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Freelander? My, how you've grown up!
I have experienced both extremes of the Land Rover marque in recent weeks.
From the agricultural Defender through to the coolest car on the road, the Evoque, they are so incredibly different.
I love the Defender, a stunning exercise in longevity. I’m cooler on the Evoque, but then again I’m not a trendy rapper or a City type who wants to look both hot and cool. Rather, I’m more of a middle of the road type of guy which is why I love the Discovery and, of late, the Freelander. You see the Discovery has grown in price and size to occupy what was once Range Rover territory and at the same time, the Freelander has ballooned into the old Discovery marketplace. It’s quite a transformation.
Freelander was once regarded as being too flimsy, too girly, to be a proper Land Rover. If the Defender was a stout pair of proper black Wellies, the Freelander was more like fancy Ug boots.
But Freelander has earned its stripes now. Most (if not all) Land Rover fans accept the Freelander as one of their own these days.
Credit to Land Rover, they've done it bit by bit. Like all the best cars in the world (Golf, BMW 3 Series) it has evolved slowly. So slowly that it takes a real anorak to spot the differences in the latest model.
If you look closely you might spot the changes. Subtle exterior improvements amount to a new front bumper, headlights and grille.
At the rear, the car’s tailgate has been smartened up and there are new taillights. You also get to choose from new wheel designs, which I must say are impressive. Inside, the cabin has also received some attention. Again, it’s detailed stuff, with minor improvements to trim materials, switchgear and instrumentation.
Granted, you will need to look closely, but there’s more to this Freelander than a new bit of strategically placed trim.
As environmental concerns are part of the mainstream conversation, it’s fitting that the revised Freelander should come with a cleaner diesel engine. Available in two states – 190 and 150 horsepower – it follows the trend of being an EU5 motor. And it’s with the 150bhp motor that Land Rover has taken things a step further on the economy front by offering a front-wheel driver variant. Fewer moving parts means greater efficiency gains, you see.
The purists might not like it but the reality is that, with rivals offering two-wheel drive SUVs, the benefits of improved fuel economy and CO2 figures cannot be ignored.
It’s also fair to say that, despite Land Rover’s tradition of building cars capable of going anywhere, not everyone buys them for that reason. Townies love Land Rovers, too. For many it’s the lifestyle angle that appeals more than the ability to scale a nearby mountain. The rugged nature of the Freelander is still an attraction. Its lofty driving position and sizeable load carrying capacity also makes it a family favourite for mountain bikers, campers and canoeists. But if you really want to scale a peak or cross a river, Freelander has models more than capable of living up to the Land Rover badge.
Land Rover’s desire to further reduce the Freelander’s fuel consumption and CO2 emissions take the familiar form of an engine stop-start system.
This is new territory for the firm, but the technology works well and does a good job of cutting the 2.2-litre diesel’s output when stationary.
Of course, there’s also a manual override for when you really do need to frequently stop and start yet keep the engine running.
OK, the test model isn’t cheap. In fact, £36,000 sounds more like a Range Rover price than a Land Rover, but the Freelander does start at £22,245 for the less-demanding.
The other figures stack up quite nicely including more than 40mpg on average and 0 to 60mph of under nine seconds.
In fact, it feels, rides and handles like a saloon car at times and has the sort of precise sporty feel to it that you would never have imagined in a Land Rover a few years ago.
The low power engine reveals itself to be a flexible powerhouse. It’s as refined as something in a regular family car and the engine is as happy to trickle around town on just a few revs as it is to work hard to help the Freelander scale inclines or tow something.
Fortunately, whatever the conditions, the Freelander isn’t a testing experience when you’re sat behind the wheel.
With its lofty driving position and excellent all-round visibility, Land Rover’s baby SUV makes light work of the road ahead. And in flagship HSE trim, you gain leather upholstery, a high quality audio system and sat-nav, for example, while all models pack a spacious rear load area and numerous cabin oddment storage locations.
Land Rover, a firm whose USP has been built on the go-anywhere ideal recognises that many buyers like its products because of what they stand for, not necessarily because of what they do.