WITH monthly salesconsistently aroundthe 100 mark, LandRover’s Freelander rates as oneof South Africa’s favourite SUVs,and is certainly the top dog asfar as “premium” compactSUVs go. A significant contributorto the success story appearsto be the vehicle’s image – itsLand Rover badge and mini-Range Rover looks workingtogether to give it a very desirable”cut-above-the-rest” appeal.But Freelander is certainly noposer’s mobile, as it offers arguablythe most advanced andcapable off-road system in thissegment of the market, and realability off the beaten track.
Tested here is the top-of-theline,HSE-specification turbodieselmodel in automatic form,priced at a heady R446 000.Going a long way towards justifyingthat price is the vehicle’sstandard features count, whichincludes a user-friendly touchscreennavigation system, parksensors, dual-zone climate control,leather upholstery and anexcellent Alpine 6-disc soundsystem. Freelander II remains anattractively styled vehicle on theoutside, with this HSE modelriding on smart 18-inch alloywheels and featuring a twinglasssunroof
The interior follows the currentLand Rover theme ofchunky controls and a veryBritish approach to trim andmaterial choice. “Our” test unit,as an example, came withgreenish leather and very oddlooking,yellowish wood. Nowadd black plastics and creamycarpeting, and the overall effectwas deemed a bit “hotch potch”by some testers. One importantthing we could not fault is thebuild quality. Our test unit haddone the rounds and arrivedwith just under 30 000 km onthe odometer, but was completelyrattle and squeak free.
Interior comfort was generallyrated highly, but some of our testersstruggled with the driver’sseat, saying it lacked under-thighsupport. Others wanted to adjustthe seat to a lower position, andwould have liked a tilt function,too. The standard twin-glass sunroofwas criticised for not havinga sliding screen to completelyblock out the sun, instead offeringa slider that allows through a lotof sunlight which some occupantscomplained about. Theergonomics also came in forsome flack, with some testersfinding it tricky to navigate theirway around a hangdown sectionwith a huge number of buttons.Of course, with familiarity, mattersimproved a lot, and ownersshouldn’t have much reason forcomplaint.
The cabin is spacious, especiallyin the rear, where headandlegroom are veryimpressive. A Land Rover trademarkis “stadium” seating,which places the rear passengersincompared with those in front,affording them a good view outof the vehicle. The boot measuresa not-too-impressive a slightly higher position 264 dm3, but at least there is afull-size spare wheel. Fold therear seats down and utilityspace is a useful 1 112 dm3.
Freelander II rides on prettystraightforward MacPherson strutfront and multi-link rear suspensionset-ups, but with a groundclearance of 210 mm, and theimpressive Terrain Response electronicoff-road system, it is a seriousoff-road vehicle. TerrainResponse offers the driver fourdifferent settings, selectable bythe rotation of a knob on the centreconsole, for general driving,Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud andRuts, and Sand. A Haldex centralcoupling transfers however muchpower is needed to each of thefour wheels. A hill-descent systemis also part of the package.
Turbodiesel Freelanders arepowered by a 2,2-litre enginethat uses common-rail directinjection. It develops 118 kW at4 000 r/min and a meaty 400N.m of torque at a low 2 000.Land Rover says a minimum of200 N.m of torque is on tap from1 000 r/min. The engine is matedwith a smooth-shifting six-speedautomatic transmission.
During normal driving wefound the engine a punchy,refined and enjoyable unit, butthere is lag at low engine speeds,and as a result the immediateburst of acceleration the drivermay have hoped for is not alwaysavailable. On the test strip weachieved a zero-to-100 km/h timeof 11,1 seconds and a top speedof 180 km/h. The engine is a relativelyfrugal one, our calculatedfuel index figure working out at10,2 litres/100 km, giving theFreelander a range of nearly700 km.
On the road the emphasis ison comfort, the soft ride andquiet cabin appreciated by alltesters and occupants. Thedownside is that there is considerablepitch and roll when brakingand cornering, respectively,but grip levels are high. Weachieved a good emergencybraking time of 3,06 seconds,with the stopping times actuallyimproving towards the end ofthe 10-stop test.
Off-road, the Freelander II isquite possibly a class leader,and will go places where somebigger and supposedly more”macho” vehicles would fear totread. We tried the vehicle onpoor gravel roads, rocky surfacesand sand, and were onceagain impressed with TerrainResponse’s ability to respondwith the correct apportioning oftorque. This is a vehicle thatdoes almost all the hard workfor its driver, especially so withthe automatic transmission.