Until recently, Honda fans in our country looking for an MPV, discounting parallel imports, were limited to just the Stream and the Odyssey. For the slightly less affluent supporters, neither of them are very affordable.
The slightly lower end of the MPV segment is dominated by the relative newcomers such as the Proton Exora and Perodua Alza alongside the more established Toyota Avanza and Nissan Grand Livina. Those with a family but insist on a Honda badge will have to make do with the City, Jazz, Civic, or pay more.
That situation is set to change, as the preposition of Honda MPV ownership has now been moved even closer to the masses, price-wise, with the Honda Freed. Developed based on underpinnings of the current Honda City and Honda Jazz, the Freed arrives in Malaysia fully imported from the PT Honda Prospect Motor plant near Jakarta, Indonesia.
Yes, the ‘fully-imported’ part of that statement ensures that the Freed is not going to be cheap, and it isn’t. Buying one will burn a six-figure hole in your bank account, and all for something that has the running gear of a RM80k car. From an engineer’s viewpoint, the sums just don’t add up.
Priced at RM112,980 on-the-road including insurance, the Freed is marginally dearer than the Jazz (RM110k), but eye-wateringly more costly than Nissan’s hugely successful Grand Livina, which goes for RM97k in its most expensive level of trim, and that’s with a 1.8-litre engine. The Freed makes do with the same 1.5-litre engine as the City and Jazz.
This is a massive price discrepancy, and certain justification is needed in order to be able to convince the masses to plonk their hard earned cash into the product. The solution: market it as a compact premium MPV, or was it premium compact MPV?
But in what way is the Freed premium? It is compact for sure, as its foot print (4,215mm x 1,700mm) is actually smaller than the City (4,395mm x 1,715mm), but how premium is it? Where does its premium values lie?
To allow us to fully explore that question, Honda recently got members of the media together for a drive run of the Freed from KL to Penang and back. The drive route was carefully planned to give a good mixture of highway, city, and trunk route driving to give the journalists as good a feel as possible of the Freed’s abilities.
As usual with media drives, the realities of logistics dictate a need for us to take turns serving as driver and passengers. My turn behind the wheel on the first day was almost exclusively along trunk routes, which allowed me to put the Freed’s handling competencies to the test. It was only the next day on the return journey that I managed to drive the Freed on the highway.
On our legendary winding backroads, the Freed demonstrated handling abilities beyond my expectations. Although the electric power steering felt a little dead in feedback, it pointed the Freed to my selected cornering lines with satisfying accuracy. Grip was well maintained, and body roll was kept well in check.
The flip side of that handling prowess was a firm ride. It’s nothing that you can’t live with, but for a vehicle with family orientations, the setting chosen by Honda was a surprise. The Honda engineer who went with us on the trip maintained that his team felt this was the setting that gave the best compromise between ride and handling.
The 1,497cc SOHC i-VTEC engine under the Freed’s hood is plucked straight from the City and Jazz, but tweaked slightly to better haul the Freed’s 1,355kg kerb weight (roughly 200kg more than the City & Jazz). In this application, the figures read 117hp @ 6,600rpm and 146Nm @ 4,800rpm.
Despite the adjustments, the engine felt strained whenever the need to gun it arose. To be fair, the hectic schedule of a two-day media test drive meant that the convoy needed to maintain a brisk pace all the way in order not to fall behind schedule. Suffice to say, the Freed won’t be getting you anywhere in a hurry, but for a leisurely drive, we don’t foresee a problem.
Noise intrusion is also well-suppressed, and certainly much better than the City, Jazz, and as far as I can recall, even the Civic. Wind noises only come into the picture once your speedometer steps into radar gun beeping territory.
In its B-segment models such as the Jazz and the previous generation City, Honda has demonstrated its unquestionable talents in interior packaging. Nobody packs spacious and well-thought interiors into compact dimensions quite like Honda, and the Freed sees a continuation of that prowess.
Although some cabin pieces were made of less than impressive hard plastics, the design concept of the cabin suits folks who place a high value on ambiance. The two-tiered dashboard looks properly futuristic and concept-car-ish. The powered rear sliding doors and middle row captain’s chairs add to the futuristic theme.
In truth, neither of those features have any practical use that we can see, though we did find them very likable. One notable weakness of the interior is the lack of armrests or upper grab handles for the captain’s chair passengers on the side of the chair facing the door. Over long distances, the arm by the door’s side can get pretty restless.
So, is the Freed a worthy buy? It depends on the angle from which you look at. This car has the same mechanical underpinnings as the Honda City, so if you look at it from that respect, you’re not likely to see a bargain here.
Where the Freed excels is its interior layout, as Honda pulls off another masterstroke in internal space management that it so ably demonstrated before. The key selling point of the Freed is not mechanical, but rather conceptual. It’s a lesson in packaging, but at RM113k a pop, it’s quite an expensive idea!