Steve Sharpe drivers Land Rover’s latest Freelander 2
The Land Rover badge has enjoyed an illustrious career down the years, metamorphosing from a rugged country vehicle to a plush, prestigious off-roader, with all manner of models in between.
At one time beloved only of the green welly and corduroy country set, the Land Rover has found fans from all walks of life, people who want a famous name vehicle with serious off-road abilities as well as on-road presence.
But as with all sectors of the motoring world, there are always those waiting in the wings to grab a slice of the action, and in the SUV section competition has become red hot.
The Qashqai, Audi’s A3 and a host of other pretenders have upped the ante as far as performance, price and economy are concerned, and Land Rover have had to keep up with the rest.
The Evoque and Range Rover Sport have been a great success, and now the Freelander 2 gets what the company calls a comprehensive upgrade this year.
Aware that the compact SUV market is a growing one, and that many rivals are offering serious levels of value for money in terms of equipment, some impressive new equipment specifications are being introduced.
The new range, which went on sale mid-summer, features a new three-grade line-up, headed by the Metropolis edition, which replaces the previous the top spec HSE.
Land Rover have really piled on the equipment levels, which include electrically adjustable front seats upholstered in premium Windsor leather, touchscreen-controlled satellite navigation, an 825W meridian surround sound system, panoramic sunroof and 19-inch diamond-turned wheels. There are also Xenon headlights with Land Rover’s signature LED daytime running lights, heated steering wheel, luxury carpet mats, a reversing camera, premium metallic paint and gloss black interior detailing.
Further down the range there are new SE and SE Tech models which respectively replace the GS and XS designations, all with improved spec levels.
The Metropolis is the most well-equipped and luxurious – and expensive, mind you – Freelander yet
The Metropolis gets the Freelander’s 187bhp 2.2-litre SD4 turbodiesel engine hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels.
Customers who choose SUVs as a family car aren’t necessarily going to be ploughing through muddy streams at the weekend, so one of Land Rover’s tasks has been to persuade buyers that their vehicles can, as well as being proficient off road, act as a comfortable family car.
And the Freelander is a great success in this field.
Because the Land Rover is extremely comfortable in a day-to-day driving role, and indeed extremely comfortable in general.
Climb in to the Freelander and the first thing you’re struck with is the driving position.
You’re perched high up in the cabin which, when combined with the large windows all around, give you a perfect view through all sides.
It makes manoeuvring the large vehicle in town simple and you’re always aware of hazards where parking.
With your arms resting on the long armrests either side, you can relax in the big, supportive seats and feel supremely comfortable in city traffic.
There’s plenty of headroom in the front, although kneeroom is surprisingly snug both in front and back.
The boot is a decent size, although the boot floor is high, which could make hoisting heavier items up and in a little arduous
On the road the Freelander behaves extremely well. The diesel engine is extremely well hushed at idling, and only becomes vocal when the revs are high.
Having said that, cruising at motorway speeds is never excessively noisy although as a high-sided vehicle there are amounts of wind noise hitting the flanks.
The 2.2 turbo diesel engine in the Metropolis is flexible, and with sub-nine second 0-60 figures it packs a surge of acceleration.
The six-speed automatic gearbox is smooth, only occasionally getting caught in two minds which gear to select next if you put your foot down.
But acceleration is smooth and once at the desired speed the big Land Rover can cruise comfortably, soaking up road imperfections well along the way.
Take the Freelander out on winding roads and although there’s a fair amount of body lean when cornering, the steering is accurate enough to make things controlled and there are good levels of grip to keep you planted on the tarmac.
And all versions come with Land Rover’s Terrain Response System, which lets you choose the car’s driving set-up for different surface conditions.
It means the Freelander is comfortable in its role as a family car, and is as comfortable in Sunderland city centre as the middle of a field.But this Metropolis is all about luxury and the gear, and you’re spoiled on both counts.
There’s a sumptuous feel to the cabin. The plastics are nice to touch and look at and everything looks nice and classy.
While many SUVs have gone for a rounded, curved design the Freelander retains a degree of the boxy look from its past, although the edges have been rounded off somewhat.
The big bank of controls in the centre console doesn’t take much working out, and the big media screen is clear and relatively straightforward.
With all the equipment you could want, including the panoramic sunroof flooding the cabin with light and a fabulous 380w Meridien music system doing the same with sound, this Metropolis version is the very top of the range for the Defender.
The Metropolis is available for nearly £36,000 but the Freelander range starts back at £27,765.
One of the problems it faces it that many compact SUVs are cheaper and have better economy figures, but what they don’t have is that Land Rover badge on the front , with the prestige that goes with it.
There’s no denying the desirability of a Land Rover - it’s big and bold and retains that distinctive look from past its many past incarnations.
Despite the many changes it’s still unmistakably a Land Rover.
Although pricier than many rivals, the lower spec Freelanders offer smooth everyday driving pleasure with genuine off-road capabilities.
But if you want every bell, whistle and flashing light going, then this all-singing, all-dancing Metropolis version is the one to look at.
Freelander 2 Metropolis
Engine: 2.2 litre diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
0-62: 8.7 seconds.
Top Speed: 118mph.
Economy: Avg 44.4 mpg