THE FIRST version of the Land Rover Freelander was a rip-roaring success.

THE FIRST version of the Land Rover Freelander was a rip-roaring success.
June 19, 2011 - PRLog -- THE FIRST version of the Land Rover Freelander was a rip-roaring success. It was among the first of the small SUVs that was not only stylish, but very useful too, showing itself to be one of the more capable vehicles off road.

Freelander II continued very much in the same vein, but ironed out some of the nasty problems that emerged in the first version. The first generation Freelander was about as reliable as an Irish summer and this needed to be sorted. Things have improved greatly with the second version, but lots of factors have conspired against its success. For a start, with the success of the first generation of the Freelander, all of Land Rover’s rivals – and lots of brands who wouldn’t even be considered rivals – started making vehicles that were similar in flavour.

We have had Volkswagen making a Tiguan, BMW selling an X3, and the Korean brands of Hyundai and Kia making competent rivals too – not to mention Toyota’s ever-clever RAV4.

None of these could match the Freelander’s off-road ability though, and Land Rover even started fitting better diesel and petrol engines that didn’t blow head gaskets like champagne corks. Then we all started caring about emissions. And Land Rover didn’t really know how to respond.

Their Range Rover, Discovery, and Freelander models were all thirsty beasts and once we started getting charged for emissions, sales of these dropped off the charts. This year, we have bought 65 per cent fewer Freelanders in Ireland than we did in 2007. But if you think that is bad, sales of the Range Rover have dropped 97 per cent.

Land Rover has had to respond quickly and they have done so with a new version of the Freelander. And it doesn’t have four-wheel drive.

By removing the four-wheel-drive system from the Freelander, it saves 75kg of weight, thereby consuming a lot less fuel and producing lower emissions. The result is that this Freelander coughs up just 158g/km of carbon dioxide – an 11 per cent improvement in emissions over the outgoing TD4_e. And that’s without any loss in terms of performance.

The resulting drop in emissions means a drop in tax bands, which means a drop in price too. TIt now starts at €29,995, but the test car we were driving is an XE version and it costs €32,995. So far so good, right? There are a couple... okay there are many things that annoy this writer about cars.

One is when you jump into a car that isn’t a sub-€12,000 city car and it has a plastic steering wheel. I know it is a small thing, but since this is the part that you hold all the time you are in the car, if it feels cheap it blights the experience. And at €32,995, we still hadn’t reached the lofty heights of a leather wheel. When we drove this car back in November of last year we noted that this was a great price and in many ways it is. However looking now in the mid-summer of 2011, things have changed a lot. But more on that later.

What is impressive about the Freelander is that it does feel more upmarket than its key rivals. There is a kerbside presence about the Freelander that still isn’t matched by any of the €30,000 SUVs. In its present guise it is handsome and isn’t bulky enough to prompt environmentalists to start vandalising it.

The 2.2-litre diesel really is excellent. With 150bhp and 420Nm of torque, it out-muscles pretty much all of its rivals at this level – most of which are trying to haul along considerable bulk with a measly 110 or 115bhp. It is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and without the fuss of four-wheel drive, the Freelander moves off quite smartly. There is Stop/Start in this new front-wheel-drive Freelander and it helps to keep emissions down.

You will all be reasonably familiar with Stop/Start at this stage and we have used it in lots of vehicles and are accustomed to the way it operates. However, unless someone in Birmingham forgot to install it in our Freelander, then it wasn’t working as regularly as we would have liked. In fact, over the course of our week, I can’t recall it operating at all.

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Stephens Gaskets Ltd based in Oldbury, Birmingham manufactures Gaskets, Exhaust Gaskets, Cylinder Head Gaskets, Ring Shims, Precision Washers, Shims in Brass, Steel, CS4, Stainless Steel, Plastic, Copper and many others.
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