17 October 2016

Parting is such sweet sorrow

After seven years, and with 101k miles on the clock, I decided that it was time to replace my venerable Freelander 'Classic' with something newer. I'd previously had a Freelander 2 on loan for a few weeks when my Defender was in for repair, so buying one as a replacement was a fairly easy decision to make.

I did consider (briefly) the Škoda Yeti, Volkswagen Tiguan and Mitsubishi ASX, but they were a little smaller and the lure of the green oval was strong. Eventually I took delivery of a 6-speed manual 2014 Freelander 2 GS in Loire Blue from a dealer in Reading.

The GS is the not-quite-entry-level version, but still fairly well appointed with full leather, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, keyless ignition and a DAB radio. Unfortunately a problem with a driver's seat meant that I got excruciating backache in a very short space of time whilst driving it, so the dealer agreed to an exchange for the next version up: an XS in Santorini Black (AKA Range Rover black).

This brought some extra features including built-in satellite navigation, armrests, voice-control and additional trim to enhance the interior. Mine also has the Meridian sound-system complete with sub, which gives excellent audio from the radio or my iPod.

It may be an older design (the Freelander 2 was originally launched in 2006) but the updates that Land Rover have made have helped to keep it current. The last update took place in 2013 and bestowed an improved interior, electronic handbrake, daytime LED running lights and improved fuel economy. On a typical, laden, long journey on mixed the roads the computer tended to show around 36mpg.

As an ex-courtsey car it hadn't done a huge mileage, and it still felt very new. Almost immediately I had to make some long journeys in it, and it sat very happily on the Motorway all day, making smooth, refined progress in climate-controlled comfort.

The Freelander 2 boot is a good size and has comfortably swallowed luggage, equipment and even items of furniture without complaint. That the rear seats fold completely flat helps enormously when trying to get larger items inside, and the square shape overall means the space is all useable.

With the rear seats upright, there is plenty of leg room for the rear seat passengers and an armrest with cupholders and door pockets are there for convenience. As with the original Freelander the rear seats are set slightly higher than the front ones to improve the view.

As you might expect, it works well when you leave paved surfaces and take to unsurfaced roads and tracks. Freelander 2 features Land Rover's Terrain Response system than changes the vehicle's characteristics to suit the terrain, including the throttle response and traction control systems. However, unlike its larger Discovery 4 sibling it does not have either low ratio gears nor air suspension for adjustable ride-height, but it does have an improved version of the Hill Descent Control system first seen on the original Freelander.

I have the Defender for heavy-duty off road use, but the Freelander 2 got its wheels muddy from time-to-time, generally giving demonstration drives to people who don't believe it's as good off road as it is, strolling casually up and down muddy, slippery slopes on road tyres.

Land Rovers are built for towing, and I had a Witter detachable tow bar installed with plug-in (13-pin) electrics. With a trailer attached the trailer stability system is activated, the rear parking sensors are deactivated, and it feels as though other aspects of the vehicle's performance is modified to suit. I haven't towed much, but it made short-work of my trailer and a friend's caravan - but with a two-ton towing capacity that isn't really a surprise.

On the road, it is a fairly tall vehicle and it does lean a bit in corners, but never disconcertingly so and I've been able to hustle it along twist back-roads without any concern: at the end of the day it's a 4x4 and not a sportscar, but it's no slouch either and can hold its own in urban traffic. The 2.2 litre diesel engine is a little old now and some have described it as noisy or coarse, but it's certainly not intrusive and there's very little in the way of disturbance from vibration even on the coldest of mornings.

On the subject of cold mornings, there are some nice touches that really help: the windscreen and door mirrors are heated, as are the driver and front passenger seats, and there's a winter-park setting for the windscreen wipers that leaves them on the heated part of the screen. Once underway, the heating system is very effective with warm air coming out of the vents in just a few miles at urban speeds which is very welcome.

When I did the initial review on the loan car in 2011 I wasn't sure whether I'd buy one or not, and of course I did. It's still a much more complex vehicle than the original Freelander, but the technology is applied well and genreally not intrusive. The only disappointment is the manually adjustable driver's seat which caused me a problem on anything more than a short journey. I enquired about upgrading the seat to one with lumbar support, but apparently that's not possible.

The driver's seat is the most important one in the vehicle, yet the other seats are more supportive. The previous Freelander 2s I've driven have also been XS spec. and have had electrically adjustable seats with lumbar support, so when buying this XS it came a surprise that the seats were lacking in support. I don't generally suffer from a bad back, but the Freelander 2s have given me one, which is a pain (all too literally).

As a result my time as a Freelander 2 owner was brief, and just over a year after buying it it has been sold. It was a lovely car with lots to like, but ultimately the driver's seat was the deal-breaker and it had to go.

Its replacement has arrived, and it's one that I've already reviewed on this 'blog: a Land Rover Discovery Sport.

Test Drive: Land Rover Discovery 4

In 1989 Land Rover launched the original Discovery model. Based heavily on the Range Rover it was intended as a "lifestyle" vehicle, and had a bright blue interior designed by Conran. Times change and the Discovery has matured in to a more traditional and up-market 4x4; now, twenty-seven years on, the current Discovery is coming to the end of production with its replacement due later this year.

Although branded as Discovery 4, it's arguably only the second generation as the original and Series II versions were mechanically very similar, and the Discovery 4 is an evolution of the Discovery 3, which was launched in 2004, using the same body and chassis but with a more upmarket interior, and the engines have also evolved and improved during production.

The exterior design is striking, and there is little else on the road that looks like it. I remember seeing the original press photos of the Discovery 3 and being unsure as to whether I like it or not, and even now I'm still not sure. The shape of the rear window is designed to echo the design of the previous Discovery, which had its spare wheel mounted on a side-opening rear door. As the Discovery 3's rear door is a split Range Rover style up-and-down tailgate, with the spare wheel slung underneath, I can't help feeling that it looks a little awkward, as though the designers included it for a reason they couldn't quite recall, or perhaps because "we've always done it that way".

As a result, I've always thought the rear design was crying out for a spare wheel to be mounted there, and needless to say there are third-party accessory manufacturers who have products to let you do just that.

The square, vertical theme continues inside and also feels a bit dated despite having evolved during its production; which might be part of the problem as different features and styles of control have been fitted or modified, and have moved around the console at various points.

The version I have been driving is the Landmark, one of two versions currently available; the other being the lower specification Graphite. All UK models are fitted with a 3.0 SDV6 Euro 6 engine and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, height adjustable air suspension, high and low range transfer box and locking centre diff with Land Rover's excellent Terrain Response system (the Discovery 3 was the first to be fitted with it).

Climbing aboard, the Landmark's Windsor leather seats are supremely comfortable, if a little narrow. They adjust electrically in almost every possible way, with separate front and rear height adjustment, lumbar support, fore and aft and of course seat back rake. The bolsters can also be adjusted in or out to support you laterally. Adjustment of the steering wheel is also electrical, and with the memory pack once you've found your ideal seating position the car will return to it at the touch of a button, including your preferred exterior mirror settings.

The instrument panel will be familiar if you have driven almost any recent Land Rover (apart from Defender). An electronic screen sits between the speedometer and rev counter and shows engine temperature and fuel, plus a plethora of other information. However, unlike the screen in my Freelander 2 and Discovery Sport, the screen is monochrome and fairly low resolution, but the information is presented clearly and includes sat nav directions which is helpful.

A lot of the controls look and feel familiar from Freelander 2 and other Land Rovers, but with some inconsistencies such as the headlights being controlled via a knob on the dashboard instead of the stalk. The Discovery 3 was designed during the Ford era, and I knew I'd heard the indicator tick-tock somewhere before: in a Ford Transit. This is an observation; not a criticism.

Details aside, with the engine running the cabin is a very calm place to be. There's plenty of sound insulation so the engine is well muted, and you can chose your own audio accompanyment from the Meridian sound system which includes a TV, DAB radio and an iPod connection. I lost count of the number of speakers around the cabin, but the sub certainly makes its presence felt. Rear seat passengers have their own screens mounted in the back from the front seat head restraints, and an infrared remote control allows them to control the system from there too.

On the subject of the rear seats, there are three separate rear (second row) seats that can be folded individually either flat for additional load space or rolled forward for access to the third row seats. Discovery 4 is a full seven-seat vehicle, and even full-sized adults can sit comfortably in the rearmost seats. Those third row seats fold flat in to the floor of the boot when not required, although they are a little fiddly to deploy and stow. With the seats stowed the boot space is cavernous, and I can't reach far enough in to the car from the drop-down tailgate to touch the second row of seats. There is also a pair of cubby holes in the boot for small oddments, and a large space behind the rear trim, although this is not lined so you won't want to put anything sharp or solid in there as it'll rattle or damage the metalwork.

As with several other Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, the gear selector rises out of the centre console when you start the engine. Turning it to Drive and pressing the accelerator releases the electric parking brake (with a bit of a judder) and you are on your way. There's no denying that it is a heavy vehicle, but it still manages to have reasonable performance and the air suspension deals with body-roll very well indeed for something so tall.

I haven't had the opportunity to take this car off road, but I did try a Discovery 4 at the Land Rover Experience in 2010 and its off-road credentials are well deserved. Even on road tyres the wet, muddy and slippery conditions didn't seem to cause it any concern, and the Terrain Response system combined with Hill Descent Control were far better at maintaining control than the human behind the wheel. With the air suspension in off-road mode the wading depth of the Discovery 4 is 700mm, and should you run out of ground clearance the system will detect this and give you an extra inch to be able to reverse out again.

At the other end of the scale, the air suspension can be lowered in the Access Mode to help you slip under height bars or in to multistory car parks. Or just to help you get in and out of the car.

On road there is a floatyness to the ride that might cause some people a degree of motion-sickness, but it stays well away from wallowey, and even on moderately twisty B-roads the Discovery 4 remained composed. In terms of performance it's obviously no sportscar, but I was able to hustle it
around the Milton Keynes roundabout obstacle course with enthusiasm, and it certainly held its own against a couple of executive saloons - but the fuel economy really doesn't appreciate that sort of behaviour. That said, on a cross-country run involving a mixture of A and B-roads with some dual-carriageway work I managed to achieve an average of 30mpg.

A relatively recent addition the Discovery 4 is stop-start, ostensibly to improve economy and reduce emissions. It works on the brake, and as you come to a halt the engine stops, bursting back in to life as you lift your foot off and back to the accelerator. Overall it works well, although there is a noticable, almost intrusive, shudder on restart. Another measure to improve its emissions is the addition of "diesel exhaust fluid" (AKA AdBlue), which reduces the nitrogen oxide emissions.

There are other disappointments around the car in terms of fit and finish. Both the driver's door and the upper portion of the tailgate are reluctant to close and need a firm hand. And frequently a second attempt. There is a large plastic unit, containing the alarm sensors, mounted on the ceiling which rattles; putting a hand on it stops it. This is a £54k car: doors should close easily and there should not be rattly plastic alarm sensors.

It is undoubetdle an impressive vehicle, but one that is all too obviously reaching the end of its production life. It is the last of the square-era Land Rovers and parked alongside its newer siblings it looks slightly awkward and out of place. Whatever comes next in Discovery 5 will be well worth looking at, and I hope to get the opportunity to drive and review in due course.

Having recently bought a Discovery Sport I did seriously consider the Discovery 4, but I simply don't need something that large. Having had a week with a Discovery 4 did I make the right decision in buying the Sport? Yes.