Honda Freed: Could It Rock 'n Roll in America?By Michelle Krebs May 29, 2008
By Peter Nunn
TOKYO -- Take a Honda Fit, move it up a class with new sheet metal, add two or three rows of seats and you're starting to get an idea of the Freed, Honda's innovative new mini minivan that's just launched in Tokyo.
Smaller than a Civic but with room to squeeze in up to eight people thanks to some highly astute packaging, the 1.5-liter, slant-nosed Freed is not headed for the United States anytime soon but might conceivably open up a new niche segment if it did, especially in light of skyrocketing gas prices and the American consumer's growing preference for smaller, fuel sippers.
While the Freed is nominally in the Fit ballpark, it's many times more versatile inside. Remarkably, this little Honda comes in five-, seven- and eight-seater configurations even though end-to-end it's a full 12 inches shorter than a Civic sedan.
Then there's the Freed's rakish, manga-like styling. On the streets of America's more happening cities that could really wow Gen Y and Z crowds and who knows, siphon off a few Scion buyers at the same time.
Japan Only -- For Now
The message from Honda, however, is that the Freed is a Japanese domestic model -- at least to start with. Replacing two quaint boxy multiwagons in Japan, the Mobilio and Mobilio Spike, it's been purposely designed to fit in with today's downsizing market trends and the nation's cramped parking lots.
How has Honda been able to package the Freed car so inventively? By starting out with a unique platform that mixes and matches elements of both Fit and Civic architecture. This new platform offers up a usefully low floor and comes with a wheelbase 2 inches longer than the Civic's.
The Freed at the same time is 2 inches narrower than a Civic but as much as a foot taller. So it's the classic Japanese tallboy and uniquely in its class can be ordered as a seven-seater with the option of two second-row captain's chairs.
True, there is a plain vanilla two-row, five-seater version. But more adventurous and fun is the full-spec, three-row Freed with walk-through, a model that can take eight with the proviso that those in the third row are under 6 feet and don't mind cuddling up. Cleverly, that third-row bench splits 50/50 and folds up when not in use.
Twin powered sliding rear doors are standard-issue with the Honda Freed, which shares the Fit's impressive 1,496cc i-VTEC engine but produces a sparkier 118 horsepower.
Front-drive models get standard CVT transmission but with optional all-wheel drive that then switches to five-speed auto.
Freed Is Just Another Word
As for the name, Americans of a certain age may remember Allan Freed, one of the pioneers of rock n' roll from the '50s but that, you can be sure, has nothing to do with Honda's choice for the name.
No, Freed, we hear, has been coined from "freedom" or could be a derivation of "free" and "do. Either apply. Some see it as a pity that Honda ditched the Mobilio badge but with a new model, Honda top brass wanted a new name to match.
The final eyebrow raiser is the price. The Freed kicks off in Tokyo for the equivalent of $15,690 and so far as we can see, has no direct competitor. Honda plans to sell 4,000 units a month, which seems a pretty modest target. That's a quarter of what the Fit typically sells each month now in Japan.
Compact, clever and with many cabin tricks, the Freed's another crucial model to help Honda rebuild its Japanese domestic sales. It would seem at first sight too small, quirky and niche for North America, but then for a long time, they said exactly the same about the Fit and look what happened to that.