The Freelander stands apart from its rivals in the compact SUV market. Not only is it taller, it also has the rugged yet upmarket image only Land Rovers somehow manage to pull off.
The chunky proportions and classless looks have stood the test of time, and Land Rover hasn’t messed with this winning formula. In fact, only those with a keen eye will spot the alterations that have been incorporated into the 2013 model.
Smarter lights front and back, plus a brighter grille, are the most noticeable updates. It’s a similar story inside, where the car has been refined rather than changed. This is no bad thing, as it was already comfortable and relaxing.
The high driving position and well cushioned seats give a lofty view of the road, which means the Freelander feels like a full-size 4x4. The biggest additions to the robustly constructed interior are a five-inch digital display screen between the speedometer and rev counter, and an analogue clock on the new centre console.
Fitting an electric parking brake frees up space, while the Terrain Response dial is replaced by the switch panel found in the Range Rover Evoque. But the cabin lacks the executive air of the Audi Q5, with too many cheap plastics on the dash and doors for a £37,000-plus car.
Passengers could fare better, too. The Freelander has the shortest wheelbase on test, and rear legroom is tighter than in either the Audi or the Volvo XC60. At least the high seating and large expanse of glass ensure a great view of the road ahead.
The biggest drawback to practicality is the narrow and short boot, which offers just 405 litres of space with the seats in place – that’s 135 litres down on the Audi. Still, fold the seats flat and load it to the ceiling, and the lofty roof height means the Land Rover has the biggest volume.
Nothing has changed under the bonnet. The 2.2-litre SD4 diesel is quick to respond and is refined. With 188bhp and 420Nm of torque, it still has more clout than the upgraded Audi, although the Q5’s flexible seven-speed gearbox means on-the-road performance feels pretty similar. The Land Rover’s auto doesn’t shift gears as quickly as the dual-clutch Audi and there are no paddles, but the changes are smooth.
Head off the tarmac, and the pulling power of the SD4 engine is matched to Land Rover’s ingenious Terrain Response system, giving genuine off-road ability and inspiring confidence in wintry conditions.
Back on the road, the Freelander is reassuring to drive. The supple suspension irons out bumps, while the steering is light, communicative and accurate. There is a bit more body roll than in the Audi, but all the movement is well controlled, ensuring composed cornering. Motorway refinement is good, and the Freelander’s relaxed nature and excellent visibility make it perfect around town.
The catch? Well, this attractive blend of attributes comes at a price. The well equipped £37,205 HSE model costs £1,375 more than the S line Q5 – but running costs are the real stumbling block.
The Freelander’s higher emissions mean company buyers earning at the higher rate will pay an extra £999 a year in tax, while a private owner will experience an extra £6,296 of depreciation over three years. Add in slightly higher fuel bills, and it’s hard to ignore the cost implications.
That’s a shame because the Freelander is a well rounded and very accomplished compact SUV that offers comfort, style, off-road ability and refinement. It remains an enormously tempting proposition.