This is Freelander 2, an all-new British-built small premium off-roader, not to mention the successor to the car that kicked off the whole market for such cars. The final Land Rover designed by Geoff Upex before his retirement, Freelander 2 is bigger - 50mm longer, 109mm wider and 32mm taller - than the old car, faster, better equipped and, yes, more expensive too. A worthy addition to the Land Rover family? Read on to find out.
Under the skin
The new Freelander is just that, new. The body is a conventional steel monocoque constructed from high-strength steel but it’s not light, leading to a total kerbweight of around 1800kg depending on model. Suspension is all-independent by coils and gas dampers, the brakes are relatively large and plusher Freelanders will come with a version of Land Rover’s Terrain Response system. Like the Discovery’s and Range Rover’s, it has four modes: general driving, mud and ruts, slippery surfaces and sand and uses electronics to brake each wheel and send torque wherever suits.
Under the bonnet
Both of the Freelander’s engines are new, or new to the Freelander, at least. The old 2.0-litre TD4 finally gets the heave-ho and is replaced by a far more powerful 2.2-litre PSA lump. Power jumps from 110bhp to 158bhp and torque by 104lb ft to 295lb ft. That’s Brits sorted as there’s now no small petrol engine alternative to the diesel, the 1.8 K-series having been junked. But our gas-loving Stateside pals will be more interested in the other new arrival, a transversely-mounted 3.2-litre straight six. It pumps out 230bhp and 234lb ft compared with the 177bhp/174lb ft KV6 of the old Rover lump. It's only available with a six-speed automatic gearbox, which is unlikely to upset many buyers; the diesel conversely, demands you manually sift through its six ratios, at least for now, which could put some buyers off. As with every Land Rover, and unlike most small off-roaders, the Freelander is full-time four-wheel drive. In normal driving it sends most of its torque to the front wheels but can send it rearwards instantly when necessary.
The inside story
The good news is that there’s plenty of good news. The cabin is bigger in every dimension and thankfully the driving position is adjustable this time. Which means no more head brushing the headlining. You still sit high though, giving a clear view of the road and the four corners of the car. Rear seat passengers have it easier too although the rear footwell isn’t deep enough to stave off leg aches on really long journeys. But while the old car’s nasty hard dash plastics have thankfully been given the bullet, there’s still a whiff of cost cutting. Some of the switches don’t feel that great, the moulded wood strip bisecting the dash looks pretty unpleasant, particularly the lighter wood version, and the cartridge key deserves a special mention. It’s essentially a poor copy of BMW’s cartridge key but not as nice to look at, to hold or to use as the Munich original. Don’t be surprised if a revised version appears quite soon. And don’t be surprised to hear owners of the old car moaning that the new version’s tailgate window doesn’t retract. There are bright spots too, like the smart rubber shelf just below the sat nav unit, perfect for resting your thumb to stabilise your hand when your pawing at the touch sensitive screen.
On the road
The chassis tuning is the work of Mike Cross, he of Jaguar fame, and it shows. The Freelander has that mature air that makes Jaguars such great road cars: good noise suppression, a supple ride and easy gait, but complemented with fine body control. The Freelander rolls more in corners than a BMW X3, but the light steering is quick and turn-in swift, giving the Freelander the demeanour of an agile car, rather than a lumbering off-roader. It’s not exactly a GTi with a false beard – grip levels are relatively modest and you never forget how tall the thing is - but it manages to be genuinely interesting to drive without compromising any of the family car virtues a Freelander should have.
Even with all that extra kerbweight doing its utmost to offset the new engines' extra power, performance is much improved. Of the two, the 3.2 petrol six is the fleetest, slurring through its six ratios to reach 60mph in 8.4sec before running out of steam at 124mph. But the diesel’s on paper disadvantage (60mph in 10.9sec) never seems so big when you’re behind the wheel. Both are torquey, quiet, refined and more economical than the engines they replace: believe the figures and you’ll get 25mpg from the V6 (up from 22mpg) and 38mpg from the diesel (up 1mpg).
If it’s Sahara-crossing capability you’re after, you’re going to need something more hardcore than the Freelander. But when confronted with all the horrors our quarry could throw at it, the sort of stuff that would turn a CR-V grey with fright, the baby Landie shrugged its shoulders, rolled its sleeves up and got stuck in. There are no diff locks but the combination of the hill descent software and the four Terrain Response settings allows the Freelander to haul itself out of all sorts of sticky situations. Short overhangs and a respectable ride height keep nasty exhaust scraping noises to a minimum. A proper off roader, such as a Defender, will still humble the Freelander though.
Value for money
The Freelander starts this category with a big minus: it costs £2000 more than the car it replaces. Land Rover of course, would rightly argue that the new car is better in every way than the 1996 original. But the fact is, the Freelander range now starts at £20,935 and stretches up to a ludicrous-sounding £33k. It is not a cheap car and clearly has its sight set on leaving the Honda CR-V and Rav4 melee for a slice of the BMW X3’s more profitable pie. But it now has the sort of safety kit a car of this price deserves, comes fairly well equipped, even the base TD4 S offering alloy wheels, climate control and four electric windows. But start adding leather, sat nav and you’re not going to get much change from £30,000.
After two great cars (Range Rover and Discovery) and one not so great (the too heavy, too thirsty but depressingly popular Range Sport), the new Freelander could have gone either way. But any fears have been assuaged, it’s a great junior off-roader and a worthy addition to the Land Rover family. Good enough off road to suit all but the most demanding of the green welly brigade and equally impressive on-road, it’s even a strong rival to a traditional junior exec.