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Click to view road test review picture galleryIf you want a
  premium-class, mid-
  sized SUV, the latest
  Land Rover Freelander
  cannot be bettered
  for overall on- and off-
  road performance...”

LAND ROVER FREELANDER 2 IS NOT ONLY NUMBER ONE in its class for overall on- and off-road performance, but it also boasts high quality and first-rate badge appeal. The fact that the latest Freelander 2.2-litre diesel model also has the option of an automatic transmission makes it an even better for an increasing number of customers in this sector.

The British-built Honda CR-V 4x4 marginally outsells the Freelander in the UK, but the Swindon-built Honda is more a 4x4 for the road than a very capable off-roader which is where, for many buyers, the Freelander scores.

The Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Santa Fe, the new 2.2-litre Mitsubishi Out-lander (same PSA engine as the Freelander), Peugeot 4007, Citroen C-Crosser and the new VW Tiguan all battle for sales in a market sector which shows no signs of slowing down — despite high fuel costs, anti-4x4 feelings and punitive road tax ratings.

2008 is the 60th anniversary of Land Rover — so it is ironic that in its Diamond anniversary year Ford is close to confirming the sale of Land Rover (together with Jaguar) to TATA. The iconic British brands are to become the 'jewels' in the Indian group's expanding business empire which, incidentally, also includes Tetley Tea and Corus (formerly British Steel). 'Buy British' appears to be good advice!

TATA is reported to be paying around 1bn for the two British marques. This is more of an Indian 'giveaway' than a 'takeaway' when you con-sider Ford reportedly paid 3.5bn for Jaguar in 1989 and 2.7bn for Land Rover in 2000.

It is even more ironic that Ford is disposing of Land Rover, which recorded its highest ever worldwide and UK sales in 2007, and Jaguar has just launched — and to great media acclaim — their new XF executive models.

But back to the award-winning Freelander 2, which will remain Land Rover's best-selling model. This is because its more heavyweight stablemates — the Defender, Discovery, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport — will all incur even higher levels of taxation in the form of the 400 annual Vehicle Excise Duty (from 1 April — and it's no joke) and they will also be in the 25-a-day London Congestion Charge bracket from October this year.

Freelander prices range from 20,964 for the cheapest 2.2 TD4 model up to 34,095 for the 3.2 i6 HSE petrol variant. In addition, there is the usual comprehensive list of 'must-have' option packs and accessories that push the final on-the-road prices even higher. Ninety-five per cent of Freelander sales in the UK are diesel versions with 30 per cent ordered in range-topping HSE trim.

Whilst the V6 3.2 i6 petrol Freelander is only available with top of the range HSE specification, the 2.2 TD4 models, which use a four-cylinder turbodiesel engine from the Ford/PSA Peugeot Citroen partnership, are available in S, GS, XS, SE and HSE trim.

All models have as standard a six-speed manual transmission with full-time intelligent four-wheel drive, electronic traction control, hill des-cent control, stability control, cornering brake control and body-roll stability control. Other standard items of specification include seating for five passengers with a rear seat split 60:40 to maximise people and load carrying options (load capacity: 755-1,670 litres), electric win-dows, air conditioning, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, halogen headlights plus plenty of safety features: seven airbags, for instance. The latest Freelander has the top, five-star NCAP rating for adult passenger safety.

My test model was the 2.2 TD4 HSE that costs a basic 30,960. Adding to my test car's price was the optional (1,370) CommandShift six-speed automatic transmission offering manual sequential gear changes when required and, for livelier performance, there is also a driver-selectable Sport mode. However, all HSE versions have, as added standard equipment, automatic climate control with air filtration and humidity control, electric panoramic glass sunroof, luggage area cover, heated front seats, leather seat facings, electrically-adjustable front seats and wood-effect interior trim finishes.

Other desirable extra-cost options include adaptive Bi-Xenon head-lamps (995), a full-size spare wheel (120), metallic paint (490) and — unfortunately — you also have to pay for carpet mats: 75. This gave my test car an on-the-road price of 34,010 — very expensive given that the Freelander is a medium-sized 4x4. But on the plus side, the residual values are strong and the brand's image is currently high.

Whilst many of the modern mid-sized 4x4s or SUVs — such as the Outlander, 4007 and C-Crosser — can match and, in most cases, beat the Freelander's on-road poise and refinement, the Freelander's appeal is two-fold. Firstly, it is a valued premium brand — by itself a huge desirability factor. Secondly, in its class, it cannot be beaten for off-road performance: along with a mass of high-tech features that make off-roading a 'walk in the park', there's a 500mm wading depth and, for the record, a maximum braked towing capacity of 2,000kg.

You also get an airy cabin with large glass areas that emphasise the spacious feel and complement the elevated 'command driving' position — a Land Rover trademark — and 'stadium seating', where rear passengers sit slightly higher than front occupants, for a clearer view out.

The new automatic transmission option is, happily, no real detriment
to performance. It performs really well with the 158bhp 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine. Over 148lb ft of torque is available from just 1,000
rpm basically engine tickover speed — and this rapidly increases to
295lb ft, lasting through until 4,500pm. With a manual transmission this engine officially returns 37.7mpg on average, but with the six-speed auto gearbox this drops to 33.2mpg.

My test car, however, returned 38.3mpg. And this was with no soft driving; just day-to-day average motoring on country roads mixed in with town traffic and motorway trips. So I think Land Rover has, on this occasion, under-called the fuel economy. Even with the automatic gearbox, the Freelander 2.2 TD4 just creeps under the 226g/km higher CO2 tax limit with an output of 224g/km, giving it a Vehicle Excise Duty rating of Band F at 205 a year. It also mean's Ken Livingstone's tax gatherers will only receive 8 a day for London-driving Freelander 2.2 TD4s.

As I said at the beginning of this review, if you want a premium-class, mid-sized SUV, the latest Land Rover Freelander 2 cannot be bettered for overall on- and off-road performance. Demerits are minor: it's expensive, it's not as roomy as some competitors in its class and the dashboard controls are a tad muddled; but on the plus side there's the refined engine with the automatic gearbox option, good fuel efficiency, real off-road ability combined with a comfortable ride on-road and first class image. The brand, as they say, shall make you Free! — David Miles

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Land Rover Freelander 2 2.2 TD4 HSE | 30,960
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 33.2mpg | Power: 158bhp | Torque: 295lb ft

CO2 224g/km

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