Land Rover Freelander 2
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The Land Rover Freelander 2 aims to redefine the compact 4x4 market with a blend of quality and capability that the opposition are powerless to match. Andy Enright reports
Recommending a compact 4x4 isn’t an easy task. If you’re in the market for a car like this, there’s every chance you’re going to be rather label conscious. As good as the latest Japanese offerings may be, a good quantity of buyers won’t look beyond Land Rover’s Freelander. In the past, this meant buying a car that was rather average, later rising to class competitive at best. The Range Rover and the Discovery showed just how good Land Rover could be when it set its mind to it and few doubted that the Freelander 2 would wipe the floor with the opposition when it finally arrived. Well arrived it has and rival car manufacturers across the globe have a choice. Either bust the overtime budget in an attempt to keep pace or give up now.
The shape is instantly familiar, albeit one which looks as if vehicular geneticists have artificially inseminated a Freelander with some purebred Range Rover DNA. The MK1 Freelander was one of those rare exceptions – a vehicle that just got better and better looking throughout its lifetime and the second generation car has upped the ante again. Whilst it retains the chunky good looks, Land Rover has imbued it with a far more premium look and feel, which is just as well as the entry level price has increased from just under £20,000 for the old five-door to around £21,000 for the latest car. It feels more than that – but that’s because a cheap three-door variant is no longer offered, nor is the rather weedy 1.8-litre petrol engine that never did the Freelander any favours.
"It was only a matter of time before the build quality of the Range Rover would trickle down to Land Rover’s baby"
A pair of new engines are offered in the Freelander 2, one diesel, the other petrol powered. The oil burner is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that’s good for 159bhp and which develops 400Nm of torque – a useful increase on the 352Nm of the old Td4 diesel unit. It’s enough to make this model the one to go for if you’re planning on towing or plenty of urban use, a fact reflected by its excellent combined fuel economy of 37.7mpg. Jointly developed by PSA Peugeot Citroën and Ford, this engine will be badged TD4 and features the latest common rail technology and electronic injectors. For the technically minded, this engine’s key highlight is a variable-flow twin port system that increases midrange urge without having to wind the turbocharger’s boost up overly high. Mated to a six-speed manual transmission, the TD4 is a sweet piece of kit but owners of this variant can also talk to their dealers about an automatic option.
The 3.2-litre petrol engine is the powerplant the Freelander has always deserved and generates 232bhp. This Volvo-sourced all alloy straight six (badged i6) is so compact it’s mounted transversely and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Land Rover’s Command Shift system offering the driver the option of knocking the stick back and forth in a sequential mode while there’s also a sport mode for added zip.
One of the most exciting parts about this model is Land Rover’s decision to fit their excellent Terrain Response system, standard on all but the entry-level model. This allows the driver to select what sort of off-road conditions the car is experiencing via a rotary knob on the dashboard and the car’s electronics work out how best to dole out power and maximise traction, turning the Freelander 2 into a far more capable off-road tool. There’s still no low range transfer case, which may scrub the Freelander 2 from the shortlists of those who want something really rough and ready, but the Freelander 2 comes up with a number of other ways to get you out of a tight spot. A full-time intelligent 4x4 system is based around a sophisticated Haldex centre differential which helps keep economy manageable on road while a sophisticated Gradient Release Control system is a logical extension of the old Hill Descent Control system for descending steep and slippery slopes.
Although the shape is familiar, you get more Freelander for your money now. It’s 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, making rear seat accommodation a whole lot better. Weight has crept up a whopping 250kg to around 1770kg in the process but a parallel improvement in safety, refinement and quality is a transaction most customers will be willing to accept.
Land Rover has big expectations of this model, hoping to shift around 80,000 Freelander 2s in its first full year of production, a decent return from a company that used to think 50,000 sales across its entire model range represented a good year. The Freelander’s biggest sales year was 2002 when it sold 72,000 units and it was still the top selling compact 4x4 in the UK as recently as 2005. Although it was the top selling 4x4 in Europe for five years after its launch, the explosion in choice and the profusion of budget marques in this sector means that Land Rover are realistic about the Freelander’s sales, not expecting it to outsell some of its Japanese rivals across the EU.
Bigger, cleverer, better looking and built in the UK, this is one car that we can all get behind and be proud of. There may be elements of France, America and Sweden in this car’s makeup but it could only have ever been produced using the expertise of home-grown talent. Just as it did in 1997, the Freelander has once again redefined what a compact 4x4 should be.