One-day Test: Land Rover Freelander 2 Si4 HSE
I don’t drive that many SUVs. Not because I dislike them, or have some crippling affliction that causes me great discomfort when I am near them. It’s simply just the way things have turned out.
Therefore, I look forward to days when I am able to get into a SUV as part of our one-day test series, which made driving this week’s Land Rover Freelander 2 Si4 HSE just that much sweeter.
Where does it fit in?
To put it plainly, it’s a Freelander, or as some call it, the baby Landy. Land Rover has been making it since 1997 and while a lot has changed since the first-gen RAV4 lookalike, the second generation has been with us for almost seven years.
That said, an update since then means the exterior doesn’t look its age at all, while the cabin of this HSE Freelander 2 is on par with that of the Discovery 4. There are plenty of high-gloss bits and pieces scattered around the cabin, surrounded by the occasional brushed aluminium accent.
The steering wheel, instrument cluster, switchgear and infotainment system are all reminiscent of the Discovery, apart from the Freelander’s off-road selector, which is a series of buttons instead of the more formidable dial and rockers of the Disco.
What makes it special?
While there have been Freelander 2s roaming around for the better part of a decade, this is the first time that the Evoque’s four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is available in it.
It replaces the ageing Ford-sourced V6, and wears the Si4 name plate – exactly the same as the petrol Evoque.
As far as power goes, the 2,0-litre engine is rated at 177 kW and 340 Nm of torque, which creates a large gap between this and the 140 kW 2,2-litre diesel four-cylinder. Linking that petrol power to the four wheels is a ZF six-speed gearbox with CommandShift.
Command Shift basically allows you to push the gearbox into manual and use the gear selector’s Tiptronic style up and down motion for changing gears. In manual mode, the instrument cluster also displays what gear you are in, right in the centre of everything, instead of off to the side in font size 3.
What is it like is to drive?
Surprisingly spectacular. I was worried that the small-displacement engine would fall short of its promises while trying to move the large Freelander body. But as with life, a degree of excess seems to solve that nicely.
In the case of the Freelander, that excess is revs, as the SUV’s powerplant is at its happiest building up to the 5 000 rpm mark, swapping a cog, and barreling forward once again.
In automatic mode the gearbox is a bit all over, waiting too long to change gears, or not reacting quickly enough to a kick-down. But in manual mode (which doubles as Sport mode) the gearshifts are quick and smooth, although I would recommend leaving the downshifts to a more capable set of cogs – this is a Freelander after all!
You do pay a penalty for that rev-hungry charge in the form of fuel consumption. Land Rover pegs the combined cycle at 9,6 l/100km, but our experience shows that a better estimate would be in the mid 14’s.
The car feels quite oversized when you are inside, with the space behind you extending for what seems like forever. The driving position is high, offering an oracle level of foresight as to what is going on in front of you.
The seating is actually a little too high for my liking, and I would have preferred a more sunken setting.
But the Freelander’s bulk and its too-high perch all melt away when you get down to the bendy stuff. Brake early and limit the amount of momentum that you carry into a corner and the Freelander will change direction like a little hot hatch.
It is easy to steer, and while it doesn’t have the same feedback or involvement as a GT3, it can still be very rewarding (in SUV terms, that is) if you remember its limits.
Very much so. In many ways this Freelander actually reminds me of the original Range Rover Sport Supercharged. It too had an engine that wanted to rev, and that had the advantage of forced induction, but not the lag of the big diesel engines.
It was also fairly nimble for a car that weighed more than two tons, offering both straight-line and cornering performance, as long as you remembered that you were in a SUV and not a sports car.
But most importantly, the original RRS SC didn’t shout about what it was. Sure it was big, but it didn’t look like it had gone past the Overfinch body kit store earlier that morning – something that has become prevalent on the current-generation Range Rover Sport.
And that is what the Freelander 2 offers its drivers. Performance and practicality, but at a price that is not only less than the Evoque Si4, but in a package that is also much more subdued.
I think for the first time ever anyone can say that, if you’re seeking something with the character and charm of the original Range Rover Sport, a Freelander 2 may just do the trick.