“Easily the most accomplished and prestigious compact SUV package on the road today – bar none”
The CarAdvice long-term garage has been home to Land Rover’s smallest vehicle, the Freelander 2 in HSE TD4 guise and I’m pleased to report it’s been a thoroughly pleasant experience, so far.
More like a junior Range Rover is how I’ve been describing the Freelander 2, to the countless friends and admirers who have asked my opinion of the vehicle.
Let me say, there is absolutely no shortage of on-road presence and cachet, when it comes to the entry-level member of the Land Rover SUV range.
Moreover, why wouldn’t I describe it as such, with standard features which include; an all leather interior (including door trim), electric front seats, six-speed auto, rear park distance control, rain sensing wipers, dual automatic climate control and just about every safety and electronic on road, off road system ever developed, its not hard to see why the Freelander 2 is currently Land Rover’s most successful model, worldwide.
However, it’s a tough market out there, and there’s a stack of compact Sports Utility Vehicles in this particular segment, in fact, I counted seventeen brands and near enough to seventy individual model variants within the category.
Australians have taken to compact SUV’s like ducks to water, and that’s hardly surprising given the many advantages they have over sedans, when it comes to the needs of lifestyle conscious families and singles alike.
It’s not so easy loading a mountain bike, stroller, or even a small surfboard into a garden-variety four-door sedan. That task is far easier in an SUV, especially so, if the vehicle has flat folding rear seats similar to the system in the Freelander 2.
Whereas some split fold systems are cumbersome and overly fiddly for the user, the Freelander uses a simple, two-stage process, which requires minimal physical effort, at least when collapsing.
Whilst you can get away with using just one arm to lower the seat-back, you will most definitely need two strong arms to raise it, unless you’re a Fitness First junkie, and one that pumps iron at least several days a week.
The upside is that the rear seats are far more comfortable and supportive than anything I’ve sat in, within this segment.
Make no mistake; this is a significantly improved vehicle over the first generation Freelander, which although quite successful for Land Rover, just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Too small, not aggressive enough, and lacked that essential Land Rover DNA, which the Freelander 2 has in spades.
The front of the new car especially does it for me, with that Range Rover Sport-like metallic grille and side vents, looking every bit the prestige ride.
It’s also the upright and boxy design, which although not as contemporary as some of its competitors (think XC60 and CX7), offers a large interior load space and better all round vision, due to the increased window area.
While its not as large or quite as roomy as the Discovery line up, there’s not much in it, given the Freelander 2 can easily accommodate five adults in sedan like comfort.
For the active lifestyle crew, I regularly piled in a Mongoose mountain bike, two surfboards along with wetsuits and towels with one of the kids, which took all of a couple of minutes to load.
You also get that unique ‘Command View’ driving position and signature individual armrests, which has been synonymous with Land Rover’s upper class siblings from day one of their existence. This allows for superb high-up vision forward, without feeling like you are behind the wheel of one those impossibly tall iron ore rigs.
And then there’s the Freelander’s robustness and practicality, things like the super-size door handles, which are both easy to open and virtually kid proof.
It’s the same story on the inside, large door grabs for an easy door close, something very few designers of competitive SUV brands seem to have recognised. I suspect they’re either single or childless.
While the leather upholstery inside the Freelander is not as soft or as sumptuous as I have sat on, it does feel thicker than most, and should be highly durable over the long term. These are also some of the most supportive seats as far as anyone with chronic back pain.
I’m not so praiseworthy of the rather high sill once you’ve raised the large tailgate. It certainly presents a struggle if you need to lift an arm full of heavy grocery bags onto the rear load deck.
The upside is, that you get a full size spare wheel across the entire Freelander line up, and that’s essential if you ever want to veer off the beaten track.
Not enough of those baggage hooks in the rear cargo area either I counted just two. These simple plastic additions are a terrific idea, as they secure groceries well enough, allowing you to take a few tight corners without losing every can and Granny Smith. You know what I mean.
There’s a premium feel to the cabin too and it’s not just the leather or other creature comforts. There’s a lot of Land Rover Discovery inside the Freelander, the centre console, steering wheel, and even the shifter, all look decidedly similar to the Discovery interior.
The front seats are especially supportive and long stints behind the wheel are back pain free. There’s plenty of leg and headroom front and back, along with a tonne of space between the driver and front passenger in the Freelander 2.
Most prestige carmakers like you to tick as many options boxes and you can afford, and Land Rover is no different in this regard.
The pick of the bunch is the Alpine audio system with 7.1 surround, 12x40W amplifier, Subwoofer and 13 speakers. I sincerely doubt whether you have a system in your living room, which delivers such depth of clarity and power, as this unit does.
Not so good though, is the lack of proper iPod connectivity, all you get is a simple auxiliary input and that means that you cannot change tracks or alter the volume from the buttons on the steering wheel and frankly, that’s a bit of a pain.
As part of the same Technology Pack you also get an easy to use touchscreen Satellite Navigation system although, it is DVD based and not hard-drive, but it certainly gets you where you want to go without any drama.
Bi-Xenon headlights are far superior to the standard Halogen powered headlights and if they’re adaptive (move with the steering wheel) as they are in this particular Freelander, night driving doesn’t get any safer.
But all this additional technology comes at a cost, in this case, a substantial $8350, which of course is all worthwhile provided you have the funds.
With parking spaces becoming increasingly smaller these days due to those overly capitalistic local councils, you’ll find the Power Fold side mirrors particularly useful. When you hit the lock button on the remote key fob, both mirrors fold in so as to make it easier for those parking next to you. Consider this feature extra insurance for you car.
And while you don’t get a smart key in the traditional sense, (you need to insert the fob in to the dash and hit the start button) few other SUV brands can boast a fully waterproof fob, which I successfully tested in a two-metre swell at Manly Beach.
If I told you that the Freelander has the same wading depth as the ‘go anywhere’ Land Rover Defender, that’s 500mm, you might think that climbing aboard might be a tad difficult for some.
Not so, in fact, it’s actually easier than climbing aboard most sedans, which require you to lower yourself into the seat, but with the Freelander you just step in and sit, almost perfect.
Hit the start button in the HSE TD4 and you awaken a rather agricultural sounding 2.2-litre diesel engine, which will change your view on the so-called oil burner, forever.
It may not be the quietest of turbo diesels at least on start up, but the way this thing climbs steep tarmac slopes, probably isn’t legal.
Most people tend to look at the diesel option in an SUV of this size, purely on fuel economy, and while that makes perfect sense, it doesn’t take into account the driveability benefits of a modern diesel due to the massive dose of torque available (400Nm) from very early in the rev range.
That means that even with an average fuel economy of around 10.5 litres per 100kms (ADR combined), the Freelander can climb hilly terrain all day long with more aplomb than most V8 powered sedans.
There’s a slight pause when you drop the right pedal, but from the moment the rev counter nudges 2000rpm, the Freelander just takes off and feels a whole lot quicker than the published 0-100km/h figure of 11.2 seconds.
Freeway cruising is even better, very quiet and very non-diesel like. At our national speed limit of 110km/h, the Freelander is barely ticking over at 1800rpm and using 9.0L/l00kms; you’ve got to be happy.
The six-speed auto transmission has been well matched to the 2.2 litre, turbo-diesel and although, you have option of a sequential manual shift, you probably won’t use it as the standard shift pattern works so well, with perfectly placed ratios whenever you need them.
You don’t expect a compact SUV of these dimensions and one with ‘best in class’ off road capability to deliver a car like ride, but that’s exactly what you get with a Freelander, regardless of the road surface.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re charging over shopping mall speed bumps or crash tackling Sydney potholes; the ride in the Freelander is always compliant, if not supple.
Even more impressive, when you consider our vehicle is running on the optional 19-inch wheels. That said I would expect even more compliance with the standard 17-inch kit.
Land Rover are always beating the drum about “breadth of capability” and after living with the Freelander for the last couple of months, they have every right to keep on beating.
I’ve driven the Freelander 2 from Alice Springs to El Questro in Western Australia, but oddly enough, it was an all too easy experience with little if any challenge.
On the other hand, my colleague Alborz has had the vehicle on some very soft sand dunes in Queensland, and says that it handled the test route better than some of the larger low range equipped four-wheel-drives.
So still not satisfied, I sent the question as to how well the Freelander 2 actually handles severe off road conditions to an insider at Land Rover in the Britain, and this is what I received in reply:
“Probably the best thing about the Freelander is it’s off road capability. It can get through the entire off road course at the proving ground without any dramas. So generally anywhere the Defender can go so can the Freelander, albeit slower and more carefully. This ranges from muddy ruts, deep sand, boulder crawl, steep grades, wading etc. Hard to believe but I’ve seen it done”.
While there is absolutely no doubting the Freelander’s off road skills, I wasn’t quite so sure about its driving dynamics on the tarmac.
After all, it’s a large, practical and boxy design, with a solid 4WD pedigree but then so is the Range Rover Sport, which dispenses with chicanes like a Lotus Elise S.
Freelander 2 also has a very stiff body, so there is very little flex in it’s monocoque construction, meaning you can put it through just about any twisty bit of road and the vehicle remains firmly planted and feels almost sports car like.
The steering has a superb feel from dead centre to lock and only serves to inspire the driver to treat this SUV more like a well sorted sports sedan.
It’s the same story with the brakes, which are equipped overly large vented discs and haul the Freelander up with the same confidence, as you expect in a performance car. Pedal pressure is also nice and progressive.
With sports car like driving characteristics, Land Rover have clearly thought long and hard about driver and occupant safety, adding a list of on and off road safety features that would rival most prestige cars with a price tag twice that of the Freelander 2.
Active safety systems include; Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Traction Control (ETC), Corner Brake Control (CBC, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Roll Stability Control (RSC) and Hill Decent Control (HDC).
Coupled with seven airbags and full-time 4WD, I am more than comfortable taking my family on our annual pilgrimage from Sydney to Gold Coast this year.
There’s actually very little negative feedback to report with the Freelander 2, as it is such a well sorted all round family ride, with plenty of prestige cachet to boot.
Stay tuned for my next report from the Stockton sand dunes next month.