29/05/2007 00:00 | By By Richard Aucock

On test: Land Rover Freelander TD4 review (2006 onwards model)

Land Rover Freelander (© Image © Land Rover)

Model: Land Rover Freelander 2 Bodystyle: SUVEngine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder, turbodiesel Transmission: six–speed manual

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What is it?

It’s Land Rover’s baby. Sure, it doesn’t actually look all that ‘baby’. But surprisingly, it’s shorter than a VW Jetta, which means you might actually be able to park it in a town centre. So it shouldn’t whip anti-SUV sorts into too much of a frenzy, while basking in the relative parsimony of a diesel doing 37mpg. It was all-new in 2006, but retained the ‘Freelander’ look – the grille, the headlights, the low cabin sides – while adding more ‘Land Rover’; a more pronounced roof step, a better quality interior, that sort of stuff. It’s offered with a 2.2-litre diesel, or a 3.2-litre straight-six petrol which only the mad will choose.

Where does it fit?

The old Freelander invented the compact SUV sector. Before it, there were a few unfocused Japanese pretenders. After it came Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Tucson… plus, at the time of writing, a whole host more on the horizon. That’s why Land Rover has taken the Freelander 2 upmarket. It’s no longer a straight CR-V rival, as the old one was. Now, it’s a proper premium alternative to the BMW X3 and imminent Audi Q5. With prices to match; our test 2.2 TD4 HSE was the thick end of £30k – without an auto gearbox. Heavens, you could get a Discovery 3 V6 diesel for that.

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Is it for you?

Well, you can get cheaper Freelanders. Don’t think Land Rover’s gone completely barmy. Indeed, the bulk will be £25k variants. Which, it’s hoped, will be seen as alternatives to low-end BMW 3-Series and the like. That’s much more compelling, isn’t it? Of course, one insurmountable barrier to Freelander ownership used to be reliability. Namely, a lack of it. K-Series engines went pop, as did gearboxes, and electrical niggles were standard-fit. Not, they say, anymore. The Ford S-Max-derived platform and Haldex 4x4 gear will help here, as will the super Ford-PSA diesel. It’s even built in Jaguar’s award-winning Halewood plant.

What does it do well?

From the first tug of the chunky doorhandle, the Freelander 2 exudes quality. Switches and dials are shared with a £50k Range Rover and feel like it, which the classily-trimmed and appreciably light interior accentuates. The firm seat is high, driving position spot-on; it just feels ‘right’. A snappy gearbox makes the best of the smooth-spinning diesel engine too. The Freelander is not light, but rows along without fuss. Surprisingly direct steering makes it feel nimble, all to the backdrop of a softly-absorbent ride. It feels, well, more ‘car-like’, but still with the commandingly high driving position so loved by owners.

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What doesn’t it do well?

Taking 10.9secs to hit 60mph makes the 2.2 TD4 Freelander 2 a slow way to spend £30k. That’s because of sheer bulk, which you also feel hurting the mid-range – overtakes require more commitment than you think. Land Rover’s crazy over-gearing doesn’t help (they’re seeking economy with it) and regrettably also highlights a touch of intrusive low-rev resonance. Get the ante upped and you’ll have it rolling into corners, with grabby brakes reinforcing body dive too. It’s not a sports car, despite handling that’s actually pretty pleasing. Instead, soak up exceptional refinement, that great ride, and cruise.

What’s it like to live with?

Five seats only, as per the class norm, but there’s reasonable space for two in the rear (though it feels a little narrow for three). The high boot is well-shaped, but gone is the old wind-down tailgate glass. Now, it’s just a plain old hatch. Boring. HSE spec does bring a whole heap of standard kit, but the fundamentals are sound enough for it not to distract us – though the starter button is gimmicky. ‘Terrain Response’, for dialing in off-road settings, is more successful. It’s also nice that the transmission no longer winds up during low-speed manoeuvres.

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How green is it?

We saw 25mpg registered in town. Rather lumpy for a diesel, you’d have to conclude. However, the logic behind that interstellar gearing pays dividends on the motorway. Despite a blunt profile, it’s not hard to drag the Freelander up to near-40mpg, pretty excellent and much better than the slothful old model (if still not as good as the Honda CR-V i-CTDi). However, one morning, the Freelander’s fuel gauge refused to budge from empty. Cleverly, all the local fuel stations flashed up on the sat nav… but we knew it wasn’t so. Ignition off, restart, half a tank of diesel restored. Surely not a telling reliability niggle?

Would we buy it?

Such is the lure of the Freelander, people are choosing range-topping HSEs like ours instead of more Spartan Discoveries. So you can’t say it’s risen above its station. Rather, it’s been successfully pushed upmarket by a company knowing what was needed to do so. With more sophisticated looks, better engines, an improved drive, superb refinement and vastly improved quality, it’s everything you’d hope from a new Freelander while still remaining, well, a Freelander. So, would we take a £25k XS, or a BMW 320d SE? Two very different cars, but that’s the question Land Rover’s hoping for. Us? We’d struggle to decide. The Freelander 2 is that good.

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