So here I am, driving the first mass-produced Land Rover ever to be designed not to go off road – the Freelander 2 eD4 – and where I am driving it? Off-road. For a second I can’t help myself from thinking that Land Rover’s communications people have gone mad. Then I realise two things. First, it is actually very good. Not four-wheel drive good but far more capable than I could have ever expected, and more capable than some rival 4WD soft-roaders. Second, I’m actually really enjoying the drive. It’s a lot of fun in a “you’ve just got to grit your teeth and go for it” kind of a way.
Making our way up some steep and deep ruts off-road somewhere in Spain involves flooring the car to maximise its momentum, because if the car doesn’t make it, there’s no choice but to roll back down and start again. This is not the usual way that one expects to make progress off-roading in a Land Rover, to say the least.
Which is why this two-wheel-drive Freelander 2 eD4 has upset so many Land Rover faithful. Yet there’s no doubt that introducing two-wheel drive versions of its cars is vital to the future of its brand. Land Rover knows that 2WD soft-roader SUV sales are up as people choose to buy cars with an SUV shape and commanding driving position, but which offer better fuel economy. What’s more, such cars are a big statement and a definite step in the right direction from an environmental perspective.
The Freelander 2 eD4 is driven only by the front wheels. This means the car is the most efficient Land Rover ever. Its 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine is frugal indeed, returning 47.2mpg and emitting just 158g/km of CO2 – helped by its stop-start system. Not bad for an SUV, even a soft one. This means that the car is cheaper to run and, thanks to its asking price, it’s also cheaper to buy than the regular Freelander 2.
On-road, the car feels surprisingly capable and it is incredibly easy to drive. The high-up driving position offers a commanding view, so one feels incredibly safe. With a top speed of 112mph and a 0-60mph time of 10.9 seconds, the 150ps engine feels sprightly enough at speed, and though the steering is a little light, the Freelander eD4 feels slightly better on the motorway to me than its 4WD equivalent. I thing this must be down to its lower weight, a drop of 75kg on the 4WD model. It’s a car that I like more the longer I’m with it and for the first time I completely understand why someone might want to drive an SUV, even if they have no intention of going off-road in it.
Yet despite all this, this two-wheel drive Freelander eD4 is most surprising off-road. Because it has the same high ground clearance and suspension travel as the more regular 4WD version, the car does astonishingly well. With a little oomph to help it up the hills, it feels like old school off-roading before technology made off-roaders so efficiently capable. This is no bad thing because I suspect there are some Landy faithfuls that may, after driving it, have to admit that it’s really rather good, even if they do so begrudgingly. And when all is said and done, it’s going to attract a lot of new customers to the brand, because the eD4 feels like a premium car without the price tag that usually goes with it. And what can be wrong with that?
FREELANDER 2 ED4
0-62MPH: 10.9 SECS
TOP SPEED: 112MPH
CO2 G/KM: 158G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 47.2 MPG