ASHISH MASIH

It has an edge in terms of off-road abilities and luxurious interior. Ashish Masih on Land Rover Freelander 2, the new SUV in town

Talk about a tough gig. When you belong to the same family that has given the world the first luxury SUV, then expectations are obviously going to be sky high. Add to that the fact that your main rival is an Audi product that is selling well doesn't help matters either. That's probably how the Freelander 2, Land Rover's compact SUV which goes on sale this month, feels about itself. It sure has its work cut out in the Indian market.

The Freelander 2 looks attractive from the front with its bold headlamps, big grille, sharp detailing and an upright no-nonsense stance.

There's just one engine on offer — a 158bhp 2.2-litre diesel — which is as quiet at idle as any in the class. Power feels a bit flat at low revs but there's plenty of punch once the turbocharger kicks in, and there is loads of pulling power as well. Power is transmitted via a six-speed auto.

The car is also reasonably quick off the mark, getting from 0-100kph in 11.20sec. Though refinement levels are decent, the engine does get a bit noisy towards the higher end of its rev range.

The Freelander 2 is brilliant at ironing out bumps on the road and is one of the best-riding SUVs we've driven. It delivers a ride quality that manages to absorb patch-worked roads with great ease.

Although the body leans as you turn into a corner, the car normally feels composed. The steering is accurate, but could do with a bit more weight and feel at higher speeds. You also get Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which lets you optimise the car for different surface conditions via a simple rotary knob. This system adjusts not only the four-wheel-drive system but also the throttle and gearbox as well. You also get other useful features such as hill descent, where the brakes automatically come into effect when coming down a steep gradient. Great features for off-road fans.

Step inside the Freelander's cabin and the high-set driving position and flat bonnet give you excellent forward vision, making it easy to place the car on the road. Rear vision is great too due to the immense amount of glass at the rear.

The black-on-black centre console buttons can be difficult to tell apart at a glance. However, you do get a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustments, which will ensure that even the tallest drivers will manage to find a comfortable position easily.

Front seat occupants get plenty of head and legroom. Rear seat occupants sit high as well but knee space is not adequate in the rear.

The boot is small compared to rivals and suffers from wheel arch intrusion, and the high floor means you might struggle to lift heavy items in. The rear seats do split and fold 60/40 though, and they lay usefully flat.

Overall, the Freelander 2 has a clear edge in terms of off-road abilities and luxurious interior.

It's also cheaper than the Audi Q5 by around Rs. 8 lakh, making it seem like good value as well.

But overall, it isn't necessarily the better alternative.

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