I tested the old Freelander when it first came out, taking it up the M6 into the Shropshire hills and returning with backache. That apart, I thought it a good car in four-door form, as did plenty of others — it became Europe’s best-selling smallish 4×4. But I and they were wrong: a component that would have cost a few pence to improve in manufacture meant that the majority of petrol versions had coolant problems requiring new engines at some stage (one dealer I know replaced 60), while build quality of petrols and diesels alike meant that the trim disintegrated around you. For Land Rover lovers such as me, they were an embarrassment.
Will I be as wrong about the new version, Freelander 2, tested last week? Signs are that I — and Land Rover — might have got it right this time. The good reports at its launch two years ago still hold and, after a week of running around, so did my back. The leather seats were excellent. Larger than the old model, it looks and feels like a mini-Range Rover. The doors are high and wide, making ingress and egress a back-preserving pleasure, and the cabin echoes the Range Rover’s elegant masterpiece. The 2.2 litre diesel chatters a bit on tickover but is smooth and surprisingly torquey when you get the revs up. It does 70mph at a quiet 2,000rpm in sixth and the claimed 37.7mpg (EU combined) consumption is credible. This latest model has the vaunted engine cut-out at traffic lights or in jams, which is fun to play with for a while but it’s hard to believe it saves much and anyway you can disable it with a switch.
You might also want to disable the cacophony of beepings which assaults you every time you turn round, reverse or get within half a mile of another object. They’re at their most irritating when they turn Radio Four down — unasked — at the moment when someone’s explaining how you can benefit from the financial crisis. The steering takes a little getting used to because it’s very light and turn-in is sharp, but overall the handling is a world away from the old model even on 17-inch tyres on poor roads. Big wheels on low-profile tyres are a fashion accessory developed from F1 where lack of rubber between you and the road shaves milliseconds on corners, but for the kind of motoring the rest of mankind does I’d go for greater comfort, which means 16-inch wheels with more rubber. I wouldn’t chance the 19-inch option. Whichever you have, you get a full-size spare beneath the ample rear. That’s something these days.
It’s hard to think of other niggles. Dashboard reflections — yes, but less distracting than in Volvos. You start by pushing a keyless thing into a hole, then push the start/stop button. Then, quite often, you do it again two or three times because the thing pops out. Perhaps there’s a knack. But these are niggles and no more. I thoroughly enjoyed this car. I couldn’t do a serious off-road test but doubtless it would cope well; there’s never been a Land Rover that didn’t. Otherwise, it feels compact while being capacious, feels well built, feels good, looks good, the way some cars do. It costs from £21,325 for the base diesel to £35,395 for the powerful 3.2 petrol, and last week the Financial Times carried a Land Rover offer of £5,000 off for anyone ordering by the end of March. It may not be too late if you get in there and haggle. This is a Freelander that will not disappoint.