The Freelander is the entry level model for Land Rover. However,
that doesn't mean that the Freelander 2 is a small car. The
previous model resembled, irreverently said, a whimsical
hodge-podge of plastic protection plates and metal panels. This
gave the car a playful appearance, but it was neither solid nor sturdy.
The new Freelander is totally different. This newcomer has grown
considerably and has the impression of being so massive that the
car appears to be one block of steel. The Freelander is immediately
recognizable as a real off-road vehicle. It is no longer just some
lifestyle imitation vehicle. The overhang on the front and rear
bumper is minimal, allowing the possibility of climbing steep
slopes. The ground clearance is considerable without nullifying
this with either side steps or other unnecessary exterior displays.
A disadvantage of this growth spurt is that the car is now
almost impractically large. To say it nicely, the Freelander 2
fills a parking space quite comfortably. To be brutally honest: the
car is now too large for most garages or car washes.
Even the interior feels spacious. The driver looks out over an
imposing bonnet. The dashboard is consciously placed down low and
is placed at an angle. The passenger's extravagant space is equally
good for groceries or holiday luggage.
The dashboard of the previous generation Freelander has over the
past years been equipped with more and more knobs. As a result of
this evolutionary process, the switches have been placed in the
most wondrous of places. The interior of the Freelander 2 is
strong, logical and well-organized.
The Freelander 2 is meant as a versatile car for daily use. This
is not like the Defender which is a pure workhorse for which
off-road capacities are everything. The Freelander 2 is thus a
luxuriously finished with high quality materials and fully equipped.
The HSE model, which was test driven, leaves little to be
desired. Land Rover is above all proud of its audio system that it
has created with the help of the prestige brand Alpine. There are
of course top quality components used, but unfortunately due to the
poor positioning of the loud speakers and the mediocre acoustics in
the car, the audio system does not come quite into its own.
Following the latest trends the engine is started with a button.
With a push of a button, either the 3.2 litre six cylinder "i6"
petrol engine or a 2.2 litre four cylinder diesel "TD4" comes
alive. The diesel engine is stronger, more efficient and from day
one a lot better value for money. The petrol engine is just for
show on the price list.
The TD4 delivers well-earned performances on tarmac. The
Freelander 2 is not markedly quicker, but the car keeps up with
other traffic and always has sufficient reserves in store. The
driving noise is minimal and thanks to a considerable wheel base
the Freelander is calm on the road. Importantly even at high speeds
the Freelander 2 feels stabile and trustworthy. For example, a
complicated motorway interchange can be taken at exceptionally high speeds.
In town the smallest of Land Rover is less at home. The car
feels cumbersome. In small villages it barely fits in a traffic
lane. Moreover, the car leans considerably in short, sharp, quick
turns. When driving slalom expressly, the electronics kick in to
keep the Freelander on course. This is not however usual in cars
such as this.
The performances on tarmac vary from average in city traffic to
above average on the motorway. The Freelander 2 really comes into
its own once it gets off-road. The first thing that is noticeable
is the diesel engine. Too much gas and the car might entrench
itself; too little and the engine can cut out. Land Rover has
chosen the character of the engine and the gearbox to minimise this risk.
The power source delivers a lot power even with low revs. The
power is then built up very gradually, which makes it easy to give
measured doses even from a crawling speed.
The "Terrain Response System" makes off-roading even easier. The
alertness of the accelerator, the action of the central
differential and the reaction of the anti-slip parameters have been
adjusted to the situation. The system has four levels. Normally if
the motorway setting is used, the Freelander 2 drives as described
as above. There is also the snow and ice setting, which prevents
the car from slipping.
For off-roading, there is the mud and sand setting. The latter
was used extensively and the effect of which is very noticeable.
Although the Freelander doesn't have low gearing (a special gearbox
ratio for off-roading), the car does react as if low gearing has
been switched on due to the intervention of the car's computer. As
an extra aid the position of the front wheels are shown on a
display, which in shifting sand it is not always possible to feel
what the front wheels are doing.
Off-roading with the help of a computer doesn't take any time to
get used to. Mechanical aids are easy to feel and as a result it is
easy to react to what is happening. With the computer as such an
aid the driver must hope that the programmers at Land Rover have
envisaged every scenario. Certainly in reality this seems to be the case.
Is the Freelander 2 a real Land Rover whose off-roading
capacities take priority over outward show, life style and image?
Definitely. Moreover the Freelander 2 is more than before a
successful combination of off-roading capacities and daily
usefulness on the open road.