Impressive abilities off-road; smooth and swift on Tarmac, though it tends to lurch on bends and bumps and wind noise is a problem at speed
Great view and smart, user-friendly dashboard, with many features familiar from the Land Rover Discovery
Plenty of airbags, plus stability control as standard; 4WD car's All Terrain Response should keep you safe off-road, too
Land Rover's record isn't brilliant but JD Power survey 'average' is an improvement
Boot is small for the class and rear legroom is limited, too
Most trims are generously equipped
You don't have to spend your spare time chasing wildebeest across the Sahara to justify buying a Land Rover Freelander. Yes, it's the best compact SUV you can buy if you regularly plan to go off-road thanks to its clever mud-plugging technology (Land Rover's Terrain Response System is fitted on higher-spec versions and sets the car up for different road conditions with the simple tweak of a knob). However, it's also very comfortable on road, its smooth, limousine-like ride being the biggest highlight, although its soft suspension also means it tends to wallow on bends and bounce over crests and dips in the road. The Freelander isn't as refined as the best compact SUVs, though - its 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine tends to sound a little agricultural as speeds rise, at which point wind noise also increases considerably. The engine is available in two strengths, and even the lower-powered one is plenty quick enough for most needs. The Freelander is also available in two-wheel drive format for those who want the 4x4 looks without the hefty running costs.
Much of the Freelander's dashboard is virtually identical to its big brother, the Discovery, and it feels similarly robust and classy, especially with the seven-inch colour screen, while the controls are easy to find and use. The Freelander's high-set driving position and flat bonnet give excellent forward visibility and make it easy to place the car on the road. Rear vision is great, too, thanks to the large side and back windows. There's plenty of space for the front two occupants but kneeroom in the rear is considerably less generous. The boot is smaller than rivals', too, and it's quite high, so you may struggle to load heavy items. However, the seats fold almost flat if you need to expand the load bay for larger objects.
All Freelanders come with alloy wheels, air-con, a CD player and DAB radio. All four-wheel-drive models get Land Rover's Terrain Response System, while GS tim adds climate control, rear parking sensors and heated leather seats. XS cars bring sat nav, automatic lights and wipers, and an uprated stereo, while HSE cars come with a sunroof and more speakers.
Land Rover has a pretty poor reliability record but it showed some signs of improvement in the latest JD Power customer satisfaction survey, where the manufacturer was rated as average. A generous supply of airbags includes one for the driver's knees and curtain airbags for both rows of seats, and there's stability control as standard, but the Freelander hasn't been crash tested under Euro NCAP's current regime.
Where the Freelander excels is with the off-road abilities of its four-wheel-drive models, and its silky-smooth ride, making it particularly appealing to those with outward bound lifestyles or distant country retreats - as long as you don't need a big boot for your kit, that is. It's not the cheapest compact SUV, but second-hand ones are in demand so you should get a good price for it when you come to sell on. To keep running costs in check, manual versions have a stop-start system that cuts the engine when you're at a standstill to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The two-wheel-drive versions are more efficient but they're not in the same league as the super-clean BMW X3; in any case, if you don't need four-wheel-drive you'd do well to consider the many rivals that offer more in the way of space, practicality and driver enjoyment.