First drive: Land Rover Freelander

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Review: Land Rover Freelander 2

More refined and comfort-focused, does the updated Freelander still have enough off-road cred to wear the Land Rover badge?

PT2M38S 620 349 December 12, 2012

The Canadian wilderness, with its snow, mud and icy rivers, is the ideal place to launch a serious offroader like the Land Rover Freelander 2.

The hard-as-nails 4WD is in its element when the going is inhospitable, effortlessly underlining its core strengths of comfort and off-road prowess.

But to succeed, the latest Freelander needs to be more. It needs to be refined and luxurious – just like its smaller sibling the Range Rover Evoque.

First drive: Land Rover Freelander 2

New Land Rover Freelander.

Ever since the baby Rangie arrived on the scene the Freelander – the company’s original compact SUV – has been overshadowed both in terms of style and sales.

While the Evoque can go toe-to-toe with luxury German rivals, the current Freelander doesn’t quite have the polish to compete with the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60.

Land Rover is hoping to fix both problems with its 2013 model Freelander – thanks to some help from the Evoque.

The new Freelander gets the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine as the Evoque, plus some other creature comforts, and also gets a mild makeover inside and out to make it look and feel more premium.

At the front the grille has been restyled and the headlights now feature the same LED outline as the Discovery and Evoque. At the rear there are the company’s trademark intersecting circles on the tail lights.

Inside, the dashboard and centre console have been updated too. There’s a colour digital display between the speedo and tacho. The usual rotary dial for Land Rover’s Terrain Response System has been dumped in favour of the buttons used in the Evoque.

These are only subtle changes, though, and the Freelander remains quintessentially a Land Rover in style, with the trademark large (and glove-friendly) buttons and airconditioning dials.

The high-specification cars also gain a seven-inch colour touchscreen for the sat-nav system and the top spec HSE Luxury model comes equipped with an 825W 17-speaker stereo system.

But the big news is the new petrol engine in the Si4 model. It replaces a 3.2-litre six-cylinder unit, but despite being smaller it is more powerful, has more torque, uses less fuel and produces fewer CO2 emissions. Officially it generates 177kW of power and 340Nm of torque, while using 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres and emitting 224g/km.

It is effectively the same engine you find in a Ford Falcon EcoBoost, and given the way it performs in a large sedan it should come as no surprise to find it performs admirably in the Freelander.

It will motivate the Freelander from 0-100km/h in 8.8 seconds, more than half a second quicker than the SD4 turbo-diesel model.

Land Rover has carried it over directly from the Evoque, so there is good sound insulation, with just the right amount of engine note coming through to the cabin to give you a feeling of what is going on under the bonnet.

Despite a slight hesitation from the turbo when you push down hard on the throttle, the performance kicks in quickly and provides good pulling power, making overtaking easier.

It is paired to a six-speed automatic gearbox, which does a good job of selecting the right ratio for the occasion, and is eager to drop down when you need an acceleration burst.

But despite its good performance the petrol-powered Freelander is likely to remain a minority seller for the brand in Australia. The company sells about 80 per cent diesel and doesn’t expect a major change, despite the introduction of the new petrol option.

The diesel engines (a 110kW/420Nm version and a 140kW/420Nm version of the same 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit) are unchanged from the previous model.

Another area that Land Rover hasn’t changed is the Freelander’s off-road capabilities, but after our drive through the Canada countryside it’s fair to say it didn’t need to.

It is more than capable of tackling serious off-road tracks that would be outside the comfort zone of its city-focused rivals.

But in terms of refinement and luxury, the Freelander still hasn’t caught the competition – including the Evoque.

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