Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2009 Review
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Forget everything you ever heard about Land Rover's littlest child, the Freelander. The misbegotten, ill-mannered brat that arrived in Australia in 1998 — and spent the next decade throwing tantrums, sulking and shedding its clothes and toys in a trail behind it — is gone. Not even sent just somewhere to learn manners and dress sense, but locked away in its room forever, never to be seen in polite company again.
The compact off-roader had been successful overseas — it sold about 500,000 globally over its life span — but sensibly, we never really took to it down here, and it eventually evaporated from our showroom floors.
In its place, Land Rover has spawned a much better heir, with DNA from its Volvo and Ford stablemates, and some etiquette and lessons in facts of life from its bigger sibling, the Discovery 3 and Range Rover Sport.
Starting with a completely blank sheet, the Freelander 2 delivers what the first never did — a well-balanced package that's equally at home on and off road, with a premium fit-out and a good whack of the latest technology.
It arrives with only a five door body, but with the choice of two engines, both mated as standard to a six-speed automatic with simulated manual mode. The $49,990 petrol version is a new 3.2-litre transversely mounted inline six developing 171kW and 317Nm, with claimed performance of 0-100km/h in 8.9 seconds and consumption of 11.2L/100km.
The $51,990 oilburner, borrowed from Volvo's XC90, is a terrific direct injection 2.2-litre turbodiesel that pumps out 118kW and a chunky 400Nm, using 7.5L/100km and getting to 100km/h in 11.7 seconds, and has a manual transmission as an option.
But in either of them, just about everything inside and out now looks like quality, and like it actually belongs in the Landy line.
While there are still faint hints of the first Freelander's stepped roof and `clamshell' bonnet, the body's strong lines and bold shape more closely echo the popular Disco, with a similarly brawny grille and a much more coherent overall design.
Even at the base SE trim level, the interior feels upmarket, with excellent embossing and feel to surface plastics, set off by subtle metallised accents on steering wheel, air vents and centre console and a few clever touches like the special CD-case slot in the glovebox.
Standard equipment includes a multifunction steering wheel, 17" alloys (with full-sized spare), six-stacker audio system, dual-zone airconditioning, rain-sensing wipers, rear park control and the seven airbags that have helped it to a five star crash rating for occupant protection.
And at $7000 more with either drivetrain, the HSE is a handsome thing, with a well-fitted leather wardrobe, 18" alloys, bi-xenon headlights, upgraded audio with extra speakers, memory settings for seats and mirrors and a general air of luxury all round. There's also the option of a Technology Pack for $6890 that adds touchscreen DVD satnav,
The only grumble we had was a small squeak that appeared after about an hour of driving. But when we tracked this down to a bit of friction where the audio system was set into the dash, a sharp admonitory tap silenced it for the rest of the drive — a lot of which involved off-road stresses.
The powered seats offer great lumbar support and with tilt and reach steering adjustment, the driver has no trouble finding a comfortable position. Freelander 2 is bigger as well, with a noticeably wider track and more shoulder room. Although even the extra length still leaves taller rear passengers with their knees touching the front. But at least the kneecaps will be lightly brushing, rather than banging, with the Freelander's new-found composure due to a focus on technology aimed at offering the best possible drive in any situation.
Key to this is a rock-solid body sitting on a compliant suspension that allows a fair bit of travel but is stiff enough to prevent too much wallowing on bitumen. On this base, Landy has added a brilliant terrain response system, with four settings — general driving; grass/gravel/snow; mud and ruts; and sand — that take over where your skill set might be lacking.
The intelligent full-time four-wheel drive system that uses Haldex centre coupling technology to continuously adjust the torque between front and rear, ranging from a minimal amount in normal driving to almost all being fed to the rear when things gets gnarly under there.
Traction and stability controls, including a gyroscope-based roll prevention system and hill descent and gradient release control that `walk' you down tough slopes , work on the hefty anchors (316mm on the petrol version and 300mm on the diesel) to keep you as composed as possible. What all that means on the road — and off — is that no matter what you throw at the Freelander, it's pretty well up to the challenge.
Scooting around hilly bitumen and gravel at enthusiastic speeds, the vehicle offers a smooth, car-like ride in the general mode, and had impressive poise, although while the steering responds quickly, there's a remote feel to it. And after a couple of hundred kilometres of this, we still posted 9.6L/100km in the diesel.
But the real fun came in several rounds over an off-road course, where the Freelander never faltered. Up and down the steepest of slopes, and through sections of slime or ruts deep enough to lose sight of a herd a cattle, the vehicle made even the least competent — and that would be me, folks — look like a professional dirt dueller.
Equally impressive was a test where, stopped over huge humps with one wheel high in the air — a stance guaranteed to reveal any sign of body flex or drop — you could open and close the doors without any problems. We went over the course several times with both drivetrains, and have to say that while the petrol handled it easily, the diesel did it effortlessly.
Land Rover says they benchmarked Freelander 2 against the BMW X3, which has had a monopoly on the premium compact SUV segment until now. There is more competition on the way from Mercedes, Audi and Land Rover's own partner, Volvo. But for now, the Freelander itself will be keeping BMW on its toes, especially with off-road abilities that best the X3 and a price that shaves it by close to $20,000.
|HSE (4x4)||2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$10,560 – 14,520||2007 Land Rover Freelander 2 2007 HSE (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|SE (4x4)||3.2L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$8,910 – 12,540||2007 Land Rover Freelander 2 2007 SE (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|SE TD4 (4x4)||2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$10,990 – 10,999||2007 Land Rover Freelander 2 2007 SE TD4 (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
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