The Land Rover Freelander 2 eD4 is the firm’s first two-wheel drive model – so should you consider this version if you want maximum miles per gallon? Land Rover has one of the admirable brands around. We all know that the company manufactures some of the most capable four-wheel drive vehicles in the world. From Defenders to Range Rover Sports, the company makes cars that are both aspirational and unstoppable when the going gets tough.
However the world is moving to a low carbon future, and every manufacturer has to be seen to be reducing the CO2 emissions of its models. Only a few years ago a Land Rover with only two-wheel drive would have been unthinkable. But here we are with the front-wheel drive Freelander.So what is the benefit of going to two-wheel drive? The four-wheel drive model has a combined economy figure of 45.6 mpg, and 165 g/km CO2. By ditching the drive to the rear wheels, the Freelander 2 eD4 returns 47.2 mpg along with emissions of 158 g/km CO2. You also save some money when buying the two-wheel drive version, but only £750.
If you’re not clambering up a mountain, then you’re not going to notice much difference between the two models. The overall driving experience on-road (where, let’s face it, most Freelanders will primarily be used) is one that is refined, smooth and comfortable. The Freelander shares more genes with its Range Rover relatives rather than with the Defender. On motorway runs the Freelander feels more like a luxury car, albeit a tall one.It also feels like a luxury car inside, and it certainly looks impressive on the outside, with increasing amounts of styling cues, especially around the front end, from more expensive models such as the Range Rover Sport.
Turn off the motorway and onto A and B-roads and the weight of the Freelander starts to become apparent. Try hustling it through a set of bends and you’re suddenly very aware that this is a big, tall, heavy car, as the body sways from side to side. The steering is also rather light. Twisty B-roads are not its favourite territory. Apart from the body roll, there’s also the issue of the 150 PS 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine in a car that weighs 1775 Kg. The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth enough, but if you’re looking for instantly responsive acceleration, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The engine does have good levels of low-down torque, but with only front-wheel drive, this results in some torque steer being evident.Venture still further away from main roads and off the beaten track altogether, and what happens then? The outside world thinks you’re in a hugely capable Land Rover, but you have a secret that’s troubling you – there’s no four-wheel drive to get you out of trouble.
What you do still get is virtually everything else apart from four-wheel drive. You still have the good ground clearance, the suspension that absorbs all manner of bumps, the short front and rear overhangs, and the grippy tyres. All this means that you can still explore further from the tarmac than you can with most cars, and only if you try something serious will you regret buying the version without the rear wheels connected to the drivetrain. On our test the Freelander struggled to make a hill start on a steep gravel incline, as the front wheels lifted in the air and scrabbled for grip, and there were no driven rear wheels to dig in and provide traction. However by reversing and attempting the slope again, it successfully negotiated the challenge.
Which leaves us with the obvious question – should you buy a front-wheel drive Land Rover? Although there is a market out there for two-wheel drive SUVs, the Freelander is still engineered to be a Land Rover. In other words, despite it being 75 kg lighter than the four-wheel drive version, it’s still big and heavy, and it doesn’t have great aerodynamic properties. If you need a Land Rover, presumably it’s because you need to go off-road or you want to tow something (or are we being incredibly naďve…?). Therefore you’ll want four-wheel drive – and in this form the Freelander is extremely competent off-road. Disconnect the four-wheel drive and it’s got everything to fulfill its role in life – except the levels of traction.
If you don’t want four-wheel drive, then why would you want a big, heavy off-roader? If you’re interested in efficiency, then there are lots of cars that are more efficient.Theoretically you should get a useful range of around 700 miles on one tank from the Freelander, but even with front-wheel drive only, stop/start and a gear-change indicator, on our test we only managed to average 33 mpg. This is way short of the official 47.2 mpg. And the front-wheel drive version only saves 1.6 mpg and 7 g/km CO2, yet you lose the whole point of the car – ultimate traction.
So we find it difficult to recommend the front-wheel drive Freelander. It’s engineered for four-wheel drive, but doesn’t have four-wheel drive. Either you need four-wheel drive, in which case buy a four-wheel drive version, or you don’t, in which case buy a car without all the heavy off-road engineering. Consider the BMW X3
instead. It has four-wheel drive, it doesn’t roll as much through corners, and with 50.4 mpg, it is still more economical than the two-wheel drive Freelander. If you fit decent rubber, such as winter tyres, the X3 can even cope well with mud and snow.
This Freelander isn’t cheap either. The 2WD eD4 S starts at £21,995, but our top-of-the-range HSE-spec vehicle cost £32,995, and that’s before the options fitted to our test car. With the premium pack (£1,225), adaptive xenon headlamps (£1,015), metallic paint (£550) and full size spare (£185), the total price was £35,970. And that’s for an off-road vehicle without four-wheel drive. For that price you could consider buying a Toyota Prius and a second-hand Defender for those moments when you need to go off-road. The Freelander 2 eD4 is refined and has the upmarket Land Rover image. It has all the heavy engineering to ensure it is capable off-road, but no four-wheel drive. Because this car is only 1.6 mpg more economical than the four-wheel drive version it only scores a Green-Car-Guide rating of 6 out of 10.
The Freelander 2 eD4 may not make much sense to buy, but it is incredibly important for another reason. It is one of the first signs that Land Rover is taking the lowering of emissions and increased efficiency seriously, and it is the ‘warm-up act’ for a vehicle that does find a solution to the challenge of how to work as a Land Rover and how to be efficient at the same time. That vehicle is the Range Rover Evoque, which will be Land Rover’s most economical product ever.The Evoque is out this summer, and it will return 50 mpg and emit less than 145 g/km CO2 in four-wheel drive form, and manage 58 mpg and less than 130 g/km in two-wheel drive form. The entire vehicle has been designed with efficiency in mind, but it has also been designed to perform well on-road and off-road. The Evoque also starts from £27,955, ie. £5,000 less than this Freelander. The Evoque also looks fantastic.
So well done to Land Rover for making an effort with the front-wheel drive Freelander. But we would recommend that you wait a little bit longer for the Evoque, which will be more economical than this Freelander even in four-wheel drive form. It’s taken a while but the Evoque will show the progress that Land Rover is now making with lowering its emissions. Even more exciting will be the 89 g/km CO2 Range Rover Sport