Published on Monday 22 December 2014 22:40
Ten Second Review
Land Rover has given the Freelander a revised model range, offering better value and more equipment. Other than that it's much as you were. You still get a choice of TD4 or upmarket SD4 diesel engines and the best all-wheel drive system in the compact SUV sector.
Pause for a moment and try to think of cars that have been around in their current generational guise since 2006. There really aren't too many of them. Most mainstream cars get a six or seven-year lifespan and in a fast-moving sector like, say, compact SUVs, that turnover can be even faster. Back in 2006, Hyundai were campaigning their first generation Santa Fe. We're now onto the facelift of version three. The Land Rover Freelander 2, as it was dubbed upon launch, has defied all conventional logic. It ought to be a relic, a bit of a joke when put up against the best that Japan and Germany can now offer but it's still selling strongly and can still more than hold its own as the best option if you want a truly go-anywhere manageably-sized luxury SUV.
The range has been rejigged to make it a bit simpler to understand of late, which will come as a relief to any of you who were baffled by the Freelander's often confusing trim structures in the past. Otherwise things are much as before. On a car this old, that would normally spell trouble, but the Freelander seems to make its own rules.
When the Freelander changed to an all-diesel line up in 2008, at the time it was a very smart move. The slow-selling 3.2-litre petrol model was an environmental disaster and the introduction of the eco TD4_e model was a smart commercial move. The range remains all-diesel with a pair of engines to choose from - either 2.2-litre 150PS TD4 or 190PS SD4. The key mechanical change in this rationalisation of the range is that the budget front-wheel drive models have been quietly axed.
That's perhaps no bad thing, as it might well direct those who don't particularly care for all-wheel drive towards the Range Rover Evoque. The Freelander is at its very best when equipped with four-wheel drive and Land Rover's excellent Terrain Response system for off-road driving. This clever set-up with different modes for the different terrains the Freelander could encounter goes a long way towards excusing the car's lack of a proper low-range transfer case. This system acts almost like an off-road expert sat alongside you, selecting the best traction mode for any given terrain type. It sniffs out grip where none seems to exist while all of the Freelander's inherent all-terrain rightness (underbody protection, ground clearance, tight approach, breakover and departure angles) endows it with genuinely impressive off-road ability.
Design and Build
The Freelander 2's styling has worn well, even if it has been continually tweaked by Land Rover to keep things looking fresh. In the last round of revisions it got more contemporary lights front and rear using LED technology with a signature graphic in the front running lights, The grille and fog lamp bezels received a bright finish and there were paint detailing changes to the front grille surround, insert bars and fender vent to harmonise the different elements. There were also some additional paint finishes.
The big news came inside where the cabin came in for some significant updates. The biggest update was a restyled centre console. The original Terrain Response dial was replaced by switches and a shutter revealed additional storage space. A smart instrument cluster with a 5-inch screen displaying primary vehicle-related information, such as temperature and fuel levels, gear positions and Terrain Response mode, sits between the dials complemented by steering wheel toggle switches to operate the drop down menus and vehicle settings.
Both cabin space and safety were improved with the introduction of an intelligent electric parking brake which adjusts brake force according to the slope the vehicle is parked on. The system can even take account of whether the brakes are hot or cold. If hot, the system 'wakes up' periodically to ensure clamping force is not lost as the brakes cool down. Despite being operated by a single switch, the electric parking brake may still be used as an emergency brake, automatically selecting the most stable braking method by interfacing with the stability control system. The brake cannot be released unless the driving seat is occupied.
Market and Model
Land Rover has switched to a three model trim structure. The entry-level Freelander 2 is now the SE version, with the SE Tech sitting in the middle and the unapologetically overstuffed Metropolis acting as the flagship model. The Freelander's powertrain options have also been rationalised to offer the TD4 engine with manual transmission in SE and SE Tech versions and the SD4 unit with automatic gearbox across the complete range.
The SE and SE Tech grades respectively replace the old GS and XS designations. SE model gets a heated windscreen, front fog lights, front and rear centre armrests, 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels and a Design Pack combination of colour-matched bumpers and sills. This is all provided in addition to heated leather seats, climate control, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and heated, power-folding door mirrors which is not at all bad for an entry-level car. Step up to the SE Tech and your extra £2,000 nets you a more powerful, 380W Meridian audio system, touchscreen-controlled navigation, automatic headlights and wipers as well as 19-inch 10-spoke alloys.
The Metropolis starts at £35,995 and is only available with the SD4 engine and an automatic gearbox. Its equipment list includes electrically adjustable (eight-way for driver, six-way for passenger) front seats upholstered in Windsor leather; touchscreen-controlled satellite navigation, an 825W Meridian surround sound system, panoramic sunroof and 19-inch diamond-turned wheels. There's also xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, a heated steering wheel, higher quality carpet mats, a reversing camera, premium metallic paint and gloss black interior detailing.
Cost of Ownership
The Freelander's diesel engines return respectable if not class-leading fuel economy. You'll get 45.6mpg from the TD4 unit when paired with a manual gearbox and 40.4mpg from the SD4 with the automatic transmission. Compare that latter figure to the 54.3mpg the equally powerful BMW X3 2.0d SE gets and you can see where the Freelander has most obviously fallen off the pace of modern development. The same goes for emissions. The 190PS Freelander emits 185g/km, the 190PS BMW a mere 138g/km. That makes quite a considerable difference to your tax bill if you're getting one as a company car.
That hasn't affected resale values for private buyers too badly. The Freelander is still in strong demand and retained values after three years still better 40 per cent of its original price. Insurance isn't calamitous either, with even a Metropolis model being rated at a relatively modest Group 26 compared to Group 30 for the equivalent BMW X3.
The Land Rover Freelander might be old but it's still great. There's not really any other rival which feels the same as a Freelander. Yes, newer rivals like the Porsche Macan might target customers who could conceivably cross-shop a Freelander, but comparing these two cars is like comparing a bell pepper with an apple. Yes, they're both technically fruits but they are otherwise extremely dissimilar.
In fact, we'd go as far as to say that the latest swath of vehicles like the Macan and the Audi Q5 only serve to demonstrate that Land Rover owns an unassailable niche in this sector. No, the Freelander will never be able to lap the Nurburgring with the poise and precision of the Porsche but is that what you want an SUV for? The Freelander has a certain authenticity to it, a confidence born of the knowledge that it can cut it off road, especially now the cheapskate front-wheel drive models have been deleted. This one could run and run.