In the fickle world of automotive branding, one phrase rings true – Image is everything. That and brand perception are the two things all manufacturers strive for and protect. Trends may come and go, but one brand of vehicle remains as popular as ever with the aforementioned image criteria and that’s the 4×4. Land Rover have been perfecting the off road vehicle for as long as most people care to remember, and their Freelander is every inch as important in the image stakes as its bigger Range Rover brother.
Land Rover kindly loaned us a Freelander SE manual with the 2.2 Litre 150 engine with permanent four wheel drive. It’s very much a car for all people that looks the part be it outside the office, the school or local post office. First impressions are very favourable, superb paintwork, close fitting panels, flawless glazing all sitting aloft some chunky alloys. Despite being a few years old now, it’s still a good looking car from every angle, particularly the imposing grille and stylish headlamps.
It’s a chunky car that cleverly manages to avoid looking clumsy or podgy like some rivals and the green oval badge hammers home that all important image and pedigree of the brand. Ample sized mirrors and meaty door handles give a nice subconscious feeling of solidity and quality – Land Rover’s fit and finish has just got better and better over the years. Taking a long hard study of the exterior, nothing gives cause for displeasure or concern.
That theme also continues on the inside. The interior, resplendent looking with robust looking leather seats has taste and class distinction in abundance. Front seats feature a pair of fold away arm rests, electric adjustment and lumbar control. Despite the leather being quite firm to the touch, they are supportive and comfortable with plenty of room in the back for three abreast. Freelander 2 has a good driving position too – everything falls to hand without searching for it though I found the steering wheel rim a little thin.
A six speed manual gearbox was fitted to the test car and even though the gear lever is very short and stubby. The change quality was light and precise despite the very low miles showing on the odometer but the gaiter surround fails to imitate leather and felt very cheap and thin to the touch. Those matters aside, the car felt solid, secure and well engineered with superb feedback and damping action from all of the switch-gear and column stalks. All the doors and tailgate shut with a confidence boosting clunk.
For those who like equipment, there are plenty of bells and whistles including an amazing sounding stereo with built in sub-woofer, Sat-Nav, DVD, MP3 and Bluetooth, cruise control, selectable off road programmes and a generously sized panoramic sunroof. All of the aforementioned is easy to use and acclimatise too, the central control panel for the info-tainment system is a similar but shrunken down unit you find in the current Discovery – just as effective to use too. As you would expect, there’s an ample sized boot with full size spare and split folding rear seat back for extra space.
On the road, the Freelander drives well and belies wide girth and lofty height. Providing you keep the revs over 1300 rpm, the 2.2 D pulls strongly and so long as you don’t extend into the upper end of the rev range – it’s very smooth and refined. The clutch is light, the brakes feel on top of the job and despite some torturous London traffic in searing sunshine while on test, the car kept all the occupants comfortable cool and relaxed. Even the feared A406 North Circular Road / Hanger Land Gyratory presented no problems with manoeuvrability or quick evasive actions when trying to beat the traffic.
For sure, the height and girth of the Freelander is certainly more than your average estate car, but it’s certainly no chore to drive in any situation. The ride and body control is truly first class and you soon forget you are driving a four wheel drive vehicle. Driving the vehicle on slippery / loose ground shows the driver what all those years of off road experience is all about. Programmable and switchable off road control means you simply dial in the chosen terrain and the clever computerised traction control in alliance with the ABS and EBD takes care of the rest. None of those cumbersome clunky diff-lock levers once found in the old Discovery – it just works!
Under most circumstances, the Freelander handles nicely with just a hint of excess roll under spirited cornering and the ride is better the quicker you go. Motorway cruising is effortless once the cruise control is selected and road noise is well suppressed – only the roughest of surfaces produces any excess intrusion on the ears. At night, the instruments illuminate well and give little reflection or distractions while the projector headlamps gave a good and even pool of light even on the darkest of country lanes.
Freelander 2 is a practical vehicle with a split folding rear seat, a massive glove box, extensive centre console cubby area and sensible sized door pockets front and rear. A sliding (and slightly cheap feeling) load bay cover hides your effects from prying eyes and there is even room around the spare wheel for more loose items to keep out of harms way. All in all the Freelander 2 is a well thought out and engineered car that looks good, is practical, stylish, and generally speaking has a commendable rustic build quality.
Above all, the Land Rover Freelander has that all important ingredient that keeps the brand head and shoulder above its rivals – image. Classy without being snobby and distinctive without being brash… a car for all people and occasions that still impresses.
Build Quality: 8/10
Handing & Ride: 8/10
Space & Comfort: 8/10
Kerbside Appeal: 10/10
Our Overall Rating: 8/10
Equipment Highlights: Parking sensors / Selectable off road traction programmes / Eco Stop-Start function / Leather trim / Adjustable front seat armrests / Front fog lamps / Headlamp power wash / automatic folding mirrors / Hill decent control / Multi media input & DVD player / Cruise control / Bluetooth hands free phone operation.
Points of Commendation: Stylish – Strong Image – Comfortable and generously proportioned front seats – Superb high speed cruiser – Ride comfort is excellent – Generally good build quality – Well equipped – Feels rugged – Is surprisingly capable off road – Looks good – Makes you feel good.
Reservations: Engine sounds gruff when hurried – Sliding load cover feels a bit flimsy – Not cheap when you add up the optional extra’s – One or two minor trim items could be better in feel.
Produced by: Jaguar Land Rover Group at Halewood Merseyside UK
Engine / Gearbox: 2.2 TD4 150Ps with 6 speed manual & four wheel drive
Suspension / Steering: All round struts and hydraulic power steering
Brakes: All round vented discs with ABS / EBD / Brake assist – Electronic park brake
Fuel Economy & Co2: 45.6mpg combined (38.5 on test) – 165g/km
PRICE: £27.765.00 – excluding options of full sized spare wheel & Electric Sunroof
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