We have the new 2WD Freelander 2 – the Freelander 2 eD4 HSE – in for review & road test this week. Is a 2WD Land Rover Freelander just plain wrong?
Has the world lost all sense of perspective? Land Rover building a front wheel drive car? Surely, that has to be an oxymoron?
But it’s not, at least not in our modern world with its eco-sensibilities (or at least eco-sensibilities espoused by a vocal minority and pursued by a cash-strapped public) which force car makers to make their cars something they were never designed to be.
So the imperative for Land Rover and the Freelander 2 eD4 is clear; produce a Land Rover with a green halo. But has Land Rover managed to turn its Freelander in to an SUV with built-in green-ness?
The figures look good enough; a combined 47.2mpg and emissions of a relatively tame 158g/km make the 2WD – for yes, Land Rover has dumped their raison d’etre 4WD in the Freelander eD4 – a promising alternative for the more eco-minded buyers of smaller SUVs (which should be another oxymoron).
But apart from the seemingly awful prospect of a Land Rover that will get stranded in muddy car parks and grind to a halt when the roads get covered in the white stuff, to make the green halo seem an irrelevance when it really matters most, there are other issues too.
There is no question that the Freelander 2 is starting to feel its age. The packaging is nowhere near as good as it is in more modern cars (let’s not forget the Freelander 2 is near the end of its life after five years in showrooms) and the plastics and some of the switchgear are starting to feel distinctly 20th century.
But much of that feeling that the Freelander 2 is past its prime is mitigated by the feel of the Freelander. It still feels a very special place to be, and the lofty Land Rover driving position is still intact.
The Freelander 2 we have in for review this week is a range-topping HSE, so it gets lots of goodies. It also gets – as an option and part of the £1200 ‘Premium Pack’ – some very nice ebony leather seats which make the Freelander 2 eD4 – even one with 2WD – feel Land Rover special.
Which is just as well, as Land Rover has high hopes for the Freelander 2 with 2WD, especially as it’s a setup the new Evoque will utilise to make the starting point on price a little less premium than it would otherwise have been.
So in all the ways that matter – cosmetically, at least – this front wheel drive Land Rover Freelander 2 is still a proper Freelander 2; it still has that something special that gives owners a warm glow of self-satisfaction knowing they’ve picked the real deal, not a pseudo softroad wannabee.
But is the Freelander 2 eD4 really a softroad version of the 4WD Freelander? Is it just as useless when the going gets tough – even on a sprinkling of snow or a boot sale muddy car park – as its upstart rivals?
The reality is that it’s quite hard, in normal, on-road driving, to work out that the Freelander you’re driving is only putting its power down through the front wheels.
The engine is just the same – albeit the new, less powerful 148bhp 2.2 diesel – and actually feels a bit livelier than you’d expect, perhaps due to the 4WD being dumped. It handles just as well as the 4WD Freelanders and can, with a bit of setting up, hustle itself round country roads very well.
Even our crappy roads seem not to upset the eD4’s equilibrium, and it stays well-damped without any irritating crashes and bashes on just about all but the very worst cases of ridged and broken tarmac.
The only time we really realised the Freelander we were driving had only the front wheels to play with was making a quick turn out of a junction.
The 2.2 diesel in the Freelander may not be the most powerful engine ever to sit under a bonnet, but it does have decent grunt. And it came as a bit of a shock to find the front wheels scrabbling for grip and the steering wheel telling us our right foot was too heavy. That just never happens in a Land Rover.
Ah, I hear you say, but what about the rough stuff? Surely a 2WD Freelander won’t work there? Actually its does. Or at least as far as we went with it.
We didn’t do any extreme green-laning, although we did do very muddy fields with lots of dips and hollows. And with a careful right foot – and a disabled left foot – the 2WD Freelander did remarkably well.
Yes, you do need to keep up momentum because if you come to a grinding halt there’s no clever knob to turn to engage the rufty-tufty stuff, but with that in mind the grunt of the Freelander’s diesel lump and its ground clearance – which is still Land Rover proper – is enough for the eD4 to do off-roading with more aplomb, and far more ability, than any other softroader – even one with 4Wd –can manage.
Which comes as a real relief. The prospect of seeing 2WD Freelanders stuck in fields and sliding around at school gates in a light flurry of snow would do Land Rover more harm than all the kudos they’ve got for being brave enough to pander to modern eco-sensibilities.
So, with the caveats about the Freelander 2 starting to show its age, we’re surprisingly taken with the Freelander 2 eD4 HSE.
Freelander 2 eD4 HSE Quick Tech Specs
- Engine: 2179cc Diesel, 148bhp
- Performance: 0-60mph 10.9 seconds / Top Speed 112mph
- Economy: 47.2 mpg – Official / 38.3 mpg – Test
- Emissions: 158g/km
- Price: £32.995 / Price as tested £35,970
- Full Freelander 2 eD4 HSE Specifications
Freelander 2 eD4 HSE Photo Gallery
(51 photos – click any thumbnail for full gallery)