It started with giggling from the back: "We can see out of this one really well!" shouted my 3-year-old niece, amazed by the panoramic view afforded by the back windows of this Freelander2.
It sports Land Rover's family look, which means design cues shared with its flasher Discovery and Range Rover siblings.
The Freelander's cabin may be clad in pedestrian plastic rather than up-market leather; may be a simpler, more affordable place to sit, but its chunky lines and ergonomics are Land Rover through and through, right down to a modified Terrain Response dial to instantly set the best traction set-up for varying road and off-road conditions.
Very few people will take this car off-road. Far more will load child seats, kids, nappy bags and buggies aboard to go shopping or to the zoo, and it's those owners who will most appreciate its family-friendly roominess and reasonably compact footprint. Not to mention the seven airbags, climate control and cruise control and great view from those big windows. Rear vision is better than the average SUV's, though a rear park warning is standard.
Families will also approve of the re-engineered 2.2-litre diesel engine, mated to a second-generation Asin Warner auto. Power is 140 or 110kW, depending on specification, with 420Nm torque either way. Buy the higher-powered car and zero to 100km/h time improves from 10.4 to 9.1 seconds - an accelerative advantage that comes with a $3000 premium on the $65,990 (SE spec) or $77,990 (HSE) price. But Land Rover says the higher-powered engine doesn't charge a fuel penalty, due partly to smart charging of the battery whenever the vehicle slows, rather than as it accelerates.
Meanwhile, Freelander's fully independent suspension does a reasonable job of body control on bendy back roads and imparts confidence on a wide range of road conditions.
Our brief drive revealed an excellent family wagon. That it's also reasonably capable off-road, as you expect from a Land Rover, is a bonus few owners will appreciate beyond ski roads and boat ramps. Land Rover NZ brand manager Gary Upson says the two-wheel-drive variant is available to order, but the few inquiries so far dried up on hearing it's manual-only.
Iconic style in a practical family-friendly format
We don't like
Bluetooth hands-free phone kit adds $1650 to the price
2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, 140kW at 4000rpm and 420Nm at 2000rpm, six-speed auto drives all four wheels
Seven airbags, stability control, hill descent and gradient release control, roll stability control, rear park control
What it's got
Climate control, cruise control, leather seats, 17-inch alloy s, rain sensing wipers, single CD player with aux
4500mm long, 755/1670-litre boot,68-litre tank, tows 2000kg