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The Freelander Illusion

The Freelander Illusion

First let me confess, I’ve never considered myself a Freelander fan. Well to be honest I’ve never driven a Freelander 1, and more to the point I’ve never wanted to. It simply didn’t appeal to me, not my sort of Land Rover I suppose. Well, having spent a week driving and demonstrating the new Freelander 2 I’ve sort of changed my mind, you see I now think that actually as far as ‘Joe Public’ is concerned the Freelander 2 is actually the ideal Land Rover!

Anyway here is my non-technical review of my thoughts and impressions of the Freelander 2.

First impressions count, and my first look in the flesh at the F2 was ‘hey, that looks a bit special’. The F2 looks much beefier that its predecessor, it looks bigger and has much more ‘presence’ on the road. It certainly looks more of an off-roader than the F1. Dare I say it; the F1 always struck me as a rather ‘girly’ vehicle. However the F2 does not. The new front end, to my mind, has an affinity to the Range Rover Sport; this is also reflected by the interior design.

Sit inside the vehicle and the illusion begins, you are in no doubt that you are in a very nice saloon car and, apart from the ‘terrain response’ control, there is nothing to suggest that your vehicle has any off-road capability. The biggest difference between the F2 and any other vehicle with a green oval badge is the lower seating height, just like a normal car, you do not have the ‘command driving position’ that is such an important feature of the Land Rover image.

You settle into the driver’s seat and feel enveloped by the controls and facia. The model I was using had lots of chrome and matt black, leather seats and leather trimmed steering wheel. It felt good and solid and it also felt that it was a quality build job. The seats are comfortable and the rear seats have plenty of room even for larger passengers. You will also notice that the vehicle has 6 forward gears. My vehicle had surround-sound stereo and there is a socket at the rear of the centre consol to plug in your IPod which will then play through the stereo system. The rear seat passengers can even plug in their headsets so that the front passengers can listen to the radio and the rear passengers can listen to the CD player. A great bit of kit if you are travelling with children!

The first bit of technology that you will notice is the ‘keyless’ ignition. To fire up the vehicle you place the plastic wedge into a slot at the left of the steering wheel and then put your foot on the clutch. You can then press the starter button and the engine will fire up. I’m not quite sure why they have fitted this as to me it seemed a bit of a gimmick and a bit fussy.

The next bit of technology is the computer screen in the centre of the consol. You have a really nice coloured display with options for setting the system to your own requirements, getting vehicle information or the satellite navigation system. It looks good, is intuitive to operate and certainly adds to the Freelander illusion.

Now you need to be reminded what you don’t get with an F2. You don’t get air suspension and you don’t get a low range gearbox. These two missing items dictate how the ‘Terrain Response’ operates, and they also add to the ‘Freelander Illusion’.

The TR control sits at the bottom of the front console between the front seats. It is easily accessible and simple to use.

It allows you to set up the vehicle for the following types of terrain:

1. Highway use
2. Grass/gravel and snow
3. Mud/ruts and forest tracks
4. Sand

You will notice that the ‘Rock Crawl’ as fitted to the Disco3, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport is missing. This is because you do not have a low range gearbox and air suspension that would be required to traverse large rocks. The suspension is in fact Macpherson strut and coil springs.

Adjacent to the TR control is the ‘Hill Descent’ on/off switch. There is also an option to switch off the Dynamic Stability Control.

So, there you have it. You sit inside this car and are truly taken in by the Freelander illusion. It looks and feels just like a classy on-road family saloon, apart from the TR control it gives no hint from the inside of its off-road potential.

Drive off and the illusion continues.

The F2 was fitted with the 2.2 litre diesel engine. Its 4 cylinder transverse fitted engine sits low down in the engine compartment. This engine configuration has two great safety features. Firstly in the event of a front end shunt it will not be pushed back into the passenger cabin. It also allows a large crumple zone between it and the bonnet in the event of a collision with a pedestrian. Of course it also allowed the designers to gain valuable extra space for the passengers.

The engine pulls smoothly and effortlessly even with 4 large passengers aboard. It sits on the road well and corners without body roll – another part of the illusion. Our test route took in fast single lane roads, dual carriageway, small winding side roads and villages. The F2 coped with them all in a smooth and efficient manner. You really did feel that you were driving along in a classy vehicle. The cruise control worked well and is a great asset for long journeys.

The road part of the demonstration served perfectly to set up the ‘clients’ for the final ‘coup-de-grace’.

After a 45 minute drive we would end up at a quiet road up in the Perthshire hills parked by a farm gate. Everyone by now was thoroughly taken in and sat in the vehicle felling relaxed and having enjoyed the ride in this very nice saloon car. To their surprise the farm gate would be opened and they would be invited to drive along the track and into the woodland. Well at first the track is just a little bumpy and the vehicle would be driven carefully forwards ‘to avoid the bumps’. However this was to quickly change.

Remember now that you are sat in a nice family salon car, something akin perhaps to a nice Volvo or BMW. You do NOT want to drive it along a stony forest track – think of the damage you could do. But this, the Freelander 2, is an illusion!

After about 100m the first of the ‘obstacles’ on the track appeared, in the form of a drainage ditch about 12” deep and a couple of foot across. Inevitably the driver stopped the vehicle and looked at me. I would then switch the TR to ‘mud, ruts and forest track’. The onboard computer would re-map the throttle and switch on the hill descent. I would instruct the driver to carry on over the ditch. The F2 would cross through the ditch without and scraping or banging. Of course with no low range you would at times need to use the clutch but believe me you would not drive over this ditch in an ‘ordinary’ car.

As we continued along the track the amazement on the faces of the driver and passengers would grow as we drove over bumps and dips that would have smashed the plastic valances on any other family saloon car. How is this possible? How can we drive up this track in an ordinary saloon car?

Well the answer is simple and the illusion complete. The F2 is NOT an ordinary saloon car. The F2 is a great road going saloon car for sure, a very comfortable and relaxing saloon car as well, but hidden underneath the ‘ordinariness’ is a real off-road capacity. No, not the same off road capacity as any other of the green oval brigade, but a great ability nevertheless.

You see this IS the F2 illusion. Drive it on the road and the lack of ‘command seating’ makes you feel that you are driving a regular road-going car. You simply forget that this road-going car is made by the best 4x4 company in the world – Land Rover, and hidden underneath all that road-going ordinariness is the technology and design to get this vehicle to places well beyond those you would imagine.

The track we were using wound up into the wilds of the Perthshire hills with spectacular views. The track was rutted and muddy in places. There were the drainage ditches and the odd rock, it just seemed impossible that you were driving up here in a road-going vehicle. Okay it was not the sort of track that would pose a problem to any ‘real’ Land Rover, but no other road-going saloon car would have progressed further than the first 100 meters of the track!

Just when the passengers and driver were beginning to get used to the idea that this vehicle was capable of driving up these tracks, came the penultimate test, a ½ mile long steep gradient with large rocky ledges and loose stones. To the ‘non-off-roader’ eye this looked like a track to challenge even a ‘proper’ Land Rover. At the bottom of this part of the track the client would usually stop and wait for me to ask them to turn around, but no, I would actually tell them to carry on. Not just carry on as normal though. This was to be a demonstration of just how much torque there is in the 2.2 litre diesel engine. You see this part of the track was to be driven without using the brakes or the throttle with the engine just on tick over!

I would tell the driver to start off and then take their foot off the throttle so the vehicle was just running on tick over and to simply steer the vehicle up the track over the rocks until it stalled. Believe me this looked an impossible task and I know that most drivers expected the vehicle to stall at the first rock ledge. However, the punchy F2 engine with its load of 4 passengers would just carry on ticking over and climbing up the slope over the rocks and stones. On and on it went with no strain just ticking over and climbing up the slope. It was an incredible demonstration of the off-road capability of the F2. Of course doing it on tick over also meant that the speed of the vehicle was kept down to a safe level. I have also demonstrated the new Defender and its anti-stall so I am used to LRs doing this sort of thing, but remember the F2 does not have a low range gearbox. The F2 was doing this in normal ‘high’ range gears.

This demo certainly impressed the clients and I can tell you when I was first taken up the track and did the same thing it damned well impressed me as well!

I did say that this ½ mile rocky sloped track was the penultimate test, remember? Well having inexorably climbed up there we would stop at the end. Here the track was blocked by another gate and then continues into forestry. The clients would expect me to get out and open the gate to continue on. However that was NOT the way we were going. No, we were going to our left up a very steep and rutted grass bank! This final test of the F2 would take us up the grassy and rutted bank, along a grass slope to the edge of a small ravine where we finally stopped. Here we would get out and admire the view, part of which was the F2 parked in the grand vista of the Perthshire hills, looking just as if it was meant to be there.

This was the final revelation of the Freelander 2 illusion. From quality road going saloon to off-road hero!

When you stood there looking out at the view and seeing the F2 parked up in the midst of all this rugged countryside it just looked so right.

But the demonstration was not over yet. We had to get back down off the hills. This was usually the place to swap over the drivers so we would begin the descent with a ‘virgin’ driver at the wheel. The first obstacle was of course going back down that precarious rutted bank. This is where the hill descent comes into operation. The HDC works in 1st and reverse gears and will keep the vehicle to a modest 5.4 mph. The best way to demonstrate it is to use it, so the instruction to the driver was, put the vehicle in gear and move of then take your foot off the brake and let it go on its own!

‘What, down there?’ was the usual reply. ‘Yes, down there with no brakes.’ I would say. The F2 would get to the top of the slope and steadily go over the top on tick over and just as it began to gain speed the HDC would cut in and we would descend down the steep slope at a gentle pace. I would then instruct the driver to repeat the exercise we did on the way up, not touch the throttle or brake, but this time to demonstrate the HDC.

The F2 would make its own gentle way down the rocky track without a crunch or a bang, it really was amazing, and it had done it many times that week!

Eventually we would get onto the road again and drive back to the off-road centre where I would take over the driving for a final demonstration on some of the more extreme sections of the off-road course. When I was doing my own training on the F2 I did not think that it would cope with some of the slopes that I was told to drive down. But cope it did, and easily. The HDC would take the vehicle down long and slippery slopes without the wheels locking up and with no fuss. Of course being the F2 with manual gears you needed to use the clutch at times, not something we would normally do when driving a regular Land Rover off road.

By the time the vehicle was parked up I always had a group of thoroughly converted passengers.

I really enjoyed driving the F2 both on and off road. Of course without the air suspension and low range gear box it is not as good off road as any other LR. It is however a very capable vehicle.

This brings me to my last point. Exactly what is a Freelander 2? What is the vehicle behind the illusion?

Well it is not an off-road vehicle. It is not just a great family saloon car. It is a great family saloon car that is designed to operate in difficult conditions. It will happily tow a caravan or trailer. It will easily drive up a farm track. It will take you up a track into the forest to your camp site. It will drive through a grassy field being used as a temporary car park. It will even tackle most green lanes. It is for the adventurous family who need on occasions to take their vehicle off road. Well isn’t that exactly what most Land Rovers are used for?

This one, the Freelander 2, fits the bill exactly. It will happily do what 99% of most LR owners need both on road and off road, so for most people it really is the ideal Land Rover.
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