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Review: Land Rover Freelander range

Land Rover’s Freelander has had to move with the times but the latest models look well in tune with today’s market. Steve Walker reports

As a manufacturer that built its name on producing 4x4 vehicles and more specifically, 4x4 vehicles that are amongst the best in the world for off-road driving, Land Rover was placed in something of a predicament recently.

Driven by legislative changes, increased environmental awareness amongst consumers and, hopefully, a desire to do the right thing, the car industry installed improving efficiency as a top priority. Land Rover’s problem was that falling in line behind this green banner becomes all the more difficult when your range is full of large, heavy vehicles with complex all-wheel-drive mechanicals. To Land Rover’s considerable credit, it rose to the challenge and the latest Freelander is a good indication of progress made.

The massive, earth-shattering news with this Freelander is that you can get a front-wheel-drive one. Land Rover aficionados up and down the country will have wept into their army surplus chemical warfare boots at the news but the camouflage-clad off-road army with their Defenders and Mk1 Range Rovers should not despair. Land Rover hasn’t sold out. The Freelander range remains centred on a core of 4x4 models, with the front-wheel-drive alternatives created as entry-level choices to compete in an area of the European compact 4x4 market that accounts for around 23 per cent of total sales.

The 2.2-litre diesel engine that powers the Freelander is available in two guises. The TD4 is the 148bhp version that comes as standard with an automatic gearbox and Stop/Start technology which cuts the engine when the Freelander is stationary to save fuel. The automatic transmission is available as an option and, unusually, also comes with Stop/Start technology on the TD4. Go for the more powerful 187bhp SD4 version of the 2.2 engine, however, and the automatic gearbox is standard.

All of these models come with all–wheel-drive and Land Rover’s excellent Terrain Response system for off-road driving. This clever set-up with different modes for the different terrains the Freelander might encounter goes a long way towards excusing the car’s lack of a proper low-range transfer case. This system acts almost like an off-road expert sat alongside you, selecting the best traction mode for any given terrain type. No rival has anything quite like it.

"As an all-round competent compact 4x4, the Freelander takes some beating"

All of which leaves only the two-wheel-drive eD4 variants which effectively break Land Rover’s longstanding policy of only producing 4x4 cars. Times change and the advantages of 2WD are felt mainly in the improved efficiency of the car.

This is the second generation Freelander, a car that’s been through more styling revisions than most. The latest models can be identified by a flatter nose courtesy of a redesigned front bumper with square holes for the fog lights cut into it. It moves the grille up in line with the large oblong headlights for a cleaner, more modern look that still has that Land Rover chunkiness. The cabin has smarter instrument dials than previous models but the wide centre console that puts its tactile controls within easy reach remains.

Compared to the original first generation Freelander, this MK2 model, launched in 2006, is 50mm longer, 109mm wider and 32mm taller but the wheels have been moved further towards each corner, freeing up another 105mm in the car’s wheelbase and making rear seat accommodation a whole lot better. Weight crept up to over 1,900kg in the process but a parallel improvement in safety and refinement is a transaction most customers will be willing to accept. Quality-wise, the interior is a somewhat unusual mix of very high quality materials with some surprisingly cheap plastics. It’s better than you’d expect in a mainstream compact 4x4 but perhaps not quite of the standard you’d find in the Freelander’s premium-badged German rivals.

There are four trim levels offered – S, GS, XS and HSE. With the 2WD models added to the mix, there’s a large differential between the top and the bottom but Land Rover will see that as an opportunity to attract a broader clientele. Most craven badge snobs will likely ignore the stripped-out S entry model, created mainly to give the Freelander an eye-catching starter price. The optional Premium Pack adds leather trim, electric front seats and premium floor mats.

A little like the mighty Range Rover in the luxury 4x4 class, the Freelander has always felt like a breed apart next to compact 4x4 alternatives. The breadth of capabilities that the baby Land Rover has at its disposal means it has something subtly different to offer than the vast majority of its rivals. It’s always felt a classier and more sophisticated proposition than compact 4x4s like Nissan’s X-Trail, Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V. By the same token though, its genuine off-road prowess and Land Rover badge mean you’re far more likely to see a mud-splattered Freelander than a premium compact SUV like BMW X3 or Audi’s Q5 with soiled alloys. The Freelander’s mix of quality and honest practicality set it apart and the latest cars add greater efficiency into that rare mix

Minimising costs by improving efficiency has been a central theme in the car industry over recent years and Land Rover had a harder job in this area than most. The results achieved in the latest Freelander, while not the best in the compact 4x4 sector, are promising. The Euro5-compliant engine has a revised variable geometry turbocharger and a diesel particulate filter. It can also run on a mix of up to 10% biodiesel.

The Freelander’s best economy figures come from the front-wheel-drive variants which manage over 47mpg and 158g/km emissions. Owners will get 45.6mpg from the TD4 models and 40.4mpg from the SD4, with emissions for the two at 165 and 185g/km respectively.

There aren’t too many areas where the Land Rover Freelander2 comprehensively aces the opposition. It’s positioning between the mainstream compact 4x4 and the more salubrious premium compact 4x4s makes that difficult. Where it scores, and scores heavily, is in being on the podium for virtually every single reason why you’d buy a compact 4x4. What’s more, it’s backed up by the attraction of the Land Rover badge, is one of the best looking models out there and now, has decent fuel efficiency to go with its other qualities.

As an all-round competent compact 4x4, the Freelander takes some beating. Opt for a 4x4 model and it will be good off the road as well as on it. There’s a well-built and roomy cabin and with the introduction of front-wheel-drive variants, the range is varied enough to appeal to a wide audience.

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