Land Rover

It's all set to become Britain’s favourite 4x4 – and Auto Express was the first magazine to climb aboard.

There are few new car launches which are more eagerly anticipated this year than that of the Freelander – and our early taste of the newcomer shows the excitement is justified. Mixing refined road manners with a capable all-wheel-drive system, this machine adds genuine appeal to the baby Land Rover’s deserved reputation. On sale in November, it’s sure to be one of the hottest properties in the 4x4 sector for years!

It's all set to become Britain’s favourite 4x4 by far – and Auto Express was the first magazine to climb aboard. We didn’t need to be asked twice to help Land Rover give its all-new baby its public debut at the Good­wood Fest­ival of Speed at the beginning of July. Until now, the Freelander 2 has only been shown in private, and on agreement that those present could look, but not touch.

Pre-production prototypes have also been made available for on-road demonstrations, but as we became the first UK car magazine to hit the road in a showroom-ready version of the most anticipated new SUV of the year, we can bring you an exclusive glimpse of what buyers can expect when the car goes on sale in November. First comes the good news... we are sure you will agree that the latest Land Rover looks great as it sits gleaming on the firm’s British Motor Show stand. But we can reveal it also fitted in perfectly with the mud and grass in West Sussex, where bosses set it free for the first time.

The upmarket design blends the muscle of the Discovery and Range Rover Sport, and while you could argue that Land Rover might have lost some of the Discovery’s drama and the Range Rover’s ruggedness, the Freelander 2 is still leagues ahead of the outgoing model in terms of visual appeal.

That’s partly down to the car’s bigger dimensions – it is 50mm longer than the model it replaces, and has a more generous wheelbase. As a result, the improvements are even more dramatic inside, particularly when it comes to practicality. At the rear, designers have done away with the side-hinged tailgate and replaced it with a more practical hatchback. The luggage area has grown as well, and the Free­lander 2 offers a massive 755-litre boot – 209 litres up on the outgoing car.

The dashboard is clearly inspired by that found in the Discovery. The layout is logical and the buttons and switches feel good to the touch, giving the sort of quality owners of the previous Free­lander probably dream of.

Standard equipment is generous, too, with keyless start offered across the range, as well as an optional touch­screen sat­ellite navigation system. Cruise control and the panoramic sunroof fitted to our car are cost options; they are taken from the bigger Discovery, and add an instant sense of class.

The chunky steering wheel has also been lifted from the Discovery, and sit­ting behind it makes you feel as if you are in a proper 4x4. The seats are supportive, with backs which come up nice and high and head restraints that require no adjustment, even for occupants standing more than six feet tall.

Look up, though, and you will soon realise why. The lofty driving position might give great visibility, but on the version we tried, which had a sunroof, very tall drivers might feel headroom is somewhat lacking. Still, in the back, the 50mm that’s been added to the wheel­base really pays dividends, with greater legroom and therefore more comfort.

Under the newcomer’s high bonnet, buyers will get a choice of two engines – one of which is a 158bhp 2.2-litre Td4 diesel unit shared with parent company Ford’s latest Mondeo.

Offering a huge 400Nm of torque, this powerplant propels the SUV from 0-60mph in only 10.9 seconds, and returns economy of 37.7mpg. Alterna­tively, a powerful 230bhp 3.2-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine will also be available. Assembled in Bridgend, south Wales, and also fitted to the new Volvo XC90, this motor is not only 30 per cent more powerful than the old V6, but 120 per cent more efficient, too.

And it was the exciting new petrol engine that provided the power for our test car. Press a starter button located to the right of the steering wheel and the gutsy unit rumbles into life with a pleasant but purposeful gruffness, before settling to a near-silent idle. With 230bhp, the new motor certainly claims to deliver more than enough performance, and promises to give the 4x4 genuine all-round ability.

Changes through the standard-fit six-speed automatic gearbox are smooth, which should also make living with the car a relaxing business. And Land Rover says the Freelander 2’s body is twice as stiff as some rivals’, so occupants are well insulated from exterior noise.

With the newcomer sprinting from 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds on its way to a maximum speed of 124mph, it feels surprisingly nimble – even from the passenger seat. But will the 4x4 be as impressive off the road as it is on it?

Over the specially constructed port­able off-road course which Land Rover takes to events around the country, the Freelander showed the versatility of the bigger Discovery. The Terrain Response system is fitted as standard to all but the entry-level car, and this optimises the 4WD to suit the conditions.

And it certainly seems as though the set-up works. The wheels might have slipped momentarily on the wet ramp, but the intelligent four-wheel-drive sys­tem – which was designed for exactly these kind of situations – stepped in. By continuously altering the front-rear torque split via an electronically control­led centre coupling, it got us to the top of Goodwood’s steep climb with ease. And that bodes well for the future, as this model faces one of the toughest tests of any launch this year.

The new Freelander needs to appeal to everyone from school run mums to farmers, tackle city traffic and muddy fields, and cope with critical kids and demanding dads who want a rewarding yet practical drive for sporty saloon car money. From what we have seen so far, it should be well up to the task.

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