There are two main changes for the 2011 Freelander. A revised diesel engine with the option of 150bhp and 190bhp and, shockingly, a 2WD Land Rover.
This is the first publicly available 2WD product from Land Rover, although a few 2WD vehicles were once supplied to the Ministry of Defence to teach squaddies to drive.
Land Rover decided to tackle the issue of "keeping it real" by taking a 4WD and a 2WD Freelander to an off-road experience centre in Spain. We start with a course that would not be feasible in most soft roaders as the ruts and holes are too deep for the ground clearance of Tiguans and the like. Most drivers would not tackle it by themselves even in a Defender or a Toyota Land Cruiser – only the assurance of professional instructors gives us the confidence that we will not tumble down a one-in-one slope.
The biggest challenge is a long, deeply rutted, uphill track with a sandy hairpin at the top. Gunning the engine to prevent the car stalling, we just make it to the top, only to drive down a drop steeper than you could possibly walk down. And this was in the 2WD version.
All the drivers are amazed – how on earth does a 2WD car do this? Of course, it still has the ground clearance, the torquey diesel and the rigid bodyshell of the all-wheel drive version, so it is possible to get some of the benefits of a true off-roader. The electronics have also been set up with off-roading in mind – for example the slip control system has been recalibrated for the front-drive version.
On the steep gravel slope the idea is to attack it in first gear with traction control off – the wheels need to be able to spin a bit to maintain momentum, rather than the electronics cutting the power and bogging the car down. We do the same route in a 4WD and the main difference is that you don't have to think about momentum – if the car bogs down, the four wheels simply pull it out of the hole.
That does not make the 4ED obsolete – it will still go deeper off road, but more importantly, it has the traction to cope with snow. The 2WD would be better than a normal car in the snow thanks to all-terrain tyres, but it would get stuck a lot sooner than a 4WD.
However, the great benefit is, of course, economic. With an expected price of around £23,000 and reduced CO2 of 158g/km (equating to 47.2 mpg), there is a big financial incentive. That CO2 figure means Land Rover finally has a car that gets below the company car threshold of 160g/km – many companies will no longer permit staff to choose a company car above that level due to the tax penalties involved. The 4WD version also benefits from reduced CO2, thanks to improved diesel engines – the manual produces 165g/km of CO2 (45.6 mpg) and the automatic produces 185g/km of CO2 (40.4 mpg).
The Freelander is now much more of a threat to its rivals. The 2WD version opens up a new economy-minded segment and it does not betray the Land Rover DNA (to our surprise, we have to admit). Anyone looking at a 2wd soft-roader (and about half of them are sold with 2WD nowadays) should take a close look at the Freelander.