It’s a pity that in sharing its underpinnings with the newer Evoque, the Freelander gave up its place in the compact luxury SUV sector. Now, this week in Canada, Freelander takes bits back from Evoque and again proves a strong contender to other European SUVs.
The changes aren’t big - the replacement of a petrol engine with a new motor and some trim changes, with new paint and better finishes. But they should be sufficient to at least hold its own.
Meanwhile, Land Rover is in an enviable place. Sales are booming - up 41 per cent globally on the same period in 2011 - and are so far ahead of predictions that it finds itself unable to quickly introduce new models.
Pricing changes with the deletion of the 3.2-litre in-line petrol six-cylinder version and the replacement with this one, the Si4 with the Ford two-litre EcoBoost engine. But they don’t get cheaper. The old 3.2 SE was $52,510 and the incoming Si4, which is in showrooms now, is $55,600. Yes, the feature list is improved and the SUV gets some small exterior trim features to lift it a bit.
More interesting is the upgrade inside. It looks better by borrowing a lot of switchgear from Evoque. It gets a far superior audio - standard is a 380 watt 11-speaker Meridian but a 825W 17-speaker is $1815 more - while sat-nav returns in-house with a $2500 tag.
A rear camera and leather is standard as is 18-inch alloys. Build quality is up and in warranty terms, Freelander remains the most trouble-free Land Rover. Spec can be similar to rivals but remember this is a wagon that actually can go off the road.
The good news and the bad news are the same - no change to the look. Yes, there are small changes to the headlights and tail lights and the grille has edges. The alloys have a new pattern. Not much else outside and that’s excellent because this is one neat hauler. Inside the Evoque switches lift the Freelander from Discovery to Vogue grade.
The wagon still feels small inside compared with the Volvo XC60 but many buyers don’t need the extra space. For me, it is very well proportioned and just the right size.
The main change is the introduction of the new Ford 177kW/340Nm two-litre engine. This engine is in practically everything - Ford Falcon and Focus, Volvo XC60 and S60, Jaguar XF and Caterham - for good reason. It replaces the thirsty 179kW/320Nm inline six-cylinder petrol which continues in one of the Volvo XC60 models.
The gearbox remains a six-speed auto and drives all wheels continuously. The clever Haldex clutch that spreads the power to the wheels with traction also remains. New is a smart electrical system that only allows the alternator to charge the battery when the battery needs it. It saves fuel this way. There’s also an electric park brake that adjusts itself to ensure the car remains stationary.
This is a five-star rated wagon - note that the sister car, the Evoque, is a four-star - with seven airbags, all the necessary electronic braking aids and extras like roll mitigation. The rear camera is standard and includes a guide path and also a new “hitch assist” that takes the towball directly under the trailer’s coupling. The spare is full size. There’s also heated side mirrors.
Land Rover has honed the Freelander range and while the diesel was driven, I concentrated on the new petrol mill. From experience in other cars, we know this is an excellent engine with heaps of grunt and reasonable economy. The weight of the Freelander (1775kg plus occupants and fuel) slows down the engine’s verve a bit.
The brick shape of the wagon also makes the engine noise apparent and though it’s minor, it’s more audible than say the Falcon model. An excellent seating position, great visibility (thanks to slim pillars) and comfortable seating makes any driver feel at home. Same with the location of controls.
The touch screen gives quick access to data and sat-nav (optional) graphics are a decent quality. The engine’s response is aided greatly by the six-speed auto. Though the box’s mapping tries to maintain a higher gear - to improve fuel economy - it has a manual mode. Despite its smallish cabin dimensions, the Freelander feels “right”. It’s easy to park, manoeuvre in tight spots and solid on the open road.
It can’t shine in the spotlights like Evoque, glide expensive city streets like the Range Rover or mercilessly pound the deserts like the Discovery. But despite a wave of luxury SUV rivals, the Land Rover Freelander does an exceptional job of being good at everything from toughing it out in the dirt to scrubbing up for a night out.
Land Rover Freelander Si4
On sale: Now
Price: from $55,600
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/26,000km
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC
Crash Rating: 5 stars
Engine: 2-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol, 177kW/340Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 9.6L/100km; 95RON; 224g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.5m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.7m (H)