A couple of years ago, when Land Rover first launched the Freelander, they went on an advertising offensive. A commercial called Born Free, produced by WCRS London, brought out the Freelander’s true identity — of a vehicle that wasn’t just a boulevard cruiser or a soft-roader. Shot in the searing heat, somewhere in the African continent, the commercial depicts a truck moving into a reserve to release an “animal”, which the gamekeepers say was feeling stifled in the city. It then rolls on to the point where they urge it to come out of the truck and into the wilderness — then, a Freelander drives out of the truck and joins a pack of other Freelanders being driven across the barren land.
Nine years since that commercial, the Freelander isn’t considered a soft-roader any more. It still does spend a lot of time doing what most people do with their SUVs — go shopping, to work, pick up kids from school or just hang around the hotspots of the urban world. But if you were to decide to put two tyres, or even four, on to the rough stuff, you could be in for some fun. And then, there’s that price tag.
Land Rover has smartly priced the Freelander2 to capture a bit from two segments. One is dominated by the likes of the Honda CR-V and Nissan X-Trail, with their near-Rs 30 lakh price tags, and the segment above that comprises the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, where prices start above Rs 42 lakh. So with a price tag that starts at Rs 33.8 lakh for the basic S trim and goes up to Rs 45 lakh for the HSE version, the Freelander should be making life difficult for the competition. Or will it? To find out if the Freelander2 is up to the task, we took it out on a long drive, out on the highways and then for some semi-serious off-roading. The Freelander 2 uses a monocoque chassis construction like most other softroaders these days. Originally conceived to be co-developed with the Honda CR-V, Land Rover would eventually go its own way to develop the Freelander. Unlike the first generation Freelander, this one is larger on the inside as well as outside, with more emphasis on quality as well as the engines that power the vehicle. The non-fussy exteriors, with a dash of chrome plastic and other detail bits, are pretty much in line with Land Rover’s design philosophy, with more square design elements here than on, say, the Range Rover Sport. It’s a simple design that one can’t go wrong with, though the competition definitely has more suave looking creations.
On the inside, you are greeted by the usual raft of shades one has come to expect from a Landie. The top half is covered in black to reduce reflections on the windscreen, the vents have a silver chrome finish along with the centre console, and the lower half is in beige. While most of the plastics, including the knobs, have a nice soft- touch feel to them, there are bits that could do with some more finishing, with a very hard and tacky feel to them. Yet, some of the other bits like the Terrain Response knob and the stereo system have a nice feel and finish to them. The driving position is good, but if you lower your seat too much, you can find yourself fouling your knees with the centre console. Where Land Rover have really improved things is at the rear, with decent legroom and shoulder room, with comfortable space for three even though the floor feels raised which affects under-thigh support. That raised floor also means it is not all that easy to lug things in and out of the boot, though the boot by itself is pretty large. Powering the Freelander2 is a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that is mounted transversely instead of longitudinally. It doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, except that it is based on the EUCD platform that also underpins the Volvo XC60, among others. For those who know their Volvos, they do mount their engines transversely to create larger crumple zones. In fact, the Freelander2 is sold in other markets with a transverse inline-six sourced from... you guessed right, Volvo. Why? Well, remember, Land Rover and Volvo were once part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. Coming back to the diesel, this common rail diesel engine unit, sourced from Peugeot-Citroen, produces 158 bhp at 4000 rpm, with a maximum torque of 40.8 kgm starting at 2000 rpm. On the move, the engine feels rather relaxed, unobtrusive and torquey. Mated to a six-speed automatic, the Freelander goes about its job in a relaxed manner, with nicely spaced out ratios. Unlike, say, the Audi Q5, where the gearbox tends to constantly shift around, making slow driving jerky, the Freelander’s gearbox feels smoother and uses the torque well to provide power when you need it. This shows on the acceleration charts, where the nearly 1.8-tonne Freelander2 blitzed past 100 kph in just 10.4 seconds. It’s pretty impressive, considering similarly powered diesel SUVs tend to take about 12 seconds to do the same. What is equally impressive is in the roll-on, where 80-120 kph takes just about 8 seconds, the gearbox aiding matters here. A top speed of 182 kph is purely academic though, with the engine losing steam past 160 kph, but even then it feels very well planted on the road.
Start to lose direction to head out into the countryside and the Freelander will reward you. The Terrain Response system lets you choose from four terrain settings and accordingly feeds power to the drive axles, or limits them. Combined with permanent all-wheel drive, a high ground clearance and great approach and departure angles, the Freelander can tackle the kind of rough stuff its competition can only dream of. The Haldex derived electronic four-wheel drive system is more front-wheel drive biased, but with its electronic coupling, can immediately transfer power to the rear wheels as and when required. This is of tremendous help, especially while off-roading in areas that are slushy or where the terrain changes rather rapidly. It also rides with a certain authority over bad terrain and it’s only if you get too nasty with the jumps that the suspension will cringe. Back on the road, the Freelander feels sharp enough for a vehicle its size. The combination of independent suspension and a sharper steering make it a joy to corner, even though there is a significant amount of roll. Even on-road, the Freelander feels supple and less disturbed by road distortions, but the steering can feel a tad too sharp at times and could do without the constant corrections that it continues to do.
In the end, the Freelander2 is aimed at those who want an SUV that’s capable of handling the rough stuff whenever the need arises. Add the tempting price tag and its all-round ability and the Freelander makes a case for itself against a lot of its competition, even though it could do with a bit more space and better quality plastics. It’s also capable of making its own road when the road ends. Born Free, with the Freelander, gets a whole new meaning.