage small things, they usually can’t handle the bigger things. Anyway, the starter motors sounded very smooth and shortly after,the engine drums up, going to around 1100 RPM before idling down at 800-900 RPM range (it’s digital so it’s just an estimate). The digital tachometer makes it hard for me to accurately judge the engine revolution; however its responsiveness is as good as analog tachometer. Probably the user will get use to it in the long run.

The engine and transmission of the Freed is for me, the best feature this car has. The engine is quite powerful, at 118ps it’s one of the most powerful engine in its class (1.5L minivans) and coupled with the 5 gear automatic transmission, Honda Freed offered the best engineered car compared to its peers. Producing 118ps at 6600 RPM is no laughing matter, Honda engines do that because it can, low torque or whatever, it’s how those power is applied to the ground that really matters.

On a side note, you could read about Honda amazing L15 engine powering the Freed on Mr. Wong’s website, Temple of VTEC Asia. This is not the old L15, it’s more of L15 rev.2.0. In a nutshell, the new L15 mode of operation is deceptively simple. It’s no longer a 12 valve – 16 valve mode like the old VTEC, but a full 16 valve slow – fast mode. This mode alone gives the engine that smooth power band that everyday drivers appreciates, unlike the old VTEC where you have to go full open throttle to coax its full maximum power. The result is a lively engine without the trademark high strungness of past VTEC engines.

Depressing the leg brake (unique to Freed within its peers), stepping on the brake pedal and putting the gear lever to “D”, I set off to once and for all seal the deal … The car I test drove is the plain jane version. No map lights, no power sliding doors, no convenience hook, no vanity mirrors, and no airbags. On paper this car should have less weight than the fully equipped trim level. So please account that fact when reading my driving impression. The fuel used is RON 91, and the car already has 8800 Kilometers on it, with its oil changed after 5000 Kilometers.

Clear view to the back

With the radio turned off, the car is surprisingly silent on the road, yes there’s still outside noise creeping in and you can hear the tires rolling but all are subtle. The first thing I tried off course is the magnificent 5 speed gearbox to good use by constantly forcing a kick down on slow speed. At 40 KpH I jerked the gas pedal halfway and the gear kicks down to a lower gear… A fast response I never expect in a minivan. I even played with it for a while. I jerked the pedal from 40 KpH again, release the gas pedal and jerked it again, the gearbox faithfully kicking down to lower gear at any moment.

Finally I found an empty stretch of road to put good use of the VTEC mechanism. I decided to go wide open throttle from 30 KpH cruising speed. The gear kicks down and the engine wails past 6000 RPM with ease and before I know it, I’ve reached 90 KpH and ran out of road. I didn’t made any technical observation, but the engine easily reached its maximum power. Perhaps it’s the high grade fuel or Honda has refined the L15. I can still hear that intake valve switching to an aggressive profile, but with slightly less romp. A good thing though, because this is after all a family car, I wouldn’t want excessive noise more than the pretty lady sitting next to me (hello dear… just in case you’re reading this).

My daily car is 2008 Suzuki SX4 1.5L automatic, so my subjective driving experience is derived from said car. Compared to the SX4, the Freed definitely has more push than sound, even then the engine sound is beautiful, not raunchy as the M15A. Perhaps it’s the combination of sound proofing and better power band, but I never felt hanging when I need to ask for more power from the engine. With the SX4 automatic gearbox, sometimes (most often even) when I jerked the gas pedal, the gearbox doesn’t select lower gear, but just revs the engine higher, giving me more sound than push (I love this sentence).

The combination of fast responding gearbox and a willing engine gives the car a very rewarding driving experience. Never had I felt that the car needs to wind up to certain engine revolution that I have effective power to push the car. The power band is evenly distributed and the gearbox seems to select the best gear for my driving needs, whether its romping around or just casual cruising.

Cruising at 40-50 KpH, I balked at the digital fuel consumption reading. Just a slight lift off the throttle and the fuel consumption goes down as fast. Maintaining constant speed will net me good mileage. On my last test drive session that lasted for around 10 Kilometers, I net 1 liter for 8.9 Kilometers, and that’s with heavy traffic and any vacant stretch of road available I’m pushing the car to its 6000 RPM limit. So this car definitely has very good mileage if you can drive it carefully. The digital fuel consumption meter response time is fast enough to reflect your driving style just as fast. I hoped that Honda put the meter somewhere near the edge of the instrument panel hood, so it can be easily observed.

Speaking about good mileage; one time I went on a trip with my cousin in-law with his Freed. I observe the fuel consumption gauge while cruising on highway. I asked him to reset the fuel consumption meter and go about a 20 Kilometers of highway stretch. With a speed around 100 KpH, we got a respectable 1 liter for around 13 Kilometers (12.8 Kilometers to be exact). Off course he occasionally go open throttle to overtook the traffic, but this just shows how one could get good mileage when carefully driving this car.

Comfortable ride until the fat lady sings
Suspension setting on the Freed strikes a balance somewhere between just right and surprisingly, a bit soft. I expect stiffer ride, as typical with all Honda cars, but the Freed is surprisingly pleasant. Do note however, it’s soft, but you can definitely carve a corner with this baby. While cornering on 40-50 KpH, I can feel that the damper works hard, probably the weight of the car is stressing it to the max. Body roll is there, but somehow I can predict it well and not overly excessive. The default suspension setting is great with 6 people on board. However, I expect bouncier ride with excessive load on the car.

Personally it feels like the damper setting is too soft, another hint from Honda that this is intended as a family hauler. Local Freed community noticed this phenomenon and word on the street is, suspension upgrade from Tein, especially Tein Gold series is a great replacement for Freed’s default suspension.

Sealed the deal
Basically I love everything about the Freed; How it handles, how it looks and how it offers me comfort and utility. Yes it has tall structure, but because the ground clearance is relatively low, it managed to have a low center of gravity. The additional mass and wind resistance with its tallness only affect the car in high speed situation.
On another note, some would argue that Indonesian sourced Honda Freed has poorer quality construction, especially the thickness of the car’s sheet metal. Well, I can’t confirm or deny that comment. However, asking the Honda official that accompanied me during my last test drive about the car’s sheet metal, he said that Honda is using a 0.8 mm grade steel. He clarified that the lowest acceptable grade is 0.7 mm, while the best is 0.9 mm.

Tried hard to dent the sheet metal, doesn’t flex that easy

The easiest way to test the thickness of the sheet metal is just to press with one finger the largest surface area, far from crease line. For my test, I press on the driver’s side door around the center with one finger applying all the force I can. There’s some visible flexing, but it’s minuscule and is really well within my expectation (this ain’t Mercedes for sure).

Bottom line is, one could argue that this car doesn’t have the Honda spirit. Its minivan size and weight and small engine might not offer crazy fun to drive ratio. Furthermore, the car asked for a premium over its competitors. My answer to that is very simple; when you have people that you cared for sitting around you, you’d want the best, the safest and the most comfortable, while at the same time protecting mother earth by using less fossil fuel. Furthermore, you have a car that perfectly duplicates the premium aspect of a people mover from bigger cars like Toyota Alphard or Honda Elysion in a compact form factor. These is what Honda Freed offer and nothing else.