The Freelander 2 is often regarded as the runt of the Land Rover litter, but it's a car that has earned its stripes as the company's biggest-selling model by some margin. It's no surprise, then, that Land Rover has attempted to capitalise on the car's successes by rolling out a newly updated model for 2011, which features a raft of improvements.
This time around, the Freelander 2 gets upgraded engines, better performance, a slight exterior facelift and -- for the first time in the company's history -- the option of a two-wheel-drive transmisison, which puts it head to head with so-called crossover vehicles such as the Nissan Qashqai. The 2011 Freelander 2 is available from a starting price of £22,000 for the 2WD version, with the 4WD version costing £23,000.
The new Freelander 2 boasts relatively minor cosmetic changes. It has a new front bumper and grille, tweaked headlamps and rear lights, more body-coloured parts, newly designed wheels and a slightly tweaked Land Rover logo. Casual onlookers will find it difficult to tell it apart from the old car, but that's not such a bad thing, as the previous model was quite the looker.
Models models models
The 2011 Freelander 2 is available in five separate guises. There are three automatic options: the high-end i6, which is powered by a 3.2-litre straight six engine that sips on unleaded petrol; and two diesels -- the mid-range SD4 190PS Auto 4WD and the slightly less powerful TD4 150PS Auto 4WD. Land Rover has also made available a couple of cars with manual gearboxes, both of which are diesel-powered: the TD4 150PS Manual 4WD and -- most crucially for Land Rover -- the eD4 150PS Manual, which is the company's first mass-produced two-wheel-drive car.
Two. Bye, four
A two-wheel-drive Land Rover may sound like total blasphemy, but it's a decision the company believes makes total financial and environmental sense. Land Rovers are frequently berated by tree-huggers for their apparent propensity to choke the environment with carbon dioxide emissions, but by providing an option that is driven by the front wheels only, as opposed to all four wheels, the 2WD Freelander 2 is inherently kinder to the environment. As such, it should appeal to all those motorists who are considering buying a crossover vehicle -- a large car that looks like, and performs some of the functions of, a 4x4.
The 2WD Freelander 2, dubbed the eD4, delivers official fuel economy figures of 47.2 miles per gallon (mpg) -- a record for any Land Rover vehicle. During our time with the car, it indicated an average of 7.1g of fuel for every 100km driven, which we calculate to be 40.23mpg. That's not as high as Land Rover claims (better economy would likely be achieved had we not driven like hooligans) but it's still an improvement on the 38.2mpg achieved by the 2.2-litre TD4e manual configuration claimed on the previous car.
The 2WD Freelander 2 eD4 is also the cleanest Land Rover ever. Land Rover has fitted the manual version with an updated stop-start system, which stops the engine whenever the vehicle reaches a standstill, and fires it up again when the driver lifts the clutch to pull away. In the old car, the restart process took 900ms, but this new car is 30 per cent quicker to react, restarting in just 700ms.
All the previous gubbins required to engage the rear wheels is no longer required. As a result, the total weight of the eD4 has dropped by 75kg. The upshot is reduced carbon emissions of 158g/km. It's not clean by Prius standards, but it's an improvement on the old Freelander 2, which had emissions of 165g/km. Sadly, the new model isn't green enough to slip into a lower road-tax band, but it should placate tree-huggers who want to do their bit for the environment.
Handle with flair
We're no strangers to the handling prowess of the Freelander 2. Make no mistake, the previous model was a proper off-roader, offering formidable performance whether running on tarmac or driving through a river. Unsurprisingly, the updated 2011 4WD models performed magnificently. We tested the 4WD cars for several hundred kilometres on a variety of roads in Barcelona, and they coped just as well as we expected, cruising effortlessly on the motorway and making mincemeat of Land Rover's off-road handling circuit.
The 2WD Freelander 2 eD4 is arguably better than its 2WD counterpart on the road. It feels lighter and more agile, and cruises just as well at speed. It's a bit of a faff having to change gear when you encounter traffic, but on the whole, we're hugely impressed with its road manners.
A 2WD? Off road?
The 2WD car is fantastic on the road but is also surprisingly capable away from tarmac. We put it through its paces on the same rigorous off-road circuit as we did the 4WD models, and it coped perfectly well. It may sound difficult to believe, but we challenged it to a wide gamut of terrains including gravel, grass and dirt, and drove it up and down sheer drops -- and it barely batted an eyelid. We even drove it through a 70ft stretch of bonnet-high water and it didn't give us the merest hint that it might get stuck -- it simply got on with the task at hand.
That's not to say the 2WD model is without its flaws. Traversing steep hills in the 4WD model barely warrants a second thought, but with the 2WD model, you'll have to keep your wits about you. We saw some road-testers get stuck on the steepest sections of the off-road test course, but those who floored the throttle relentlessly and trusted the car's traction control systems to do all the work found the 2WD car just as capable as its 4WD counterpart.
We suspect the 2WD model may struggle a little in icy conditions, or when going up damp, mud-covered hills, but for the most part, it's a fantastic off-roader that'll go places most of us wouldn't dare drive.
The 2WD Freelander 2 eD4 is designed to claw back some market share from increasingly popular crossover vehicles -- those that are built on a car platform, but are styled to resemble larger sports-utility vehicles -- and on paper, it should do so with ease. The eD4 compares favourably with the closest equivalent Nissan Qashqai, the five-door hatchback 2.0 16V manual 2WD. The Nissan gets marginally better economy and emissions (47.9mpg and 155g/km of CO2 versus the eD4's 47.2mpg and 158g/km) but we know which one we'd trust if we found ourselves halfway up a mountain.
The new Freelander features the same Alpine audio system option as the previous car. That's not necessarily a good thing. It features iPod and aux connectivity, and it's certainly loud enough, but it lacks the audio quality we've come to expect from the more expensive sets in the luxurious Range Rover.
One thing that wasn't a disappointment was the car's sat-nav. It's carried over from the previous Freelander 2, but that's excellent news, because the system really is a joy to use. The only complaint in this area, if we had one, would be the fact the Freelander 2 lacks the fancy virtual instruments and dual-view entertainment display seen in the Range Rover and Jaguar XJ.
The Land Rover Freelander 2 has always been a fantastic machine both on and off road. The addition of a two-wheel-drive model might worry purists, but the good news is that it'll go almost anywhere you dare point it. It's rewarding to drive, refined and makes a great alternative to two-wheel-drive crossovers such as the Nissan Qashqai.
Edited by Emma Bayly