Rover the Hill? No Way!
Posted on: 28th Nov 2012
Land Rover is a company in the throes of significant change. Think of what the company used to represent; solid, no-nonsense utility based on a quasi-military appeal. Nowadays there are Land Rover products which feel more suited to Shenzhen new money than a Scottish grouse moor. With the latest Range Rovers shifting significantly upmarket, the line-up now stretches over a span of more than £100,000 from top to bottom. Does that leave the entry-level Land Rover product, the Freelander 2, a little under-gunned?
Not a bit of it. Land Rover has paid this popular 4x4 some attention and given it a proper spruce-up to keep it looking fresh while retaining its value proposition. In time, the Freelander might become a far more expensive product but at the moment it's still relatively accessible. Get 'em while they're hot? Let's have a look.
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 with four-wheel drive. For extra economy, the 2.2-litre 150PS engine is also available in eD4 two-wheel drive form. The diesels were updated in 2011, a revised turbocharger improving response and increasing maximum torque by five percent to 420Nm. They were also equipped with standard diesel particulate filters, reducing particulates by 80 percent. At the same time, NOx emissions were reduced by 28 percent and the response time of the Stop/Start system was improved by 22 percent. Other improvements aimed at improving efficiency included a revised shifting strategy on the automatics, low drag engine oils and revised bearing designs whilst noise levels were reduced by 2dB.
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 latest round of revisions hasn't done too much to the exterior of the car, that being addressed by some quite extensive updates during the previous facelift. The exterior changes this time round are limited to more contemporary lights front and rear using LED technology with a signature graphic in the front running lights, The grille and fog lamp bezels now sport a bright finish and there are paint detailing changes to the front grille surround, insert bars and fender vent to harmonise the different elements. There are also some additional paint finishes. The XS model gains all-new 17-inch alloy wheels.
The big news comes inside where the cabin has come in for some significant updates. The first thing you notice when entering the Freelander 2's contemporary looking cabin is a restyled centre console. The original Terrain Response dial has been replaced by switches and a shutter reveals additional storage space. A 'Dynamic' derivative is available, which comes in three new interior colours (Ebony, Ivory or Pimento), each with matching stitching and co-ordinated door casings to complete the look. 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, now sits between the dials complemented by steering wheel toggle switches to operate the drop down menus and vehicle settings.
Both cabin space and safety are 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
Perhaps in response to the success of the Range Rover line, where prices have been set to see what the market will bear (and the answer is quite a lot actually), Land Rover has had a little rethink when it comes to Freelander pricing. Rather wisely, it hasn't done much to change entry-level costings, with the range opening at less than £24,000 for the ed4 S in front-wheel drive, but instead has added more upmarket models for customers who have deeper pockets.
The starter model, the Freelander S, is refreshingly simple with its standard cloth seats. The GS comes with full leather upholstery and the XS has been enhanced with distinguishing detail features such as a gloss black grille surround and a 380 watt Meridian sound system. The Dynamic version has a full body styling kit, and a gloss black finish to fender vents, grille bars and grille surround, complemented on the interior with three colour choices of sport-themed electric leather seats.
Unique to the Dynamic are 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels with a painted finish. The HSE offers a more contemporary feel with wood interior trim and features a wide range of standard equipment including a panoramic sunroof, a memory function for the driver's seat and door mirrors and the punchy Meridian surround sound audio system. Top of the range is now represented by the HSE LUX model which adds Windsor leather seats, Grand Black Lacquer dash finishes, premium carpet mats and 19-inch Diamond Turned Wheels.
Cost of Ownership
The Freelander 2 has long been a relatively affordable car to run once you've stumped up the upfront cost. The 2.2-litre 150PS engine is available in eD4 two-wheel drive form. Equipped with six-speed manual transmission and Stop/Start, this can achieve an impressive 47.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 158g/km. Even the most powerful automatic HSE Lux model manages 40.4mpg and 185g/km. All Freelanders are now equipped with Land Rover's Intelligent Power System Management (IPSM), which includes Smart Regenerative Charging. This feature ensures that, where possible, the alternator only charges the battery as the vehicle is decelerating, recovering kinetic energy rather than consuming fuel through continuous alternator drag on the engine.
Resale values for the Freelander 2 outstripped initial industry estimates, with retained values after three years of comfortably over 40 per cent of its original price. Insurance isn't calamitous either, with even an SD4 in HSE trim weighing in at a modest group 26.
It's no great secret that many industry observers feared for Land Rover when they were sold by Ford to the TATA Group in 2008. Surely a company with no track record in managing a brand like this would drop the odd clanger along the way. Quite the opposite in fact. TATA's stewardship of Land Rover and Jaguar has, to date, been impeccable. Big investments have been made, the right people have come on board, the product portfolios have expanded tastefully and this latest Freelander is evidence of a very adept hand at the tiller.
The latest car hasn't changed radically. The cabin has been revised to offer a more contemporary feel and to keep up with rapidly changing technology. The plush HSE Lux model now becomes the poster child for the Made In Chelsea set. Otherwise it's largely as you were, Land Rover bringing us a hugely capable vehicle that will satisfy a broad swathe of ownership profiles. Most customers won't test its wading depth or attempt to drag it out of a bath of mud while only one tyre has any traction, but rest assured, that's what this car was built to handle. We get a little bashful of celebrating success in this country. Here's one home-grown hero we should all get behind.
Our verdict: 86/100. The latest Freelander 2 upgrade a premium overhaul, delivering better comfort, convenience and driving enjoyment. Upgraded equipment and a great choice of diesel engines all contribute to make this 4x4 even better.