Car reviews - Land Rover - Freelander - 5-dr wagon range
Land Rover models
Solid and competent feel for a small car, performance of diesel engine and updated Aisin transmission, updated styling
Room for improvement
Vibration from diesel engine at low speed, fit and finish on some of the interior plastics not up to standard of premium vehicles
9 Feb 2011
IN AN increasingly crowded segment of premium compact SUVs, Land Rover’s Freelander 2 stands out with the feel of something more akin to the big solid off-roaders that are the company’s hallmark.
While other premium compacts such as the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 all offer luxurious appointments and car-like dynamics, as does the Freelander, the little Landie rides high and is unfazed by rugged tracks or loose gravel.
It would have been easy for Land Rover to create just another soft-roader when it created the Freelander 2 back in 2007 but that wouldn’t have cut it in the company’s long history of off-road prowess and luxury.
Land Rover had something to prove with the Freelander 2 as the original had a such bad reputation for reliability. It has succeeded to date with the new model showing no signs of its predecessor’s many faults.
As a result Freelander sales in Australia are on the rise and are now higher than they have been in the last 10 years.
If there was a tarnish on the Freelander 2 when it was introduced it was the performance of the 2.0-litre TD4 engine. With 118kW and 400Nm it was no slouch but it was outshone by the sweet petrol six-cylinder engine that brings sporting characteristics to the all-road wagon.
Land Rover addresses this with the 2011 upgrades led by a new 2.2-litre turbo-diesel that delivers either 110 or 140kW depending on the state of tune. Both engines make 420Nm of torque which is up 20Nm from the 2.0 TD4.
In mid-range SE automatic specification the 110kW TD4 is just $1500 cheaper than the 140kW SD4 yet it offers similar performance and identical fuel economy.
As such we only expect the TD4 to be taken up by those buying strictly on price. They won’t be missing out on much in terms of performance as both offer sprightly acceleration and relaxed highway touring, but for $1500 we see most buyers opting for the SD4 variant.
As both variants of the engine produce the same torque, you would expect the higher power version to make its power at higher engine revs but strangely the SD4 makes its 140kW peak power at 3500rpm and the TD4 makes its 110kw at 4000rpm. No one from Land Rover at the vehicle launch was able to explain this anomaly to us.
On the road the difference between the engines is negligable as the updated Aisin aix-speed automatic transmission does an excellent job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot to give constant acceleration up to redline.
There is an annoying vibration from the engine around 1100 to 1200rpm that makes itself known the most when cruising around the suburbs at light throttle. It is totally gone by 1300rpm and above this the engine is smooth and quiet.
Land Rover quotes combined fuel consumption at just 7.0L/100km and we had the indicated average dip below that on a drive that took in highway and secondary roads as well as some bush tracks.
It’s on such tracks that the Freelander impresses when other so-called soft-roaders start to show their limitations.
We were driving the HSE model that rides on 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres and the super stiff monocoque chassis doesn’t transmit any harshness from the ruts and bumps to the cabin, which remained comfortable and quiet. The suspension does a superb job of isolating the body and even the worst of the bumps were barely felt through the steering wheel.
The Freelander is no off-roader like its Discovery and Range Rover stablemates but it does offer concessions to aid driving more difficult tracks in the form of Terrain Response, Hill Descent Control, 220mm of ground clearance and 500mm wading depth.
The Freelander’s version of Terrain Response doesn’t have the full range of off-road functions as that found on the bigger 4x4 Land Rovers but gives settings for grass & gravel, sand or mud & ruts.
The stiff chassis again proves its worth on the road, tying down the suspension and isolating the cabin from NVH. It gives a feeling of quality that you won’t find in cheaper compact SUVs and is more in line with the Land Rover’s European counterparts.
At the time of launch, the Freelander chassis was one of the stiffest available in an SUV, just behind that in the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Vogue. The suspension allows just enough bodyroll to mainatin comfort while keeping the handling tight while the steering is direct with good feel to the driver. Again the Freelander 2 surprises with its comfort on low profile rubber over less than smooth roads.
Land Rover calls the high seating position in its wagons ‘Command Seating’ and this affords the driver and passengers excellent visibility through the large glassed area around the vehicle which is as useful around town as it is in the bush.
The high seat could be an issue for drivers taller than 185cm who might find themselves looking at the sun visor above windscreen.
The cabin and seats are comfortable and the controls and features are easy to locate and use. The HSE’s power-adjsuatable seats offer plenty of adjustment although again a tall driver might want to get it lower.
The back seat is good for children and moderately sized adults while the cargo area holds a useful 755 litres behind the second row of seats. The 550kg payload is average for this size of vehicle but the 2000kg towing capacity is excellent and we have no doubt of the Freelander’s ability to haul it with 420Nm available from the diesel engine.
The electric leather seats in the HSE we drove gave a feeling of luxury in the airy cabin but this was let down somewhat by the fit and finish on some of the interior plasitcs. The black plastic trim around the HVAC controls on the dash looks unfinished and cheap, as does the similar plastic used on the door grab handles while some the gaps on some of the mouldings were uneven.
This certainly isn’t up to the finish of the bigger Land Rovers, although the solid overall feel and quality of the leather is. It is a small blemish on what is a generally a high quality overall package.
Priced where it is between $45,000 and $70,000, the Freelander 2 bridges the gap between the Asian compact SUV and the Euro luxury SUVs. Land Rover Australia hopes the the Freelander will attract sales from the top end of the Japanese compacts such as Subaru Forester, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 that dominate the category in sales, while at the same time niggle away at the European luxury SUVs from BMW, Audi and Volvo.
It may not be as affordable as some Japanese vehicles or as dynamic as some of the Euros, but the Freelander 2 SD4 provides a point of difference from these in that it has the added all-road ability and unique Land Rover styling.
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