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21 Jan 2023

What We Dislike
Dated interior
Lack of more advanced safety systems
A hybrid drivetrain coheres more with a car like this

The laser focus of the cleverly-designed Freed on transporting seven is still delightful today. Nonetheless, its age and non-hybrid drivetrain are hard to ignore.


Over four days with it, I haven't been able shake the thought: The Honda Freed would have given many cautious drivers the confidence to finally tackle the infamous narrow and winding ramps of the late Liang Court carpark.

Its short front overhangs and your raised seating position make the car incredibly easy to place - helpful especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As if you've clicked Zoom Out on your computer's web browser, 'border margins' around you in multi-storey carparks feel like they've been expanded slightly when you're behind the wheel of the Freed - not even 4.3m long, and under 1.7m wide. Going around and upwards is effortless, too, with its light steering. 

Yet this is somehow also capable of swallowing a three-gen Singaporean family in its entirety. 

First glance: Baby (blue) MPV

No plastic cladding, and minimal chrome: The Freed keeps it clean and is all the better for it
Alas, this is the world of mini-MPVs that we're speaking of and, on our local roads, only two names have really stood the test of time and established themselves. We'll come round to the other later (although you already know it), but proudly occupying one half of the picture, the Honda Freed dispels any pretensions from the jump. 

Other MPVs cloak themselves in crossover-inspired design cues or lean on shiny bits and plastic cladding in a bid to look more exciting. The monochromatic Freed likes it cleaner, and looks the opposite of avant-garde, or aggressive, despite the creases running uninterrupted along its body panels.

With its tall and narrow body, the Freed quite literally embodies a 'mini-van' visually 
Introduced by its authorised dealer in post-facelift form, it's now traded the chrome strip across its grille for a body-coloured piece up front (in line with Honda’s new 'Solid Wing Face'), and a black honeycomb-grille beneath it.

A short bonnet gives it a one-box silhouette, and its above-average height and below-average width meet in a result that quite literally embodies 'mini-van' visually. 

Choosing understated over cutting-edge has its benefits, for the Freed doesn't look like a machine from a time past even if its fundamental design isn't new. Show us someone that won't appreciate this pleasing Fjord Mist Pearl paintwork, too (best described as a baby blue hue). 

Inside: Almost all bases covered

Tucked away into the centre console are a pull-out tray and cup holder; the empty space can be used for storage, or access into the middle row otherwise 
Storage spaces and cup holders aplenty, a cleverly-designed and decently roomy interior and, of course, an emphasis placed on getting passengers comfortably into every single row of seats. 

These were assignments clearly understood by the Freed in its first generation and, the current car, with its sliding doors and tumble-forward seats, continues to fulfil them to great success. 

With some fiddling, the second and third rows can even morph into a bed. Nonetheless, some may not appreciate that stowing the last row away is done by folding the seats up into the car's sides rather than underfloor. 

The last row of seats must be folded up onto the Freed's walls in order to arrive at a flat floor
Something you'll want to note is that unlike the 50:50 split in the Toyota Sienta Hybrid we recently tested, the Freed's second row splits 60:40.

This allows for a properly moulded seat for the middle passenger, which also contains a fold-down armrest if only two are on the bench. Likewise, the shotgun passenger gets a space to rest their elbows (also missing on the Sienta). 

Accuse us of splitting hairs at this point if you will, but since the comparison is so direct, these little details give off the impression that the Freed has the narrowest edge if we were to think purely in terms of how it covers the bases of a seven-seater. 

The Freed's digital instrument cluster is easy to understand, but feels a bit dated in 2023
Its tall body translates into generous headroom throughout the three rows, while shoulder room and legroom right at the rear are acceptable in a car this size. The single most notable flaw is a lack of dedicated air-conditioning in rows two and three.

To return to the compliments extended to its exterior design, however, the car's age will start to significantly show when climbing into the driver's seat. 

A sparse steering wheel greets you with the reminder that the car doesn't come with Honda's more advanced safety systems, while its otherwise-intuitive instrument cluster is simply not as pleasing when we've already experienced those on the newer Jazz and Civic, and certainly not on its fresh-faced arch-rival. 

The dash benefits from this muted woodgrain texture
Thankfully, the Freed gets a welcome dose of 2023 by offering wired Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay on its 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (you'll definitely want to keep your smartphone connected).

A woodgrain-finish likewise breathes some welcome life into its dash, as does the light strip below the digital speedometer, which switches between green and orange to tell you if you're moving about efficiently. Overall, the design here is fully in line with what's to be expected from an entry-level compact car, but it honestly doesn't deliver much beyond that. 

On the move: Freedom of manoeuvre

All-round visibility is excellent, and the Freed's dimunitive proportions make it great for city-driving
Unthinkably diminutive proportions, as mentioned earlier, make driving the Freed very pleasant on our roads. If ever the term 'city-MPV' officially existed, the car would fit it to a T.

A sunroof isn't required to enhance the feeling of space, since the tall windscreen and large windows all around let natural light flood in. All-round visibility is consequently excellent as well.

It's quite improbable that a Freed-owner would ever want to drive it like they stole it, but the car's light steering, unlike the slow steering racks of large MPVs, also has more responsiveness to it than one might imagine. Likewise, there's less body roll than expected in something of its stature - and despite the car's softly-sprung suspension. 

The car's engine doesn't lack power, but is mated to a CVT that could be more refined 
These qualities are, however, let down by the car's rough-sounding drivetrain, especially when moving off from a standstill. 

On paper, power should be sufficient. Pop open the car's hood and one will find a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre engine producing 129bhp and 155Nm of torque. 

Nonetheless, quite a raucous, almost phlegmy drone is emitted no thanks to its CVT if one happens to go even just a bit harder on the pedal. This only subsides after your right foot relents slightly. The Freed also comes with Start/Stop functionality, but even equipped as such, its consumption figures are nothing to shout about. We managed about 14km/L with quite an even split between highway and city driving.

While Start/Stop functionality helps to reduce fuel consumption, nothing beats a hybrid drivetrain
Considering how at ease the Freed feels in an urban environment, there's no question that its hybrid variant would offer more efficiency, refinement and an overall more engaging driving experience. That drivetrain is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but sadly isn't Cat A COE-friendly, since it produces 136bhp. 

On the other hand, what may be unexpected is how capable the Freed feels out on open stretches of expressway. The most we had on board in the car at once was five people, and even with this load, the car manages to hover at the speed limit without feeling gassed out. 

Expect none of the unsettling 'wafting' that plagues lighter cars too. Instead, the Freed will lap up those daily kilometres while offering a remarkably settled, stable and comfortable ride. 

The age(-old) question

The Freed's charm lies in its clever packaging, and laser-focus on transporting seven in its tiny body
There is some frustration when reviewing the Freed now, knowing that people will read the title, immediately scoff, and pass (insert disparaging remark), simply because it isn't a brand new car. 

The Freed still stands as a thoughtful and surprisingly pleasant-to-drive machine; meticulously crafted (as is the Toyota Sienta) to squeeze every ounce of practicality out of a footprint no bigger than a Civic's. Ubiquity might change its superficial allure, but not its inherent value. 

Despite its age, the car's thoughtful engineering and honest disposition are still admirable today
Like the Sienta, the Freed deserves plaudits for the very fact that its laser-focus on fitting seven in its tiny body isn't replicated by many. It doesn't need to offer a particularly gutsy drive - so it takes better to a lighter foot. It doesn't need to look muscular or go off-road - and so an honest minivan is what you get and see.

Unfortunately, what does change a car's value is when it gets released, and what it gets released with. As such, one cannot fault the Singaporean driver if they find the Freed's age difficult to swallow today - even though it remains a well-engineered and charming city-MPV.

Check out what we had to say about the Freed's arch-rival - the Toyota Sienta Hybrid - here!
Car Information
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Honda Freed 1.5 E7 (A)
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Price

: $72,999 (w/o COE)

Engine Type

:

4-Cylinder in-line DOHC i-VTEC

Engine Cap

:

1498cc

Horsepower

:

96kW (129 bhp) / 6600 rpm

Torque

:

155 Nm / 4600 rpm

Transmission

:

CVT (A)

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

-

Top Speed

:

-

Fuel consumption

:

16.9km/L

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Tags :  

honda  freed  toyota sienta  mpv  mini mpv