From the outside, the resemblance between the two cars is very obvious: the profile, and in particular rear windows being very similar in shape. The 2 is taller than the original, although mine has been lifted by 2" so these two are same height.
There are a number of automatic systems in the car:
- Windscreen wipers
- Dipping rear-view mirror
- Central locking
The automatic headlights don't work all that well with them turning on and off, seemingly at random, on an overcast but not particularly dull day in Peterborough. Why do we need automatic headlights? I can tell when it gets dark.
With the automatic windscreen wipers, there are three settings on the wiper stalk: automatic, on and fast. There's no intermittent setting, which I presume it replaced by the automatic setting. I have a distrust of automatic systems which stems from my experiences in a Peugeot 206 several years ago, where the automatic windscreen wipers decided to work only in the dry, and when passing a lorry that was throwing up bucket-loads of spray, they decided that wipers were not necessary - which lead to an exciting few moments as I tried to override the automatic system so I could see where I was going.
My concerns were not entirely unfounded, with erratic wipes of the screen in completely dry weather. Automatic wipers seem very like a solution to a problem that doesn't exist: As with the headlights, I can tell very easily when I need my wipers on.
In what I assume is a attempt at emission reduction, the 2 has an automatic stop-start system: come to a halt, put the gear lever in to neutral, lift the clutch and the engine stops. A green 'Eco' light lights up on the dashboard to let you know it's stopped. When you're ready to go, push down the clutch and before your foot reaches the floor, the engine's running again and off you go. While stopped, all the other systems in the car keep running. If you stop for too long, the engine will start again of its own accord; presumably to prevent the various systems running down the battery. The stop-start system can be turned off by a button on the centre console, but it will be reactivated again next time you start the car.
At Motorway speeds, the cabin remains quiet with little engine, wind or tyre noise. Steering is light and responsive, possibly a little too light and responsive for a vehicle of that size - a little more weight would stop the steering being quite so flighty at speed, especially on faster turns such as open roundabouts or on fast, twisty cross-country roads.
The radio has a CD player as well as an Aux socket to plug in your iPod, and the speakers give a good performance. There's even a sub-woofer hidden somewhere in the car - which was turned up to the max when I picked up the car, which made Radio 2 sound a little odd. There's also a built-in Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone system, which works very well and accounts for many of the buttons on the centre console.
A large touch-screen at the top of the dashboard contains the built-in satellite navigation system. The user interface is not particularly user-friendly, and it took a lot of fumbling around and back-tracking before realising that the "Destination" label at the bottom of the screen was actually a button. On the road, the announcements are clear and easy to hear over the car's speakers, but the timing of the announcements is very poor. Approaching a turn, your first warning is at just 400 yards: if you're not in the inside lane at the time, forget it - you're going to miss your turn. Bizarrely, on Motorways (and only on Motorways, not dual carriageways) it extends the warning to one mile.
The second announcement is at 200 yards, almost before the first announcement has finished. The map set on board has similar errors to other navigation systems, leading to vague and confusing instructions; especially in towns where there are lots of junctions and roads in a small area where it strings instructions together for multiple turns.
Yes, you can look at the screen, but the maps are very diagrammatic and don't reflect the actual arrangement on the road. Also the location and dimness of the screen means you cannot easily see what it's showing. As a very expensive (£1530) option on the Freelander 2, it's a big disappointment and I certainly wouldn't be choosing it over my my much cheaper, more accurate and clearer Garmin.
There is a trend in some cars for soft-touch indicators that don't stay tipped in the appropriate direction, like the aforementioned BMW. The stalks in the 2 behave as indicators should, staying cocked until cancelled either automatically by turning the wheel, or moving the lever back by hand.
At the back of the car, the 2 has a lift-up boot instead of the side-opening one on the original. It's a big, fairly heavy door, held up on gas rams. A shorter person might struggle getting it closed as it's a bit of reach up when fully open. The boot space is much greater than on the original, although the floor starts much higher up to allow space for the spare wheel. Which isn't there.
Would I buy one? Maybe. There are too many automatic systems on it for my taste that cannot be turned off or easily worked around (why would you want the the doors to lock automatically? In an accident, I want people to be able to get me out!). On the other hand it drives very nicely, is quiet, comfortable and while I've had it the average fuel consumption has been around 36mpg. It just needs to feel a bit chunkier and more like a Land Rover.
With thanks to Hammond Land Rover, Halesworth, Suffolk, for lending me the Freelander 2 while repairing my Defender.