IF CARS had feelings, you could forgive the Land Rover Freelander for being a mite ticked off about all the attention lavished on its fashion-statement of a stablemate, the Range Rover Evoque.
Here, after all, is the car that spearheaded Land Rover’s entry into the burgeoning compact SUV market more than 15 years ago (see the Rav4 review on Page 3); a car which has served the brand well ever since, swatting aside the challenge of Japanese and German pretenders to its crown. Yet all anyone can do these days is coo over the new arrival. Harrumph!
So to stop the Freelander (or Freelander 2, as it is now badged) from feeling unloved, Land Rover has treated it to some new toys. The interior gets a fresh look and some extra equipment to move it more upmarket, while outside, there are new colours and LED daytime running lights. Engines are unchanged, which means a 2.2-litre diesel with 148 or 188 bhp. Our range-topping test car, in HSE Lux trim, gets the brawnier engine coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive.
I like the Freelander’s style: chunky enough to suggest it could headbutt the scenery into submission, but with car-like soft edges. Interior space isn’t class leading, but five adults will have no problem getting comfortable and the boot’s a good size too.
The spruced-up interior will look familiar to anyone who has spent time in a Range Rover or Discovery, which means it’s a fine place to be, particularly for the driver. The centre console has a less cluttered, more streamlined look, and a colour touchscreen and colour display between the speedo and rev counter bring the Freelander’s instrument cluster bang up to date.
It’s away from the road that the Freelander rubs mud in its rivals’ faces. Four-wheel drive versions, such as this one, are bolstered by Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which sets the car up for snow, mud and ruts for a desert raid at the touch of a button (the rotary dial of old has been dropped). The Freelander’s generous ground clearance lets it bound obstacles 21cm high and wade through water 50cm deep.
Mild weather and a lack of deserts in the Edinburgh area meant that most of the settings went untested in our week with the car, but I’ve witnessed enough Freelanders traversing terrain you’d think twice about walking on to know that they’re very capable vehicles.
The price for this is off-road prowess is mildly compromised ride and handling on the road, particularly at high speeds. Most of the time, you won’t notice, since the Freelander is brilliant at soaking up bumps and eats up motorway miles with ease, but if you’re in a hurry to bag the best seats at Badminton Horse Trials, you’ll notice a bit of body roll in the bends.
The 188bhp diesel feels unstoppable. At least, until the fuel tank drains dry. Land Rover claims 40.4mpg on the combined cycle, but I never managed more than 30mpg on a mix of motorway, B-road and city driving.
HSE Lux means leather upholstery, black lacquered wood trim, twin sunroofs, electrically-adjusted seats and a stereo with 825 watts and 17 (!) speakers. The 19-inch alloy wheels, meanwhile, are sure to divide opinion. I thought they looked the business, but I also own a Bryan Adams album, so what does that say about my taste?
At just shy of £40,000, you’d have to be some sort of hardcore Freelander fetishist to want the range-topper, when the same sort of money will get you on the bottom rung of the Discovery ownership ladder. And it’ll buy you a pretty nice Evoque, too. Don’t say that in front of the Freelander, though. You might hurts its feelings.
CAR Land Rover Freelander 2 SD4 HSE Lux
PERFORMANCE Max speed 118mph; 0-60mph 8.7secs
MPG (combined) 40.4
CO2 EMISSIONS 185g/km