Tony O'Kane | Nov 30, 2009 | 1 Comment

2009 Land Rover Freelander 2 TD4_e Road Test Review

A BOXY SUV doesn’t ordinarily fit the tag "fuel efficient”. Most, even the smaller ones, are beaten at the bowser by passenger car equivalents.

However Land Rover’s new entry-level Freelander 2 TD4_e might just change your mind about that.

Introduced to Land Rover’s Australian line-up in August this year, the Freelander 2 TD4_e is the first SUV to make use of fuel-saving start-stop technology. Land Rover says it’s the greenest model to ever grace its showrooms.

With the car’s ability to automatically switch off its engine at traffic lights and conserve fuel during urban driving, could the TD4_e be the first truly guilt-free SUV?

 

Styling

From the outside, there aren’t many clues about the TD4_e’s greener disposition. In fact, bar the “_e” suffix on the TD4’s rear badging, it’s cosmetically identical to the rest of the Freelander 2 range.

The TD4_e doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. And unless you’re the type that prefers to make a statement about your environmental friendliness, that’s a good thing.

It’s better to leave the Freelander 2’s bluff visage unspoiled anyway. It's an attractive body. The Freelander 2 is a significant stylistic improvement over the original Freelander, which it replaced in 2007.

The big, rectangular headlights, two-bar grille, fender vents and bold C-pillar call to mind the much larger Discovery, but its more compact dimensions and longer nose deny it the sheer presence enjoyed by its bigger brother.

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Foglights, 17-inch alloy wheels, self-washing headlamps and electrically-folding heated wing mirrors are standard on the TD4_e.

Roof rails, side rails, side steps, extra driving lights and a sports body kit are available as optional extras, while our tester was fitted with optional 7-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels.

Not all angles are as kind to the Freelander's style. Viewed in profile, it suffer s a little from a receding chin and the canted-forward C-pillar doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the glasshouse.

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Still, it’s a character-filled shape, and it cuts an imposing figure next to other softroaders like the Nissan X-Trail and Toyota Rav4. Ours, in black, looked particularly businesslike .

 

Interior

The TD4_e is the new base model in the Freelander 2 range, and its interior fit-out reflects that. Our tester came with fabric upholstery, alloy-look dash trim and black upon black everywhere you look.

That said, the plastics and composites may be hard, but they don’t feel cheap. The seats are supportive without being too firm and all the buttons and switchgear have a nice robust feel to them.

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The plastic door pulls are a convincing substitute for metal items, things open and close and 'snick' together snugly, and the interior door handles are satisfyingly solid. It's these touches that make the interior of the Freelander feel a cut above the common rung - which, of course, you pay for.

The manually-adjusted front seats are quite high even at their lowest setting, but the interior's overall ergonomics are generally good. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, there’s plenty of room in the footwell and all controls on the centre-stack are within easy reach of the driver.

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The instrument cluster features large and clearly legible instruments, with a tachometer, speedometer, temperature gauge and fuel gauge surrounding a central LCD display for the trip computer.

The steering wheel carries buttons for the cruise control and audio system, and the gear lever sits nicely to hand.

The placement of the power window switches on the window sill is a unique touch - we're not quite so sure how well this will fare under a hot Aussie sun, but they’re conveniently located right next to the driver’s right hand.

Another curious touch is the door armrests, which simply can't be used unless you have a three-year-old's forearm.

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The rear seats are a little flat, but comfortable enough even for longer journeys. Legroom is good and there’s very little intrusion from the transmission tunnel, but the lack of a centre armrest, rear cupholders and rear airconditioning outlets is a significant downside.

Our test car was equipped with the glass roof option, which features a retractable front sunroof and a fixed rear moonroof.

The addition of all that glass makes the cabin a light and airy place to be, but there’s only a pair of mesh fabric screens to protect your scalp from the midday sun. Even with the screens drawn, the glass roof gets the Freelander’s interior pretty toasty on a hot day.

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Storage spaces are plentiful. There's a cubby hole in the centre stack, a commodious glovebox, a tray in the centre console and a smaller tray curiously placed in the rear footwell.

There are also door bins in each door (the rear door bins are small and won’t carry large drink bottles, but the front bins are generously sized) and two deep pockets at the side of the boot floor.

The boot area can accept up to 755 litres with the rear seats up, and 1670 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded flat. There are four tie-down points in the boot, and three child seat anchorages for the second row.

 

Equipment and Features

Being the new base model in the line-up, the Freelander 2 TD4_e misses out on some of the high-tech features of its more expensive stablemates. But it's not lacking in the things that matter.

Dual-zone climate control cruise control, auto-on headlights and rain-sensing wipers are standard, as is a trip computer, illuminated vanity mirrors and a retractable cargo cover. Rear parking sensors are also standard on the TD4_e, and are a handy feature given the Freelander’s size and shape.

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A nine-speaker single-CD AM/FM stereo handles entertainment and features a 3.5mm auxillary audio jack in the centre console. An iPod integration kit and a six-stacker CD player are offered as options, and those seeking higher-quality sound can select a premium 14-speaker surround sound stereo system.

Standard safety equipment comprises ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, stability control, traction control and cornering brake control.

Cornering brake control automatically feeds in extra braking force to the outside front wheel when the driver simultaneously brakes hard while turning the wheel, minimising the risk of a slide.


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Should the electronic systems fail to keep the Freelander out of harm, occupants are protected by a rigid steel passenger compartment and a suite of seven airbags – dual front and side ‘bags for the front seats, full-length curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.

Three-point belts are fitted to all five seats, and the front seatbelts feature pyrotechnic pretensioners.

 

Mechanical Package

The innards of the TD4_e’s 2.2 litre turbodiesel engine are essentially the same as the non start-stop equipped SE and HSE models. Peak output is still 118kW and 400Nm. However to cope with the added stress of repeated engine start-ups, the flywheel’s ring gear and the starter motor have been strengthened.

The flywheel itself is also different, and the battery uses an absorption glass mat design to help it deal with frequent high current demands.

A manual transmission is the only gearbox available on the TD4_e. The start-stop tech has yet to be engineered to be compatible with an automatic gearbox. There is no petrol engine offered with start-stop either.

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The start-stop system works by shutting down the engine when the Freelander comes to a halt with the gearbox in neutral and the clutch out. The instant the driver depresses the clutch pedal, the engine fires up quickly and is ready to go by the time first gear is slotted in.

A small corner of the LCD trip computer display is allocated to a gearshift prompter, which displays which ratio the driver should select to maximise fuel economy. It tends to favour early upshifts, but the TD4_e’s motor has enough torque to deal with low-rpm running.

Land Rover claims fuel economy during urban driving can be improved by as much as 20 percent with the start-stop system, and fuel consumption is officially listed at 6.7 l/100km on the combined cycle.

We achieved 7.7 l/100km during our time with the car, but even that is a reasonably good figure for a 1770kg car the size of the Freelander.

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The start stop system isn’t without its shortcomings. It won’t shut down the engine if the coolant temperature is too low, the outside temperature is too low (<4 degrees Celsius), the outside temperature is too hot (> 35 degrees Celsius), the airconditioner compressor is in demand or if the battery charge is low.

A lack of brake vacuum can also keep the engine running, as will open doors and an unfastened seatbelt. The system is automatically de-activated when the driver selects any of the off-road Terrain Response settings, while start-stop can be manually switched off via a switch mounted on the centre console.

Power is channelled to all four wheels through a full-time Haldex all-wheel-drive system. This employs a 50-50 torque split in normal conditions but can vary torque between the front and rear axles according to which end needs it most.

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Land Rover’s Terrain Response AWD control system allows in-cabin adjustment of traction control and throttle response settings, enabling four different terrain profiles to be selected: tarmac, snow, sand and muddy ruts.

Downhill assist control is standard, and helps drivers negotiate steep slopes safely. The Freelander has a fording depth of 500mm and a ground clearance of 220mm, meaning it should be able to travel further than most other light-duty off-roaders.

Brakes are 300mm ventilated discs up front and 302mm discs at the rear, all of them squeezed by sliding calipers.

Although Land Rover is now owned by Tata, the Freelander rides on Ford's EUCD platform - which is shared with the Ford Mondeo and Volvo XC60 - and is suspended by coil springs and struts at each corner.

 

The Drive

Make no mistake – start stop is not a gimmick. Though the (conventional) Freelander is not the most economical car to begin with, the addition of start-stop allows it to reduce fuel consumption with only a moderate impact on the driving experience.

Rolling up to a set of lights and experiencing the engine autonomously shut down can be an unusual sensation for the first few times. Most will instinctively reach for the starter button thinking they’ve stalled it.

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The silence that spans the gap between engine shut down and start up also takes a bit of getting used to. But press the clutch, and the 2.2 litre turbodiesel automatically cranks over.

It’s not as quick to fire up as the diesel in the start-stop equipped MINI Cooper D, but the engine is ready to go by the time the gear lever is in the gate.

It drives just as the regular diesel-powered Freelander 2 does. When underway you’d never tell that this is the greenest of the Freelander models from the experience on the road.

Glance down at the trip computer however, and you’ll know. Provided you don’t need the A/C blasting, the TD4_e relishes the urban grind.


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Fuel economy in heavy traffic is drastically improved by the start-stop system, and the uninterruptible power supply means the radio, lights and cabin ventilation remain on even when the engine isn’t.

It does get a bit tiresome having to repetitively dance on the clutch pedal and row through the gears in nose-to-tail jams, but that’s a downside of any manual car, not just the TD4_e.

The engine shakes a bit when starting up or when winding down to zero rpm, which may irritate some (but if it all becomes too irksome, the start-stop system can be deactivated).

Away from traffic, the Freelander is a delight to drive. It feels tight, nicely buttoned-down and generally carlike in its handling – attributes no doubt gifted to it by the Mondeo-derived chassis.

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Some may consider it a touch too firm for Australian roads, but it’s certainly not rock-hard. We took our tester on a round trip through West Gippsland to Phillip Island. It carried four in good comfort with no complaints about ride quality.

Performance on gravel is good and the Freelander inspires confidence in the way it handles loose surfaces. Get into a slide though and there's a noticable pause before the stability control intervenes.

Choppy tarmac doesn't challenge the Freelander's composure. Even on country backroads it rides smoothly with little pitching or jarring. The TD4_e is genuinely carlike in the way it corners and in its on-road behaviour generally. It is certainly one of the better-sorted chassis we've experienced in a soft-roader.

Substantial potholes can reverbrate into the cabin, and road noise in the rear seats is noticably louder than in the front. However, we would suspect those traits could be attributed to our tester’s optional 19-inch wheels – the standard 17-inchers would arguably provide a quieter ride.

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The engine might not be the most refined diesel, but it’s definitely got enough torque to haul the Freelander’s body about.

Acceleration is effortless, and the abundance of low-down torque means only a modicum of revs is required to keep up the pace. The in-dash gearshift prompts give a good guide to how to extract the best fuel economy, and following the instructions doesn’t necessarily cripple performance.

The steering is well-weighted and reasonably light, and the brakes are responsive and powerful. Vision ahead is great, although the size of the wing-mirror mounting points can impede side vision somewhat. The mirrors themselves are large, and blind spots are small.

A turning circle of 11.4 metres is about par for a car of the Freelander’s size, and shopping centre carparks shouldn’t present any challenges.

The Verdict

Is it possible to have one’s cake and eat it? Is there such a thing as a properly green off-roader? Not yet, but the Freelander 2 TD4_e deserves credit for trying.

Its closest competitors are arguably the Nissan X-Trail TL and Suzuki Grand Vitara DDiS, and, on paper, the Freelander TD4_e slightly edges out both on fuel economy.

It's a different story in the real world however. While we couldn't come close to matching the Land Rover's claimed economy figure of 6.7 l/100km, we managed to achieve that number in the Grand Vitara without even trying.

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The TD4_e’s fuel economy is good for its class, but not world-changing. The start-stop technology cuts the TD4's thirst markedly, but the end result is that it's not that much 'greener' than the competition.

The TD4_e is more expensive than the X-Trail and Grand Vitara too, retailing at $45,590.

Those who spend more time driving in peak-hour traffic will perhaps be able to justify the extra expense of the Land Rover, but for those who don’t, the TD4_e’s pricetag is perhaps its biggest downside.

That said, there is a touch of class about the Freelander. It's also practical, comfortable, well-built and a decent steer. The TD4_e's carlike handling puts it ahead of most of the softroader crowd, and its roomy interior is great for family getaways.

 

Likes

  • Excellent build quality
  • baby-Disco styling
  • solid chassis
  • fuel-saving start-stop
  • decent interior space
  • great seats
 

Dislikes

  • Start-stop system not available in higher grade models
  • expensive starting price
  • diesel not the smoothest unit around
  • panoramic sunroof can lead to burnt scalps
  • low spec level
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