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First drive: Freelander 2 is the real small SUV deal

Welcome back: Land Rover's small SUV is redesigned after 10 years.

Land Rover gets it right with its second-generation Freelander off-roader

4 Jul 2007

IT HAS been a long time coming, but lauded British off-road brand Land Rover finally appears to have ticked all the right boxes with its second attempt at the booming compact SUV segment – the bigger, tauter, pricier and far more convincing MkII Freelander.

Freelander 2, as it is known globally, is simply dubbed LR2 in the US and Middle East, where its decade-old predecessor’s sales and reliability record was deemed so sullied that the Solihull model’s nameplate was retired.

Land Rover said research groups showed no such baggage is attached to the model in Australia, where it went on sale on July 1, and the rejuvenated Ford-owned brand devotes pages of press material to highlight the design and build quality of its fourth new model in recent years.

Developed over 30 months and with 150 prototypes tested on four continents (Australia was not one of them), the second-generation Freelander is new from the ground up – right down to its newly-designed grille roundel.

Unlike the rest of Land Rover’s Solihull-built range, it hails from sister UK maker Jaguar’s modernised and award-winning X-Type plant, Halewood near Liverpool.

Australia’s penchant for automatic transmissions makes us one of the last markets in the world to take delivery of LR’s final all-new model for at least two years.

Land Rover Australia admits it could have offered the petrol version here as early as January – six months after it hit the US and a month after Freelander 2 was launched in the UK, where sales are up 20 per cent so far.

The Premier Automotive Group company will not divulge sales forecasts but said the Freelander 2 will easily hoist its flagging total sales beyond 2006 levels this year. While Land Rover globally is on a roll and should build 200,000 vehicles for the first time ever in 2007, locally it is 350 sales adrift of last year’s result.

That means Freelander 2 needs to find at least 60 new homes each month this year, but LRA executives admit the plan is to shift at least 100 per month – something its larger and more expensive Discovery 3 and Range Rover Sport stablemates regularly do, and which the new Freelander will need to do if it is to out-sell its direct rival, BMW’s X3.

From a high of 1684 in its Australian launch year of 1998, sales of the original Freelander plummeted to just 87 last year – despite a 2004 repositioning that saw the all-diesel (2.0 TD4) model range open at $39,950 and close at $48,950.

24 center imageIn a radical move upmarket, Freelander 2 pricing ranges from just under $50,000 to just under the luxury tax threshold at $58,000 – still a whole $8000 below the X3’s base price of $65,900 (X3 2.5i). The X3 3.0i costs a relative bomb at $73,900 and the X3 3.0d is $75,900.

A procession of compact premium SUV newcomers will begin to join the Freelander and X3 next year, however, when Volkswagen’s Tiguan and Audi’s Q5 are likely to land here with pricing below and above the smallest Land Rover respectively.

Volvo’s XC60 and the so-called Mercedes-Benz MLK should do similar by the end of the decade, and then there are the likes of Saab’s BLX and its Cadillac SUV sibling to come.

The arrival of six new compacts will bolster Australia’s luxury SUV segment considerably, in which the Lexus RX350 leads the Benz M-class, BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, Discovery, Range Rover Sport, Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and the X3.

It is no co-incidence that, like Freelander 2, none of the small upcomers are likely to come with low-range transmission ratios. Also missing from Freelander MkII is a manual transmission and a three-door soft-back version.

Despite the fact the five-door Freelander 2 is available exclusively with a six-speed Aisin AWF21 automatic transmission with CommandShift manual mode, Land Rover claims that, like Range Rover, it offers the widest breadth of on/off-road ability in its class.

Freelander 2 is also the first SUV to score a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash rating.

Aiding both causes is what is claimed to be the highest torsional body rigidity (27,000Nm/degree) of any SUV this side of the Rangie and Porsche’s Cayenne, as well as improved approach (31 degrees), departure (34 degrees) and ramp-over (23 degrees) angles, plus 210mm of ground clearance, a 500mm wading depth and a turning circle of 11.4 metres.

There is also the company’s patented Terrain Response chassis control system from Discovery 3 and now both Range Rover models – in this case offering four modes in the absence of adjustable air springs and a low-range transfer case.

Another category first is a gradient release control system, while Land Rover firsts include roll stability control and the use of an electronic centre Haldex coupling for its full-time four-wheel drive system.

Significantly, unlike many luxury SUVs, Freelander 2 comes with a full-size alloy spare wheel.

Two all-new engines are available, across two equipment variants: SE and HSE.

First up and expected to account for 65 per cent of sales is a Ford/PSA Peugeot-Citroen-developed, French-built 2.2-litre 16-valve common-rail four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with twin balance shafts and a variable-nozzle turbocharger.

Offering 118kW at 4000rpm and no less than 400Nm of torque from 2000rpm, the new TD4 offers 43 per cent more power than its 2.0-litre forebear, plus better average fuel consumption of 8.5L/100km.

Claimed 0-100km/h acceleration is 11.2 seconds – half a second quicker than the TD4 manual available in Europe.

Meanwhile, Freelander 2’s Volvo-designed and Ford UK-built 3.2-litre 24-valve petrol engine is the first transverse inline six-cylinder fitted in a compact SUV and delivers 30 per cent more power than Freelander’s previous 2.5-litre V6 – along with 10 per cent better average fuel economy (11.2L/100km).

Also a long-stroke design, it delivers 171kW at 6300rpm and 317Nm at 3200rpm. Claimed 0-100km/h acceleration is 8.9 seconds.

LR said it benchmarked the half-size-larger Freelander against the BMW X3 for on-road handling and the Lexus RX for comfort.

Despite an increase in kerb weight to 1770kg, the monocoque-chassis Freelander 2 is more frugal and cleaner-burning than before.

Measuring 4500mm long (up 50mm), 1910mm wide (up 109mm), 1740mm high (up 32mm) and riding on a 2660mm wheelbase, Freelander 2 has an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.39Cd, a maximum payload of 550kg and a braked towing capacity of 2000kg (TD4: 1750kg).

On the safety front, all Freelander 2s come with dynamic stability control (DSC), active roll mitigation (ARM), roll stability control (RSC), electronic traction control (ETC), corner brake control (CBC), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), four-channel all-terrain anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake assist (EBA) and hill descent control (HDC).

If all that fails, there are six airbags including twin front, twin front side (thorax), full-length side curtain (head) and driver’s knee bolster airbags.

Standard SE equipment comprises 17-inch six-spoke alloy wheels with 235/65-section V-rated tyres, automatic (halogen) headlights, rear parking sensors, heated/power-folding wing mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, full leather trim, leather multi-function steering wheel and gear-shifter, powered front seats, driver’s seat height/lumbar adjustment, a 60/40-split rear seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, trip computer, cruise control, illuminated vanity mirrors, four one-touch windows, luggage cover, remote central locking and a six-speaker six-CD in-dash sound system.

The HSE adds 18-inch 12-spoke alloy wheels with 235/60-section rubber, bi-Xenon headlights, front parking sensors, three-position driver’s seat/mirror memory, an eight-speaker Alpine HI ICE CD/MP3 player with sub-woofer, a rear headphone module and auto-dimming interior mirror. Petrol HSEs also get “bright tailpipe finishers”.

There are three interior colour choices (Ebony, Alpaca and Tundra) for the leather seats, carpets, centre console and lower doors/fascias, while the HSE also offers the no-cost option of three trim colours (Rhodium, Straight Grained Walnut and Hand Polished Lined Oak) for the door and centre console inserts.

Metallic paint ($1500) and an electric sunroof ($3300) are the two key options.

Headlight washers and foglights are also available, and HSE buyers can also specify a Tech Pack ($6890) comprising a full-colour DVD navigation system, adaptive bi-Xenon headlights and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

2007 Land Rover Freelander 2 range pricing:
Si6 SE (a) $49,990
Td4 SE (a) $51,990
Si6 HSE (a) $55,990
Td4 HSE (a) $57,990

Options:
Metallic paint $1500
Electric sunroof $3300
HSE Tech Pack: $6890
Full-colour DVD navigation system
Adaptive auto-levelling headlights
Bluetooth connectivity

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