Land Rover Freelander SD4 HSE Lux
The new Land Rover is comfy in all conditions
Price: £39,805 (prices start at £23,700)
Engine capacity: 2.2l diesel
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 187 @ 3,500
Top speed (mph): 118
0-62mph (seconds): 8.7
Fuel economy (mpg): 40.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 185
The staff at Land Rover's headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire, always know when the first snow of the year has landed. Whether it's a flurry in the stockbroker belt or a heavy blizzard on the North Yorkshire moors, hits to the off-road maker's website treble as stranded drivers consider upgrading to something that will manage the school run without sliding into a ditch.
Most of the new visitors are just browsing (or soon realise that a Chelsea tractor isn't really ideal for town), but enough of them become buyers that the firm's Merseyside and Solihull plants are working three shifts and its Indian owners are enjoying surging profits.
For idle browsers this winter, the most affordable route to Land Rover ownership is the entry-level Freelander. It doesn't have the bling of the Range Rover or the glitz of the Evoque, but starting at just over £23,000 it's much more affordable and the firm has sold nearly 340,000 models since its launch in 1997.
To show off the latest example, Land Rover picked the back roads of rural Quebec in eastern Canada. When we arrived it was -15C (5F) outside and leaving town I soon discovered the conditions were far worse than anything the horsey set will encounter on their way to a gymkhana in the Home Counties. Thankfully, the Freelander has a gutsy 2.2l diesel unit which pulls it along smoothly and in comfort and I'm soon impressed with just how well it copes with the challenging conditions. Of course, the truth is that Canada deals with winter a lot better than us and I see more snow ploughs on one stretch of road than I'd spot on the A30 in a lifetime, but the Freelander does well all the same.
Off-road it's still the best small SUV around with a terrain-response system that adapts quickly to ice, snow and broken ground, where larger off-roaders would struggle. One cold-weather gripe was that its windscreen washer froze. Not a problem in Surrey but something the company should have anticipated in colder climes, such as Canada and Russia, where it will sell well.
To be honest, the changes to the new Freelander aren't huge (it was great to begin with), the biggest being a smart new set of intersecting LED rear lights borrowed from the new Range Rover. Inside it's a sumptuous affair, but the latest thing that Land Rover is shouting about is a new Meridian stereo. And when a manufacturer is banging on about the new stereo, you know there is little else to shout about. Sadly, the boffins at Gaydon have found time to stuff in the scourge of all new luxury cars; an infuriating electric handbrake.
Minor gripes aside, the biggest problem with the Freelander is its price. It starts at £1,000 more than the model it replaces, but the entry-level model is pretty sparse. And if you tick enough boxes at the dealership you'll easily hit £40k – you could have the poshest Evoque for that and still have £1,500 left in your pocket.
This shouldn't be a shock though; Land Rover knows how to turn a profit with new factories scheduled for China and Saudi Arabia and a dozen new models are planned for the next decade. Here's hoping that, like the Freelander, they are just as good at driving on and off-road.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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