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Freelander 2 - Burying the bones
The Land Rover Freelander 2 wouldn't have to be very good to eclipse its much-maligned predecessor, but Hannes Oosthuizen reports that the new model arguably offers best-in-class offroad capability and (gasp!) build quality.
By Hannes Oosthuizen
Mention the Land Rover Freelander and I involuntarily think back to CAR’s April 2004 road test of the Td4 variant. I recall the plastic gearlever gaiter panel popping off, which exposed bits of wiring. I also remember the lethargic acceleration – you could skip birthdays as the Landy huffed and puffed its way to the legal speed limit. It was, to put it mildly, rather hopeless. But more important than all this, I recall a frightening number of letters from readers over the past few years complaining of poor reliability, and shocking after-sales service. In this year’s JD Power customer satisfaction index, the Freelander finished in 70th place (out of 101 vehicles), and Land Rover itself 20th out of 26 brands. So seeing pictures of its replacement, dubbed the Freelander 2, did not exactly cause my pulse to quicken. Especially seeing as it looks almost exactly the same as its predecessor…
Still, after experiencing the newcomer for two days on some extremely testing terrain in the Kalahari, I am happy to report that, ho-hum looks apart, Freelander 2 is a vastly improved vehicle.
The six-strong launch line-up offers two engine options, a 3,2-litre in-line six cylinder that delivers 171 kW and 317 N.m of torque, and a 2,2-litre turbodiesel with 118 kW and 400 N.m of torque. Land Rover claims a fuel consumption figure of 11,2 l/100 km for the in-line six, but on the launch I never saw it go that low. The TD4, however, should get closer to its claimed figure of 7,5 l/100 km.
At this stage the diesel engine is only available mated with a six-speed manual gearbox, but an automatic will be introduced in a few months’ time. And the six-cylinder is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission. Three trim levels are offered – S, SE and flagship HSE. However, Land Rover has already indicated that a base-spec E variant (fitted with the TD4 engine) could be launched before year-end. That model will not feature the patented Terrain Response off-road system that is standard on its Freelander 2 siblings.
As before, Land Rover puts much emphasis on the Freelander 2’s off-road capability. In that regard, the new model impresses - on any surface. We started off with high-speed cruising on tarred roads, an exercise that proved the sluggishness of the previous model had disappeared. High-speed stability, and quietness, is also good.
Then it was off onto some gravel roads. With the Terrain Response system switched to its suitable setting, the Freelander 2 hardly noticed the difference. Usually the full-time intelligent 4x4 system (with its new electronically controlled centre coupling) operates in front-wheel drive mode, but can send just about all the torque to the rear wheels if required. What amazed me even more than the vehicle’s stability on corrugated- and rough gravel surfaces was its ride quality. The tyres fitted to the press units were fairly wide, low-profile ones, so its ability to soak up irregularities was a surprise. Oh, and by the way, lifting up the boot floor reveals a full-size spare.
And then we tackled the really rough stuff. Freelander 2 has a 210 mm ground clearance and short overhangs, which help the compact SUV cope with daunting obstacles in an impressive fashion. The various electronic trickery – including Hill Descent and Gradient Release Control, as well as a new Roll Stability Control system – also play their part, but I suspect even without these the Land Rover would rate amongst the best in its segment.
Okay, there’s little amiss with the Freelander 2’s dynamic capabilities. But what about one of the previous car’s main problem areas – the cabin? Again, there have been big improvements. There is more space, for one, and the perceived quality of the materials used is also from a higher class. The seats are generally comfy, although they did feel a bit tight under the shoulder area – but that could be related to the 8 km white water rafting that formed part of the launch… So I have to restrict my criticism to the facia’s layout. The hangdown section is littered with so many buttons that you invariably end up looking down at it for a long time while waving your finger around in the air searching for the right one to press.
But, overall, I was very impressed. There is only one stumbling block that remains. Freelander has gone upmarket in look and feel. And also price. It now competes against vehicles such as the lower BMW X3s and the upper Toyota RAV4s. Personally I think it doesn’t have to stand back for either of those competitors in terms of its ability, or perceived quality for that matter. But in the back of my mind I still worry about long-term reliability and the quality of after sales service. I suspect many potential owners could have the same doubts. It is up to Land Rover to prove us wrong, and that will take time. That said, there is too much riding on the success of this model for Land Rover to get it wrong. So, the Freelander 2 gets a big thumbs-up from me. A week ago I would have never dreamt of saying that…
2,2 Diesel S manual R339 000
2,2 Diesel SE manual R364 000
2,2 Diesel HSE manual R419 000
3,2 petrol i6 S automatic R349 000
3,2 petrol i6 SE automatic R374 000
3,2 petrol i6 HSE automatic R429 000
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