"Once the compact SUV star, the Land Rover Freelander's shine has been dimmed by capable rivals."
The Land Rover Freelander 2 is surprisingly good to drive on road – especially considering how capable it is off it. Part of its appeal is how it feels more like a tall estate car than an off-roader, with decent handling and comfortable suspension. The diesel engine comes in two outputs, and there's even a front-wheel-drive model for those seeking better fuel economy. An update late in 2012 has freshened up the looks, with new lights at the front and rear, and an interior with a much cleaner look and fewer buttons. However, the Freelander has been surpassed by other, increasingly capable rivals like the Hyundai Santa Fe, the budget Dacia Duster and even the more upmarket Range Rover Evoque.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
For the best economy, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel version of the Freelander 2 has stop-start technology included on manual gearbox models. And the front-wheel drive eD4 version combines that improved economy with some rugged looks, even though it sacrifices the off-road ability as a result. So it returns 47.2mpg in combined fuel economy, although modifications to the 4x4 models mean even the TD4 can return 45.6mpg. CO2 emissions of 165g/km put the Freelander in Road Tax band G, which will cost you £155 in annual road tax. And if you go for the higher-powered SD4, that goes up to £300 in the first year, and £200 from then on.
Interior & comfort
The Freelander 2 is very comfortable to drive and thanks to low levels of tyre, wind and road noise at lower speeds, it's actually quite well suited to town driving. However, at higher motorway speeds the boxy shape does create some wind whistle, and the diesel engines are noisy at high revs. The suspension copes admirably with the UK's poor road surfaces, while the seats are firm yet supportive.
Practicality & boot space
You get a big boot in the Freelander that offers 755 litres of space, which expands to a fairly huge 1,670 litres when the standard-fit split-fold seats are folded down flat. The boot also has a handy wipe-down surface for anyone who with muddy boots. However, the large wheel arches do make the boot's shape less practical where they intrude on the floor space. Inside, there are deep door bins, a decent-sized glove compartment and plenty of handy storage cubbies for stowing away bits and pieces. The Freelander should cope well with the wear and tear of family life, although the lack of a seven-seat option (which you do get in cheaper rivals from Japanese and Korean brands) does limit the Freelander 2's flexibility and overall people-carrying ability. However, plenty of legroom in the front and back means that four adults should comfortably fit inside.
Reliability & safety
Land Rover had a disappointing 2013 in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, dropping five places down the manufacturers rankings to come 25th out of 32. Not surprisingly, running costs were an issue, but Land Rover must be miffed at coming last for reliability – hardly what you’d expect from a premium maker of rugged off-road SUVs. The Freelander itself actually re-entered the list of top 100 cars at 73rd – admittedly that's a lot lower than its last showing at 16th in 2011, but still not awful. Again, negatives included high running costs, lack of reliability and poor handling. However, the interior feels solid, even though some of the plastics lack the kind of finish you expect in such an expensive car. The last update was in late 2012, which did improve the quality of some materials, though, and, if we’re honest, Land Rover's reliability has never been its strongest suit, with owners often suffering niggling issues. The Freelander did manage to secure the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, though, so you know that it is as safe as an SUV can be.
Engines, drive & performance
The high seating position gives a great view out, while the compact dimensions make for easy town driving. Despite incredible ability off-road, the supple suspension impresses with its comfort on long motorway journeys. An accurate manual gearbox – or smooth automatic with the more powerful 187bhp SD4 turbodiesel engine – makes the car easy to drive, however, the steering is slow to react. It works well if you’re driving slowly but the Freelander feels out of its depth when you pick up speed. The terrain response feature available on higher-spec models of the Freelander also makes it a more versatile off-road vehicle than many of its more road-focused rivals.
Price, value for money & options
Land Rovers don’t come cheap, and the Freelander's entry-level S model isn’t particularly well stocked with equipment and accessories, so for it to be good value you’ll have to go higher up the specifications. The Freelander's main advantage, though, is that it will have stronger resale value in the used car market than most of its key rivals. The XS model is our recommendation, as it comes fitted with climate control, cruise control, leather seats and sat-nav all as standard. The HSE spec also adds a full leather interior, but at a significant bump in price over the XS. HSE Lux and Dynamic models were added late in 2012, providing an extra focus on luxury and performance, respectively.