The Freelander has grown up and in every aspect it seems to be a better car than its predecessor. It is capable on and off road, nicely finished and looks like a mini Range Rover Sport.
Yes, the Freelander 2 definitely scores well in each department and has what it takes to be very competitive in the SUV segment.
Although it looks sportier and more butch, it is still recognisable as a Freelander since the design is more an evolution of the original shape.
There are strong cues from the first Freelander, such as the clamshell bonnet, stepped roof and the basic shape. However, the overall appearance is chunkier and the family resemblance to other new generation Landies such as the Discovery and Range Rover Sport is obvious.
It is more upmarket too, meaning that the Freelander is now comfortably placed in BMW X3 territory. Unlike the previous model there is no 3-door version.
At first Land Rover is launching six model derivatives with two engine options in South Africa. Local models are available with a 2.2-litre turbodiesel or 3.2-litre straight-six petrol engines.
The 2.2-litre TDV offers 43% more power than its predecessor. This 118 kW unit delivers peak torque of 400 Nm at 2 000 r/min. It is a refined engine and is responsive to drive while Land Rover claims a combined average fuel consumption of 7.5 litres / 100 km.
For now the diesel models are only available with a manual transmission, but an auto model is on its way too.
Power output for the straight-six unit is 171 kW at 6 300 r/min, while torque is 400 Nm at 4 000 r/min. The engine is mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission featuring sequential gear changes too. Top speed is 200 km/h and the 0 to 100 km/h acceleration is 8.9 seconds.
The best news about the new Freelander is the way it drives. Its everyday road manners are top-notch and it feels agile and sporty on tarmac.
The Freelander probably copes better with dirt than most soft-roaders. Not only does this SUV cruise effortlessly on gravel, it impresses in more challenging off-road conditions too.
On the launch we put it through its paces in the rough and tough near Upington in the Northern Cape. It passed challenging off road tests, such as sand and rocks, with flying colours.
The Freelander comes with full-time intelligent 4x4 transmission for improved traction and economy, featuring new electronically-controlled centre coupling. Ground clearance is an acceptable 210 mm and the wading depth is 500 mm
Advanced stability and traction aids include Electronic Traction Control, Dynamic Stability Control and Hill Descent Control
Although there is no low-range the Freelander's Terrain Response system works brilliantly, giving the Freelander confidence and the necessary traction in tricky situations.
This system helps the vehicle to cope with different surfaces and the driver can choose between different settings, which are grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts and sand.
Safety features across the range include seven airbags, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Emergency Brake Assist and Corner Brake Control. Another key safety gizmo is Roll Stability Control which is a sophisticated roll-over prevention system.
Inside the Freelander
The driver has a commanding position and ergonomics are good. Owners of the original Freelander will know that overall fit-and-finish wasn't the vehicle's best attribute. Our fist impression is that the cabin quality has improved while looking classy.
Although only 50 mm longer, the Freelander 2 also has more head, shoulder and legroom - in both the front and rear.
Large glass areas emphasise the spacious feel and complement the elevated "command driving" position and "stadium seating", where rear passengers sit slightly higher than front occupants.
Boot space has increased too, and is 38% larger than before - 755 litres vs 546 litres.
There are also all the usual luxury features and all models get climate control, all-round power windows, a glass sunroof and cruise control.
The entry-level S model's seats are of a cloth/leather combination, while full leather trim is standard on the better-equipped SE and HSE models. Whereas the S and SE have halogen headlights, bi-xenon units are fitted to the HSE derivative. Some other standard features on the HSE are satellite-navigation, a six-disc CD frontloader and privacy glass.
The biggest drawback of the Freelander, which is applicable to all Land Rovers, is the brand's tarnished image when it comes to reliability and customer satisfaction.
Land Rover SA's marketing manager Dawid van der Merwe told Wheels24 on the Freelander launch that they are working hard to deal with the problem areas, and that the overall brand experience is improving. Recent quality studies and customer surveys confirm this commitment and show that Land Rover is on a revival path.
This is good news as the Freelander 2 has all the right ingredients to become a highly desirable SUV. It is a competent vehicle and behaves well in all situations.
Furthermore it is spacious while the perceivable quality seems good too. One of the vehicle's biggest advantages is also that unlike most competitors it is a decent off-roader too - after all it is a Land Rover.
2.2 Diesel S Manual: R339 000
2.2 Diesel SE Manual: R364 000
2.2 Diesel HSE Manual: R419 000
3.2 Petrol V6 S Auto: R349 000
3.2 Petrol V6 SE Auto: R374 000
3.2 Petrol V6 HSE Auto: R429 000