CarAdvice is helping celebrate Land Rover’s 60th Anniversary by participating in a trek across Australia – from Birdsville (Queensland) to Broome (Western Australia) to be precise.
I took the task of covering the first leg – from Birdsville to Alice Springs, crossing the Simpson Desert along the way.
- story and photographs by Paul Maric (click on any picture to enlarge)
After an arduous flight from Brisbane to Birdsville on Macair’s mail run, we arrived at a pub, not only WITH beer, but COLD beer – much to the excitement of my fellow motoring journalists. Before arriving at Birdsville, the contingent of journalists eagerly discussed which vehicles Land Rover would have in attendance. We all assumed the Freelander 2 would be left at the office due to the terrain we were planning to cross.
Much to our mutual surprise, Land Rover had decided to include the Freelander 2 in the cross-Australia celebrations. The queue for the Freelander keys was surprisingly scarce to begin with, we weren’t too sure how well it would travel – let me tell you, this changed in a big way closer to the end of the first leg.
Although the Freelander has a capable constant 4WD system, its ground clearance and small engine were a slight concern from the outset. The first challenge faced by the Freelander was a sizeable river crossing which the rugged Defender scoffed at, then crossed in style.
The Freelander was lined up and away it went. Its fording depth of 500mm meant that it crossed the river with relative ease for a vehicle of its size.
Soon after the river crossing, the group of Land Rovers arrived at ‘Big Red’, one of the first sand dunes following the exit from Birdsville, and a very famous one at that. Aside from a set of Goodyear Wrangler off-road tyres, the Freelander was stock as a rock. After lowering the tyres pressures to around 18psi, we started our crossing of some 1100 sand dunes.
As long as there was a bit of momentum at the bottom of the dune, the Freelander cruised up without any concerns. The torquey 2.2-litre diesel motor was happy to rev right through to the red line, meaning that all that was required was a decent prod of the throttle on the way up the dune and constant throttle application all the way through.
It didn’t take long before the queue for the Freelander keys started to build.
Aside from being quite a quick car through the sand, it was the most enjoyable to drive through the chicanes of the dunes.
The short wheel base and responsive engine meant that a bit of oversteer was a regular – and enjoyable - experience!
The only downside to the Freelander lay with the front suspension. Undulations in the road, coupled with the Freelanders rather tightly sprung suspension meant that it bounced back with vigour and we often found the front end digging into the sand if you were to carry too much speed.
Sitting back in the Freelander’s pews couldn’t have been a more comfortable spot to be. The dual-glass sunroof and soft leather interior made the cabin a brilliant spot to be.
Fuel consumption was also on the Freelander’s side. Averaging just 12.0-litres/100km, it was the most frugal of the bunch. Considering the average speed through the dunes was some 30km/h, with half of the travelling being at full throttle to climb the dunes, this isn’t a bad effort at all.
The Freelander really was the surprise of the bunch. It tackled anything thrown at it and didn’t get stuck once (at least when I was driving).
Priced from $49,990 for the six-cylinder SE petrol it peaks at $58,550 for the HSE diesel model driven across the Simpson Desert.
Further coverage of the first leg of this epic journey is to come, along with coverage of the second and third legs which take place in the coming weeks.