Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Honda Freed: first drive

NDONESIA could be the next country of origin for Honda vehicles in Australia.  Honda currently imports vehicles from Japan, UK and Thailand, but is considering a beefed-up Jazz-based five- or seven-seater called the Freed.

It sells in the top 10 in Japan where people-movers are king, but the model we would get may come from Indonesia.  Honda Australia boss Satoshi Matsuzawa says they are “always considering” other models for their eight-model Australian line-up.

“It seems to be different to others in Australia,” he says.  “Customers may have some need for this. We will study it.”  The Freed model is about three years old in Japan and has been made in Indonesia for the past year.

Honda Australia sales and marketing executive co-ordinator Takuya Tsumura says there are several factors that could determine its origin.
“The exchange rate and other factors will determine whether it comes from Japan or Indonesia,” he says.
“But both would be the same quality standard. It’s another indication of Honda’s global standards.  “Potentially we could get other cars from Indonesia in the future.”
He says that if it does come here, it may not be called the Freed.  “Perhaps City Plus or City Max, since it’s based on the City platform,” he says.

Mr Tsumura says the pricing would have to be “a little bit higher than the City VTi” which would mean starting prices in the mid-$20,0000 bracket.  That would make it comparable to the Kia Rondo and a much cheaper option than the sexy people-moving Odyssey.
It would be difficult for Honda to charge a premium for its badge, given it will be made in Indonesia, which is an untried car manufacturer in Australia.  However, it should be noted that Thai-made Hondas already use automatic transmissions supplied by Indonesia and manual gearboxes from the Philippines.  Honda also points out it has stringent global quality controls and standards.

Freed is powered by the 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine from the Jazz VTi.  Its mild maximum output is 87kW of power at 6600 revs and 146Nm of torque at 4800rpm.
The 1497cc engine is married to a five-speed automatic transmission mounted on the dashboard as in the Odyssey and CR-V.  It is available overseas in four models – S, E, E Sport and E Navi Sport _ with all models featuring electric sliding side doors.
The top-spec models come with satnav and a roof-mounted DVD player for the second and third row that doesn’t obstruct the driver’s rear view.

It is a relatively sleek machine for a people mover, looking a little like the Mercedes B-Class.  It has bug eyes, a wide mouth and a funky rear tailgate spoiler.
That massive tailgate extends from the roof almost to the bottom of the car, providing an enormous practical loading area with a low knee-high cargo floor.  Although it is a big tailgate, it doesn’t feel heavy and doesn’t lift higher than most people can reach to pull back down.

Like many Honda models, the cabin has an open and airy feeling with a sense of space.  However, while the cargo area and headroom give it a barn feeling, the legroom is deceptively shy.
Also, the dashboard juts out at the front passenger, encroaching on knee space and the side doors feature awkwardly intrusive knee-height ledges for the electric window switches.  Upholstery is hire car standard and the seats have little support.

The dashboard and doors sills have hard plastics, but the fit is very good. Unfortunately, the carpet joins had exposed staples.  The seat packaging and nifty hidey holes are very clever as expected from Honda.  However, there is no outside armrest in the second row because of the sliding doors.

If it came to Australia, it would have to include stability control as standard and have six airbags, as all Honda models will from next year.  However, it is not known whether the side curtain bags would extend to the third row as the seats fold out sideways like in the Prado, potentially obstructing the deployment of the airbags.
The rear row only features a lap seatbelt for the centre occupant, but a lap-sash arrangement with the sash mounted on the roof could be arranged.  Freed has the now-trendy integrated blinkers and side mirrors, but with the flasher curving around the mirror cowl so motorists in the car’s blind spot can see them.
The electric sliding doors feature pinch sensors so they don’t trap a limb.  Visibility out the rear three-quarters is limited.  It cries out for a rearview camera as standard.

Honda executives and a group of Australian motoring journalists took two Freed seven-seater models for short 4km evaluation loops on a flat course around the Royal Golf Course near Bangkok this week.
The lack of hills, a couple of passengers and no cargo made it difficult to fully test the pulling capacity of the engine.  However, even with a light load on the flat it seems to be an underachiever.
It isn’t helped by a transmission that is reluctant to kick down. When it does the engine screams for little acceleration.  The upright driving position has a commanding effect, but it is difficult to get comfortable as the steering wheel is not adjustable for reach.

The steering felt heavy and lifeless on the model with the 15-uinch wheels and a little sharper on the 16s.  It has a lot of lock turn, probably to mitigate nervous steering brought on by the twitchy top-heavy body.
Brakes feel spongy and unresponsive and it comes with a foot-operated parking brake.  Ride is quite plush, but the downside is that it feels tippy in corners.  There is low road noise except when hitting puddles, probably due to the hard plastic compound of the wheel arch liners.

There are other more urgent gaps in Honda’s Australian line-up than a cheap people mover.  For example, another performance model, a sub-compact SUV and a seven-seater mid-sixed SUV.
If they do decide to import the vehicle, it will need a bigger engine like the 103kW 1.8-litre from the Civic.  Suspension and steering rack will also have to be adjusted for Australian conditions.

Honda Freed
Body: 5 or 7-seater people mover
Price: about $25,000-$28,000
Engine: 4-cylinder, 1497cc i-VTEC petrol
Power: 87kW @ 6600rpm
Torque: 146Nm @ 4800rpm
Tyres: 185 65 R15 ands R16, full-size spare
Dimensions (mm); 2740 (wheelbase), 4215 (l), 1695 (w), 1715 (h)2740 (wheelbase), clearance 150
Kerb weight: 1270kg
Fuel tank: 42 litres
Likes: sleek design, nifty tailgate, headroom
Dislikes: lack of engine oomph, handling, knee space

Mark Hinchliffe road tests and reviews the Honda Freed.  ( http://www.carsguide.com.au )

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