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Review: Land Rover Freelander 2

More refined and comfort-focused, does the updated Freelander still have enough off-road cred to wear the Land Rover badge?

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Back in 1998 when Land Rover first launched the Freelander, the compact luxury SUV market was in its infancy.

Fast forward to 2012 and the competition has become intense, and the compact 4WD is fighting a battle on several fronts against quality opposition including the BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5.

It's even coming under friendly fire from its fresher, more stylish sibling, the Range Rover Evoque.

Land Rover

Although the Evoque carries the more prestigious badge and is positioned as such, the success of the stylish SUV has had a major influence on the 2013 model Freelander 2.

Instead of the traditional Land Rover traits such as off-road prowess and practicality, this latest update has focused on improving the car's luxury and refinement.

There is no talk of improved ground clearance or breakover angles for the latest Freelander, instead its a “premium overhaul” with a “sportier look” and “better comfort”.

The biggest change is the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, replacing the old model's 3.2-litre six-cylinder unit, taken directly from the Evoque. It's basically the same EcoBoost engine used by Ford in its Falcon range.

The new engine - dubbed Si4 - is more powerful (177kW/340Nm compared with 171kW/317Nm for the old Si6) and more fuel efficient (9.6 litres per 100km against 10.7L/100km) and produces less CO2 (224g/km to 255g/km).

The other changes include a new-look dashboard and a new front grille and lights across all models, plus other improvements for more expensive variants. They include a seven-inch colour touchscreen, updated sat-nav system (also from the Evoque) with "say what you see" voice prompts, a rear view camera and an 825W Meridian 17-speaker sound system.

But despite all these changes that bring the Freelander closer to the Evoque in terms of comfort and refinement, Land Rover is confident that the two SUVs still appeal to different buyers.

“The distinction between the two cars is they get the practicality [with the Freelander],” says Tim Krieger, Land Rover Australia brand manager.

“[Freelander buyers] want the refinement but they still want to be able to chuck the family and stuff in the back and weekend away. The Evoque is more of a style statement.

“Freelander is still the entry-level Land Rover, it's their first taste of the brand. That's why it's got to have the same capabilities of the rest of the range.”

Ironically, the Evoque actually boasts greater ground clearance, albeit only by 12mm, than the Freelander. Although the pair shares the same basic underpinnings, the Evoque benefits from changes that the Freelander won't get until the next generation model arrives in the next three to four years.

Land Rover Australia has dropped prices on the diesel range thanks to the favourable exchange rate.

The updated line-up begins with the 110kW TD4 2.2-litre turbo diesel model. It is the only model to come with a fuel-saving stop-start system, and even then it is only available with the manual gearbox. It's priced from $42,300 (a $2690 drop on the old model). Upgrading to the six-speed automatic adds $2300.

Standard equipment on the TD4 includes the brand's famous Terrain Response system, cruise control, hill descent control, rear parking sensors, front fog lights, cargo cover, cloth seats, 17-inch alloy wheels and an eight-speaker sound system with a five-inch colour display. Bluetooth telephone connectivity and audio streaming is now standard across the entire range.

Next up is the TD4 SE priced from $54,100 (a $1210 cut) which adds an automatic transmission, rear view camera, climate control airconditioning, front armrest with storage compartment, rear armrest, leather seats, leather steering wheel with stereo controls, 18-inch alloys and 11-speaker stereo.

The range then steps up to the SD4 model with its more powerful 140kW version of the same 2.2-litre turbo diesel.

The SD4 SE starts at $56,600 (only a $200 cut) and mirrors the specification of the TD4 SE.

The range continues with the SD4 HSE, priced from $64,500 (a $1354 cut), and adds auto wipers and headlights, xenon lights, electric leather seats, 19-inch alloys and sat-nav with a seven-inch touchscreen, plus little extras such as puddle lamps and map reading lights.

The final diesel model is a new range-topping SD4 HSE Luxury, starting at $68,400. It gains superior quality leather seats with eight-way electric driver's seat, premium carpet mats and the 825W Meridian stereo.

The single Si4 SE petrol model is priced from $55,600 (a $3090 increase over the Si6 SE) and has the same equipment as the diesel SE models.

The sat-nav system is available on the SE models for $2500, the 825W stereo is an $1815 option and metallic paint is $1700 and premium paint is $3400.

Fast facts

On sale: Now

Price: TD4 manual $42,300; TD4 SE $54,100; Si4 SE $55,600; SD4 SE $56,600; SD4 HSE $64,500; SD4 HSE Luxury $68,400.

Engine: TD4 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, 110kW/420Nm, 6.2L/100km (man), 7.0L/100km (auto); SD4 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, 140kW/420Nm, 7.0L/100km; Si4 2.0-litre turbo petrol, 177kW/340Nm, 9.6L/100km.

Gearbox: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, AWD.

What's new: New four-cylinder petrol engine (the same one found in the Ford Falcon) replaces the old six-cylinder. Refreshed exterior styling. New-look dashboard and centre console.

What's missing: More capabilities – there are no changes to the car's off-road systems or clearances.

Competitors: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Volvo XC60.