Car group tests

Land Rover Freelander v Honda CR-V EX v Hyundai S Fe v Nissan X-Trail

Land Rover’s new Freelander is aiming to be king as it takes on rivals from Nissan, Hyundai and Honda, on-road and off

Compact SUV group shot

The off-roader that made rivals quake with fear when it was first launched in 1997 is back! The second-generation Land Rover Free­lander is finally here, and it looks set to shake the compact SUV class to its core once again.

New from the ground up and featuring the Discovery’s acclaimed Terrain Response system plus a raft of other hi-tech features, it’s bigger, cleaner, quieter, smoother, better to drive and more desirable than ever. Or so Land Rover claims. To find out if it lives up to the hype, we got our hands on the new 4x4 first and put it through its paces on all surfaces in a variety of conditions – from central London to the Welsh Borders. The result is this definitive and exclusive first test.

One thing’s for sure – the Freelander will sell well on the strength of its badge alone. But will that be enough? After all, Land Rover’s rivals have been burning the midnight oil to perfect their challengers. Honda’s new CR-V is here, and it claims to be more refined, mature and practical than ever. Now featuring a top-hinged tailgate, as well as the firm’s superb i-CTDi diesel engine, the CR-V has even been benchmarked against conventional family cars to ensure it drives well.

Hyundai sent tremors through the compact SUV establishment earlier this year with the new Santa Fe. Still the only car in the class to boast seven seats, it too has a fine diesel, not to mention stylish looks and a raft of other family-friendly features. No wonder it won the best 4x4 Recreational Vehicle award at our New Car Honours so convincingly. Nor can you write off the Nissan X-Trail. Before the Hyundai came along, it had made our NCH award its own, winning four times in a row, thanks to its well thought out cabin and excellent ability both on and off-road.

Between them, these three rivals will test every aspect of the new Freelander to the limit. So is the Land Rover king of the hill – or over the hill? We went to the ends of the earth to find out.

Verdict

Great news for Land Rover fans – the Freelander 2 is hugely capable, highly desirable and drives brilliantly in all situations. That’s enough to give it victory here. But it’s not perfect – the interior isn’t particularly big or clever and we think the firm is being overly greedy by pricing it so high.

So family buyers on a budget may be better off going for a bigger, better value SUV, that’s still refined, well equipped and smooth riding – the Hyundai Santa Fe. Make no mistake, the Santa Fe is a giant leap forward – as you can tell from the fact it finishes ahead of the sporty and responsive Honda CR-V. Unfortunately for Nissan, its rivals have moved the game on, and although rugged, the X-Trail doesn’t have the all-round appeal of the class leaders.

Most Popular

New MG2 will beat Volkswagen to the baby electric car market
MG badge
News

New MG2 will beat Volkswagen to the baby electric car market

MG has confirmed it is working on an entry-level electric car to rival Citroen e-C3 and new Fiat Panda
29 Feb 2024
Car Deal of the Day: new razor-sharp Toyota C-HR hybrid SUV for £257 a month
Toyota C-HR 2.0 Hybrid GR Sport front corner static shot
News

Car Deal of the Day: new razor-sharp Toyota C-HR hybrid SUV for £257 a month

The recently-launched second generation of Toyota’s funky hybrid SUV is our Deal of the Day for 29th February
29 Feb 2024
New £20m Rolls-Royce Arcadia Droptail is the ultimate in opulence
Rolls Royce Arcadia - front static
News

New £20m Rolls-Royce Arcadia Droptail is the ultimate in opulence

Arcadia is the third model in Rolls-Royce’s exclusive Droptail commission, and it doesn’t come cheap
29 Feb 2024