First Drive: Land Rover Freelander MY2011

If you look closely you might spot the changes Land Rover has made to its popular Freelander model. Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question – it really is different.

For anyone struggling, the subtle exterior changes amount to a new front bumper, head-lights, foglights and grille. At the rear, the car’s tailgate has been smartened up and there are new taillights. You also get to choose from new alloy wheel designs.

Inside, the cabin has also received some attention. Again, it’ all detailed stuff, with sub-tle improvements to trim materials, switchgear and instrumentation. Granted, you will need to look closely, but there’s more to this 2011 model year Freelander than a new bit of strategically placed trim.

In keeping with Land Rover’s long-held philosophy of backing up its ‘go-anywhere’ claims with solid, supporting engineering, the company has subtly revised the bits of the Freelander you can’t see. And as environmental concerns are now part of the main-stream conversation, it’s fitting that the revised Freelander should come with a cleaner diesel engine.

Available in two states of tune – 190 and 150 horsepower – the engine follows the trend of being an EU5 motor. It also boasts stop-start technology to further drive down fuel consumption and emissions, and is a feature of Freelanders with a six-speed manual transmission. Emissions ratings for the two new engines are 165g/km and 185g/km re-spectively, while economy is a respectable 45.6mpg and 40.4mpg.

Out on the road, the high power engine reveals itself to be a flexible powerhouse. As refined as something in a regular family car, the 2.2-litre turbo unit is as happy to trickle around town on just a few revs as it is to work furiously to help the Freelander scale steep inclines or treacherous, slippery routes. Factor in the standard fit six-speed auto gearbox of the 190 horsepower engine and you’ve got a smooth performing combination and little need to change gear manually.

Some of that behaviour is down to the Freelander’s now familiar Terrain Response controller, enabling you to dial in conditions such as mud, snow, gravel and sand. The car then tailors throttle and transmission responses accordingly, allowing you to tackle surfaces that many lesser vehicles would find impossible.

And remember, unlike its bigger brothers, the Freelander’s all-wheel drive system doesn’t come with trick differentials or a low range gearbox, which makes its abilities all the more impressive. It’s still miles ahead of any ‘soft-roader’, though.

It’s also a pretty impressive machine on road, which, if we’re all honest, is where it will spend most of its time. That’s not to belittle the underlying technology, as a typical winter with its rain, standing water and greasy roads would be enough to test the Freelander’s abilities. And don’t forget crosswinds or the requirement to tow, both tough tests of any SUV and its all-wheel drive system.

Fortunately the Freelander isn’t a testing experience when you’re sat behind the wheel. With its lofty driving position and excellent all-round visibility, Land Rover’s baby SUV makes light work of the road ahead. It could be the urban commute, towing a trailer or even traversing a deeply rutted field.

Whatever the conditions, the Freelander’s plush interior is great place to spend that time bouncing over those ruts or quietly simmering as you’re stuck in traffic. Definitely a chip off the Discovery’s block, this smaller relative is no less refined and well appointed. The flagship SD4 HSE gains leather upholstery, a high quality audio system and sat-nav, for example, while all models pack a spacious rear load area and numerous cabin oddment storage locations.

In its quest to further improve its entry-level model, Land Rover has thoughtfully concentrated on improving the parts of the Freelander that really matter: the oily bits. You may not immediately appreciate the changes, but it won’t take long to benefit from the car’s many clever features. You’ll also enjoy the car’s greener, cleaner performance, thanks to its improved diesel engines.

Model: Land Rover Freelander 2.2 SD4 HSE from £35,510. Range from £21,695.
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel unit developing 190bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 118mph, 0-62mph 9.5 seconds.
Economy: 40.4mpg.
CO2 Rating: 185g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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