It is an accepted fact that the entry-level SUVs from most manufacturers even in the luxury segment are just pseudo, built mainly for show with minimal off-roading capabilities. Land Rover,though, uses a slightly different approach;the Freelander 2 is twice as good and from our recent experience at the 19 Degree North in Amby Valley, virtually free to travel anywhere on land.
I have driven more than a couple of luxury SUVs on off-road tracks, but the one at Amby Valley is different. Thing is, the usual demonstration tracks are carefully laid out specifically for the select vehicles to highlight their performance and hide the drawbacks. The venue for Land Rover Experience though was no artificial track; we went for a drive on a wild trail through some natural hurdles including rock beds, river crossings, steep inclines and declines on extremely lose surface.There were narrow stretches with trees on both sides, and not the ones planted for beautification, trees, as in forest, with entwined braches that would scratch the paint off these Rs 50 lakh+ cars.
This was a customer-centric drive and we had instructors; one in each of the six cars. The drive started with a downhill section that tested the Hill Descent Control, and it made things look really simple. Set the target speed, get off the brake and accelerator and the car starts descending without fuss, irrespective of the surface. In our case, it was a mix of loose soil and stones, and we could feel the ABS individually applying brakes to different wheels finding traction where it was non-existent. Of course, Land Rover’s renowned terrain response system was working, set to Grass/Gravel/Snow Mode for this first bit of the session.
The following uphill gradients were even more complicated with dips just before the start and blind turns right at the top. The well designed approach angle and departure angle saw us through at places that would otherwise takeout both the bumpers in an instant. The Hill Descent had to give up on one of the slopes though and I had to manually manoeuvre the car by riding the brakes; don’t think badly about the system here – this is the kind of place where no vehicle is ever supposed to go in the first place. The Freelander not only made it down trouble free (let us not talk about my blood pressure), but without any modifications and in lot lesser time than I anticipated.
It was soon time to switch to Mud & Ruts Mode for water wading and the rock bed; since it wasn’t monsoon, the water level wasn’t much and going through would have been possible in any SUV with decent ground clearance – that is, if they could also tackle the rocky surface below. We were in and out without any problem, though driving with wet tyres at an angle seemed like a serious issue. But no, constant throttle, zero steering input and we were on the other side in no time.
By now it must be amply clear that the Freelander 2 would have cleared every obstacle in its way. Of course it did, but that is not the only point, the absolute mockery it made of few was beyond expectations. And I can’t even take credit for my experience as an auto journalist; every customer who was part of the drive successfully completed it without any hiccup. The customers were overjoyed, most didn’t expect the capabilities to be anywhere close to what they got to experience in the standard cars. It also gave them confidence to go back and use their own cars a little more freely.
We can go on about the drive and experience for some more time, but words won’t be enough to exactly explain the details. Keeping it simple, the Freelander 2 is an astonishingly good SUV, especially considering this is the entry-level model in Land Rover’s line up. They say ‘pictures say thousand words’ so here are a few from Ranjan to give you an even better perspective.