How does a seven-year-old vehicle remain relevant in a section of the market that has strong players vying for the attention of style-conscious buyers?
A Land Rover badge helps, obviously, as does the addition of a brand-new 2,0-litre turbopetrol taken straight from the hugely popular Range Rover Evoque. But, in the case of the Si4 Dynamic we’re testing here, these elements aren’t enough to engender favour for Land Rover’s smallest product.
Let’s provide some context: the Dynamic costs R515 100. The BMW X3 xDrive20i Steptronic is R492 643 and the Volvo XC60 T5 Powershift R479 600. Only the Audi Q5 2,0T FSI SE Quattro Tiptronic is more expen- sive at R557 500. They’re all newer and all better, in the case of the X3 significantly so (even though it offers less power and torque).
Land Rover will argue that the Freelander offers the best standard-specification level, and it’s correct. PDC, a panoramic sunroof and an 11-speaker Meridian sound system are some of the stand-out features. But items such as xenon headlamps and sat-nav are relegated to the options sheet (or you could plump for the Si4 HSE, which adds these features and a number of others, but costs a wince-inducing R561 700).
So, it’s not the best value for money, but does it make up for this deficiency in other areas? Well, yes and no. Let’s start with the good points. One of the Freelander’s most endearing features – it’s cushioned ride – has been retained, even on the Dynamic model’s 19-inch wheels wrapped in 235/55-aspect tyres. It irons out bumps and glides along at highway speeds. Together with low levels of road and engine noise, the Freelander is a refined, comfortable vehicle that eschews the German’s uncompromising approach to dynamics and is all the better for it.
The turbopetrol provides strong acceleration through the gears and is smooth deep into the upper reaches of the rev counter. It also mates really well with the six-speed ZF transmission. Lastly, it beat our fuel-index figure on the fuel run and, at 10,9 litres/100 km, is relatively frugal for a vehicle of the type.
But, while these aspects allow the Freelander to claw back some ground in the premium-compact SUV segment, they’re not enough to diminish the impact of the less-great elements.
It starts with the fit and finish in the cabin, which have now been soundly surpassed by the cabin of the Q5 and X3. The Land Rover has a hotchpotch of textures and grades of plastic that didn’t gel at launch and struggle even more so now, even after revisions that coincided with the facelift.
Space in front is good, but legroom at the rear is compromised when the passengers seated in front push back their pews. Furthermore, the luggage bay takes only 264 dm3 (expandable to 1 112 dm3). By comparison, an X3 swallows 352/1 288 dm3 of goods.
The Freelander is in dire need of a replacement. Although this facelift has probably done enough to stave off the competition for a while longer, there’s little doubt its rivals are superior. If you simply have to have a Freelander, opt for the R433 500 TD4 S. Otherwise, head round the corner to the opposition’s showrooms.