It's a cold, wet morning at Glasgow Airport. Land Rover, in its infinite wisdom, has invited a small troupe of mainly city-dwelling, fresh-air-fearing journalists to cross some of the most treacherous terrain in the Scottish Highlands. This, we're told, won't be happening in its all-conquering Range Rover, or a beefy Discovery, or a dependable Defender. Instead, we've been asked to risk life and limb in its smallest, least capable 4x4, the Freelander 2.
Things began well. On the M8 motorway heading north out of Glasgow airport, we got first-hand experience of the Freelander 2's impeccable road manners. It feels very much like a luxury car. Its ride is comfortable, cabin noise is unobtrusive at almost any speed and -- when thrown enthusiastically around twisty B-roads, it delivers a real sense of fun.
The Freelander 2's cabin tech is relatively impressive. Its satellite-navigation system -- borrowed from the
Unlike many integrated sat-nav systems, it accepts full seven-digit postcodes, so it'll direct you to your exact destination without the need to enter lengthy street names. That proved of little use to us later in the trip -- where we were headed, there were no roads, let alone streets.
Audio to die for
Shortly after leaving the M8, things started getting real. Paved roads became green lanes, green lanes became paths made of razor-sharp rocks, and those, in turn, became treacherous mountain passes, punctuated with fast-flowing streams and sheer 200-metre drops to what would have been certain death.
It's eerily quiet (and occasionally quite scary) in this part of the world, so we were grateful for a spot of light entertainment from the Freelander 2's audio system. Our car was the top of the range HSE TD4 model, which comes with an Alpine sound setup that is controlled via a console below the central display.
To put it through its paces, we cranked up The Score by Fugees (a first at the top of a Scottish mountain, we'll assume) wound down the windows, and braced ourselves for the full wrath of the 13 speakers and 12x40W amplifier. We needn't have bothered. While the sound quality was acceptable, the volume was nowhere near loud enough -- at least not for our iPod-ravaged ears.
It's a great job, then, that the Freelander 2 entertained us in other ways. The car acquitted itself superbly over the highlands of Scotland, even on surfaces that seemed almost impossible to traverse. Special mention must go to its terrain-response feature -- a piece of technology that changes the way the traction- and stability-control systems work in order to maximise forward motion.
The default setting, accessible via a knob just ahead of the gear stick, runs the Freelander with a 50-50 split of power to the front and rear wheels, and is ideal for everyday use. Other modes, 'grass-gravel-snow', 'mud and ruts', 'sand' and 'rock crawl' can be selected when attempting to cross less conventional surfaces.
There's not much sand in the highlands, but the mud and ruts and rock crawl settings proved particularly useful. The former makes a huge difference on soft, wet ground where some degree of wheel spin is required in order to maintain forward momentum. Rock crawl comes in handy, too, reducing the sensitivity of the accelerator pedal to prevent too much power being applied to the wheels in situations where gentle, gradual progress is required.
The technology works. The Freelander 2 didn't get stuck once. In fact, the only vehicle that did get stuck was the supposedly superior Land Rover Discovery 4 support car guiding us through the Highlands.
The Freelander 2 is a fabulous vehicle. It's easy to assume it's not as good as larger, more expensive Land Rovers, but we found it to be just as capable. It's comfortable, has decent on-board technology and won't let you down should you be foolhardy enough to venture from the beaten track.
Land Rover Freelander 2 HSE TD4 stats
- Model tested: automatic
- Top speed: 112mph
- Acceleration: 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds
- Max power: 160bhp
- Economy: 33.2mpg / 8.5 litres per 100km (combined cycle)
- Price: from £21,875