Land Rover Freelander cuts a dash
- Credit: Nick Dimbleby
Land Rover's fresh-faced Freelander has even more appeal, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
Since Range Rover launched the Evoque, Land Rover's own entry model – the Freelander – has been somewhat eclipsed when it comes to attracting attention.
The Evoque has been a runaway success for Land Rover with the Halewood plant on Merseyside working round the clock to keep up with worldwide demand – even so, there's still quite a lengthy wait.
It was a similar story with the Freelander a few years back when the baby Land Rover was the centre of attention but now the Evoque has stolen its thunder. And that leaves me rather sad because, of the two, I would still go for the Freelander.
The elegant Evoque has the more prestigious Range Rover branding and is more of a fashion statement which has made the chunkier, maturer Freelander seem almost frumpy by comparison. But if I was going to live with one of them as my main car my money would be on the Freelander for the added space and practicality as well as slightly lower pricing. And, despite still being a core model when it comes to sales, demand is not as strong as the Evoque so it's unlikely you will have to wait so long.
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Land Rover has refreshed the Freelander with a premium overhaul – new versions, colours, more contemporary front and rear LED lights, a new signature graphic in the front running lights, upgraded equipment, a new centre console, 7in colour touchscreen with enhanced audio systems from Meridian and optional satellite navigation and a new 'intelligent' electric parking brake which adjusts brake force according to the slope it is parked on.
A 2.2 diesel is the only engine but it is offered with 150 or 190PS. The 150PS engine is also available in front-wheel drive guise while the 190PS version comes only with a six-speed automatic box.
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The more powerful unit gives strong performance across the full rev range but gets gruff when worked hard so it's better to make full use of the low-down flexibility. Even so, economy is not a strongpoint – expect low to mid 30s running around and I never saw more than 37mpg on a gentle run.
For a sport utility vehicle it rides like a luxury car, even without the air suspension found on some Land Rover models, and poor roads are ironed out with the minimum of fuss and no loss of composure.
It drives well but press on along twisty roads and body roll builds and the Freelander can feel wallowy when travelling light. There's also noticeable roar from the big tyres and some wind noise at speed.
There are bigger sport utiliy vehicles when it comes to cabin space but the Freelander has enough to suit most requirements. Headroom is plentiful all round, even with the rear seats set higher to improve forward visibility for those in the back. Passengers up front have ample space while legroom in the back is adequate for six-footers but the lower part of the back door opening is narrow and, combined with the higher ground clearance, makes getting in and out a little tricky if you are short.
The Freelander has a usefully-sized boot, offering a maxiumum 755 litres with the back seats up, although the wheelarches eat into the floor area, but it will cope with most needs. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat to raise capacity to 1,670 litres but you have to tilt the cushions upright first.
The driving position is first rate, high up with commanding views of the road while large areas of glass mean rear visibility is equally good.
The new console is as classy as anything you will find in the Land Rover brand with unfussy dials and controls, a top-notch logical touchscreen infotainment system and a new row of buttons, rather than a rotary knob, for the Terrain Response System on four-wheel drive models to set the chassis up for the surface conditions.
Equipment levels have been improved so no Freelander is left lacking while a wide model range – S, GS, XS, Dynamic, HSE and HSE Lux – means you can find the model that meets your needs. HSE Lux is fully loaded for luxury motoring including electric panoramic sunroof, memory function for the powered driver's seat and door mirrors, 825W Meridian surround sound audio system, Windsor leather seats, glossy black lacquer interior trim panels, premium carpet mats and 19in diamond turned wheels.
I am still a fan of the Freelander – this compact premium SUV is big on image, capability and desirability and that's why it holds its value so well.