Land Rover Freelander TD4_e 2009 Road Test

Wed, 04 Mar 2009

Road test of LandRover Freelander TD4_e, which has stop-start to lower its CO2 emissions and improve its fuel economy.

Land Rover has an image problem.  The things people love about its cars (4x4 capabilities, high driving position and, frankly, scale) are the very reasons others deride them as examples of pointless excess. Then there’s an on going perception that its products haven’t always as well made or reliable as they should be.

Until last year the company could take such brickbats with a shrug. It posted record sales, particularly in America, where even the vulgarian Range Rover Sport was regarded by many as compact and a bit introverted.

No longer, and some serious re-invention is now required. The first example of this is a Freelander with an engine stop/start device –claimed to be a design first for a 4x4. Called the TD4_e, it features a system that will be fitted to all diesel manual Freelanders (you re-start the engine by pressing the clutch pedal, so automatics won’t have this capability, at least not yet).

Land Rover has beefed up the starter motor, battery and other related components, which are all going to have to work much harder, and engineered things so that lights, climate control, hi-fi, etc, keep going. Should they start draining the battery, the car re-starts to charge it, or to replenish the brake vacuum reservoir, and if it’s very cold outside the engine keeps going so that the TD4_e’s occupants don’t freeze. The thing can be also over-ridden if that’s what the driver wants.

There’s little reason to do this. The stop/start works unobtrusively and painlessly, shutting down the engine when the car comes to a halt and firing it up quickly when the clutch is dipped. Even fast getaways aren’t noticeably impeded, and once the mild novelty of mechanical silence has worn off you pretty much forget the TD4_e’s USP.

Land Rover claims a 15g/km reduction in CO2 over the outgoing TD4, which managed 194g/km. The TD4_e’s 179g/km figure is somewhat greater than the 130g/km industry-wide average Eurocrats are seeking, but compares well with the 199g/km posted by the newer Volvo XC60 –although sub-170g.km variants are imminent.

The stop/start TD4 also has a claimed 4.5 mpg improvement, although I got about nine MPG less than the 42 and a bit mpg touted for it. As a driving experience this car is an odd mix. On rural roads its high ground clearance and long travel suspension conspire to make progress somewhat choppy, but on motorways it’s mostly serene and relaxed. Something like the VW Tiguan or Volvo’s XC60 feel more like pumped up regular cars than the Freelander, which remains a 4x4.

This isn’t unattractive, and once you’ve tuned into it, the car can be punted round corners with surprising élan, and will steer and go where you want it to with greater accuracy than you might expect, although the steering itself is light and inert, and the thing rolls a good deal. At non-motorway speeds the 2.2 litre diesel is a bit raucous and feels somewhat gutless in the lower gears unless you let it rev, when it displays unexpected reserve of torque –that’s pulling power- rapidly gaining momentum in the lower gears of the precise-but-clunky six speed gearbox.

On fast A roads and duel carriageways the engine really quietens down, there’s a surprising lack of wind and road noise, and the combination of unexpected refinement and commanding view make the car a pleasant place to be.

Other positives? Well, the lights are especially good. We borrowed £32,345’s worth of HSE, and reckoned there was still a cheapness about some of the fit, finish and switchgear, and the hard plastic steering wheel felt as if it had been pinched from an old Proton, so that’s work in progress.

As for mechanical reliability, the old Freelander had a pretty rubbish reputation, but Land Rover management has been upfront about past failings, and things should have improved.

The TD4_e is unlikely to convert many 4x4 haters, and its duel purpose design does compromise it somewhat (think high, shallow boot to accommodate a whacking great spare wheel, etc), but it’s certainly a step in the right direction, and its makers are promising some more radical design ideas in the future.

Anyone who likes road-friendly all-wheel-drives, is perhaps thinking of downsizing or actually needs the off road capabilities they offer, would be daft not to look at this one.

For prices, availability, specifications, powertrain details, dimensions, and performance figures please click the tabs.

More at www.landrover.co.uk

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