So the all new Honda Freed has finally been introduced to the Malaysian market for a respectable RM112,980. Pre-launch speculation placed the price at slightly below RM130,000, which of course had some of us convinced that Honda Malaysia would have its work cut out and would have a better chance selling the Freed as a luxury airport taxi than it would moving the compact MPV to the people it is actually targeted at – professional urbanites with young families.
A completely built-up unit that is assembled at the PT Honda Prospect Motor assembly plant in Indonesia, the Freed definately does have its work cut out for it to convince potential buyers to pick it over the cheaper and, to a certain extent, equally equipped competition. Well, the Freed is an immensely successful model in Japan, selling more than 150,000 models since it was first introduced in 2008, so there definitely has to be something very right about it.
We were privileged enough to watch the Freed being built when Honda sent us to the assembly plant back in January and we learnt that in terms of build quality it certainly is up there with the best in its class, you can read the story here but besides watching it being put together, we also got to drive it before most Malaysians even knew what it was, but what is it about the Freed that has us convinced that it will sell?
During the launch yesterday, Mr.Toru Takahashi, CEO and Managing Director of Honda Malaysia said the Freed is driven by its marketing theme of 4 Plus ideas. This theme works around the basic fact that the Freed is a diverse MPV that is able to offer so much more than just seating space for seven. It’s a flexible MPV with the ability to offer additional cargo space to meet endless possibilities and needs, as Mr. Takahashi put it; the Freed expounds more ideas for owners on how they could make the most out of their ride, be it for a family day out on the beach or a round of golf.
Great so the Freed has the masses of space expected from an MPV, but that’s almost the same point that every MPV manufacturer harps over and this is almost always seen in their advertisements showing the interior of the MPV converting to cope with various demands. Yes, Honda harped over the same fact as well but all is good because space is essential to the people who buy MPVs. But that still doesn’t justify why the Freed is supposedly so special compared to the rest.
Well the people who would know best why the Freed is so special are of course the manufacturers themselves and the one place they make this known is in the brochures, it’s true that every manufacturer will definitely blow its own horn but the brochure is a great indicator of what the defining factors actually are. According to Honda’s brochure, the highlights of the Freed are a few, almost negligible, but important features, starting with the dual layer dashboard; a feature unique to the Freed that offers the front occupants a simple, distraction free atmosphere that holds all the controls neatly and is thus easy on the eye. A dual layer dash could very easily be used to store all your junk on but this is dangerous because in case of an emergency, the function of the air-bags would be hindered by these items, turning them into potentially harmful missiles in the event that an air-bag is deployed. The function of the dual-layer dashboard is then nothing more than just to keep it all distraction free.
Next up and in my opinion one of the few distinctive defining points of the Freed is the automatic sliding rear doors, designed to aid entry or exit in tight parking spaces. The doors are controlled by switches located close to the steering wheel and to aid ease of entry, they are also controllable by remote control. And just to ensure that you, the kids or the dog doesn’t end up with a sore finger, tail or worse, the sliding doors are equipped with an anti-pinch sensor that reverses the closing process when an obstacle is detected. The doors are also able to stop midway through operation in case you decide to reverse the opening or closing process halfway through.
The other features that personify the Freed are the flat floor design, achieved with the use of a ingenious fuel tank built under the floor, and a walk-through cabin. The seats, known as captain seats or “King & Queen” seats in Indonesia, are set 200mm away from each other and are designed to allow passengers to walkthrough the cabin. Foldable 3rd row seats, something that is common in modern cars and MPV’s, helps to create the biggest idea to grace the Freed, space. With enough walking space for Asian sized adults (tried it out with a friend of equal size and there’s no way two big guys can walk through a cabin with 200mm of clearance) and lots of storage space, the Freed is very easily able to cater to various needs of a modern family. So simply put, if you can’t fit whatever you need in here, you need a truck.
So the highlights of the Freed are basically the sliding doors, simple dual-layered dashboard, and masses of space, but this is not why it will sell. It will sell because it’s a Honda, because of the hours of thought and engineering that has gone into it, because it drives well.
In Indonesia, after we were given the plant tour, we were taken to the test track to put it through its regular phases, straight line speed, tight sweepers, hairpins and of course the regular brake test. I’m not a MPV person, I don’t feel safe seated so high and detached from everything, but that’s me, I never feel safe in anything unless I’m seated low and hugged by a fitting bucket seat, preferably with harnesses holding me in place and the whole car giving masses of feedback through the steering wheel and seat, but that’s my ideal ride and the Freed is an MPV. I still had to hop into the Freed even if I was afraid and I had to drive it hard and lunge it into a corner and brake at high speeds and carry as much speed as I can into the hair pin and slalom course. Fun? No, but very safe.
Powered by a 1.5-liter i-VTEC engine that produces a fuel economical 118PS@6600rpm through its bigger intake valves and its torque boost resonator, the Freed also has 146Nm of torque available from 4800rpm. And if that doesn’t provide a fast enough response, the Freed has an Active Lock-Up System that shortens the real time exchange of gears and ensures responsive acceleration. The system also works to help reduce noise and overall transmission movement.
Helping to channel all that input from the drive-by-wire throttle to the front wheels is a five speed transmission that comes complete with Shift Hold Control that holds on to a gear especially in winding roads and Grade Logic Control that helps work the gears when additional power is needed, ensuring maximum power and maximum fuel efficiency.
There is no doubt that the Freed has adequate power but control is necessary and to help ensure everything remains manageable the Freed comes equipped with the regular Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) that helps to evenly spread the braking force to maintain stability and Brake Assist (BA) which supplies even more brakeforce under emergency braking to bring the car to a safe stop.
At the track and in the middle of a sweeper, a car this size and with such ergonomics tends to have unnatural balance and is inclined to understeer into an obstacle at high entry speeds, so some sensitive braking is needed so as not to provoke the rear into swapping ends or worse. Electronic Brakeforce Distribution helps to evenly spread the braking force to maintain stability and when back into a straight line, the brake assist provides additional braking power to calm things down. But the Freed handles well for an MPV and Honda credits its box chassis shape to this, also helping with handling is an increased castor angle, castor trail and centrally located spring placement.
In the safety aspect, the All-New Freed scores 6 stars in the JNCAP crash tests for both the driver and passengers. The proprietary G-Force Control Technology (G-CON) helps disperse the crash impact across the body frame while the advanced compatibility engineering (ACE) gives better crash compatibility with other cars, thus minimizing injury.
These are the small features of the Freed that give it the premium advantage over its competitors, sliding doors and extra space is great but almost all MPVs have great space and sliding doors are almost negligible, but ultimately it’s the trouble free drive and thoughtful engineering that gives the Freed the luxury of calling itself a premium compact MPV, a title that already gives it an edge. Available in Brilliant White, Polished Metal and Crystal Black, the Honda Freed is now available for test-drives and bookings at all nationwide dealers for the aforementioned price.