It may have been largely forgotten in the hype of its more glamorous sister, the Range Rover Evoque, but the success of the updated Land Rover Freelander 2 remains crucial to the iconic British brand in the lead-up to the launch of a new-generation model in 2015.
Land Rover's smallest model, the Freelander was originally launched in 1997 and achieved instant success as the world’s first premium compact SUV. The model notched up sales of over 540,000 units before being replaced by the second-generation version in 2006.
Updated in 2009 following continued showroom success, Land Rover Freelander 2 sales remained consistent to 2011 with around 47,000 cars rolling off the Halewood production line each year, and 2012 is set to become even bigger, with sales set to exceed 50,000 units.
The 2013 Freelander 2 update brings several styling tweaks, an interior makeover and a new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in a refresh Land Rover hopes will provide enough of a boost to ward off challenges from both premium and non-premium competition such as the Audi Q3 and updated Q5, Volkswagen Tiguan, Volvo XC60 and even the Evoque itself.
You’ll need a keen eye to spot the styling revisions to the exterior of the Freelander, as they are subtle at best.
Most noticeable are the front and rear lamps that now incorporate LED technology, and there’s a new signature graphic for the front running lights. Less obvious is the bright finish to the grille and fog lamp surrounds, together with minor detailing enhancements to the grille surround and front guard vents.
The interior is where most of the effort has been focused with the 2013 update, with several features borrowed from Evoque.
There’s a new-look centre console that boasts an electric parking brake, while the original Terrain Response dial has been replaced with easy-to-use flush-mounted buttons, freeing up more space for storage – something lacking in the outgoing Freelander.
The instrument cluster has also been revamped with a new five-inch screen displaying vehicle data like temperature and fuel levels, gear positions and Terrain Response mode, sitting between the twin display dials. Steering wheel toggle switches operate several easy-to-read drop-down menus and set-up instructions. It’s all very intuitive.
There’s push-button start across the entire Land Rover Freelander 2 line-up replacing the old-school key docking system employed by the previous iteration.
A reversing camera is now standard across all but the entry-level Freelander 2 TD4 manual and features a marvellous bit of technology that allows drivers to accurately guide the vehicle’s tow ball into the perfect docking position.
Also new to Freelander for 2013 is a 380-watt Meridian sound system with 11 speakers and subwoofer for lower and mid-spec variants, while the range-topping SD4 HSE Luxury boasts a more powerful 825-watt 17-speaker Meridian unit.
There’s also a revised satellite navigation system with seven-inch touchscreen available as an option on all but the top-spec HSE models where it's standard. It’s a cleverly integrated unit that also features step-by-step prompts for the ‘Say What You See’ voice activation system.
Bluetooth phone and music streaming is also standard across the entire 2013 Land Rover Freelander 2 line-up.
Additional features include auto-dimming rear-view mirror, seven airbags (including driver’s knee), power-folding side mirrors and approach lamps, rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels (19-inch on HSE models), full-size spare wheel and climate control.
While interior space remains unchanged from the outgoing Freelander, the rear seats have been lifted for a stadium seating experience.
The 177kW/340Nm Si4 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged powerplant joins the Land Rover Freelander 2 line-up as the only petrol engine in an otherwise an all-diesel family. It’s almost identical to the one used in the Evoque.
Land Rover’s decision to downsize its petrol engine from an inline-six offers a few key advantages. Not only is the new engine 40kg lighter than the Si6 unit it replaces, CO2 emissions are also down by a claimed 14 per cent to 224g/km.
At $55,600 (before on-road costs) the new 2.0-litre Si4 SE slots into the Freelander line-up as a mid-level variant just above the $54,100 TD4 SE.
That’s less than the 155kW Audi Q3 2.0 TSFI ($56,000), as well as the 180kW BMW X1 28i ($58,200).
The location for our test drive of the 2013 Land Rover Freelander was a brutally cold forest region in Quebec Canada, where temperatures dipped as low as minus 17 degrees Celsius – that’s bloody cold.
Just getting to the forest provided a suitable challenge for the latest Freelander. Freezing temperatures, snow and rain had turned the roads into one-half ice rink and one-half icy slush pit.
High-speed freeway travel required us to engage the Grass-Gravel-Snow setting on the Terrain Response system and we ploughed through 120km without so much as a single wheel spin from the Continental winter tyres.
Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Freelander’s new four-cylinder drivetrain cruises at 110km/h effortlessly and with very low noise levels heard inside the cabin.
Turbocharging ensures there’s plenty of torque on tap from 2000rpm, providing plenty of punch for safe high-speed overtaking – even in these conditions.
Progress from rest is equally brisk with the new Freelander able to sprint from 0-100km/h in 8.8 seconds. Top speed is 200km/h.
High-speed stability is good too, even on the snow-encrusted freeways. The hydraulic power steering is weighty without being too so, and it’s quick to respond from the dead centre.
That combination of excellent noise insulation, refinement and strong linear power delivery throughout the entire rev range makes it all too easy to forget you’re driving a four-cylinder Freelander. It’s far more like a six in this regard.
Fitted with 19-inch alloys our Freelander Si4 HSE provided a firm-ish ride over less than perfect road surfaces, but without being uncomfortable. The standard 18-inch wheels offered a slightly suppler ride over the same surface.
For 2013 the Land Rover Freelander gets a structural under tray on the front sub-frame for extra body stiffness. Although tight corners were few and far between in the Canadian wilderness, the Freelander displayed minimal body roll through high-speed freeway curves.
The Land Rover Freelander has always been deceptively capable off-road, and the combination of mud- and slush-infested forest trails was easily managed by its full-time four-wheel-drive system. Even with two wheels in the air, traction was maintained to those wheels on the ground.
Several tracks had iced-up completely, but again, the electronic wizardry of Land Rover’s Terrain Response system ensured that there was little if any wheel spin during the icy ascent.
In off-road conditions, though, the 2.2-litre diesel Freelander proved easier to manage with more low-down torque than the turbo petrol model.
Combined fuel consumption for the new four-cylinder Land Rover Freelander was higher than expected, with the trip computer reading 14.1L/100km after an initial 130km route.
That’s significantly higher than Land Rover’s official claim of 9.6L/100km. In contrast, the 110kW/420Nm diesel Freelander achieved 8.8L/100km over the same route and in the same conditions.
The Land Rover Freelander earns a five-star ANCAP crash test rating and comes standard with seven airbags, dynamic stability control, anti-locking braking with electronic brake force distribution and cornering brake control, roll stability control and engine drag control.
The latest Land Rover Freelander 2 is a hugely capable compact SUV, offering more refinement, punchy on-road performance with the new Si4 petrol, and standout off-road capability in a family-friendly package.