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Land Rover, the company that kick-started the off-road revolution over 60 years ago, that most rigidly muddy brand in the world, has just launched a two-wheel-drive Freelander, the eD4 – the motoring equivalent of Hunter wellies designing trainers.

 

If you’re a die-hard Landy fan, it’s a bit worrying, but a lot of customers now want the paradoxical two-wheel-drive SUV. In something like the Kia Sportage, 65 per cent of all sales are 2WD. Land Rover is being more conservative, and is hoping 20 per cent of Freelander sales will be this new eD4. Most will go to fleet customers because of the low 158g/km of CO2, and 47.2mpg – an improvement of 7g/km and 1.6mpg over the normal Freelander diesel.

 

It’s all part of a Freelander face-lift,so the eD4 gets the uprated 2.2-litreengine with 148bhp and 310lb ft, but because of the stop-start system,it’s only available with a manual ‘box. The 4WD Freelander also comes with a 188bhp diesel engine, but we can’t see much point. There’s more than enough power in the eD4, and overtaking is never an issue.

 

The odd thing is, a two-wheel-drive Land Rover makes a weird kind of sense. Even casting aside all the environmental arguments – lower CO2 emissions, better mpg, 75kg lighter kerb weight – it still works well enough on mud to justify the badge. We had a go around Land Rover’s off-road course (designed just for 4x4s, remember) and it was surprising what sort of slope the eD4 would still get up. Sure, we had to take a couple of runs at some hills which the 4WD version got up effortlessly, but the eD4 eventually made it.

 

The eD4 also struggled on the axle articulation test due to it only being FWD, but momentum was your friend there, and it muddled through. And this was a serious set of obstacles – a lot of Freelanders never even tackle so much as a muddy puddle.

 

The only other time you notice any difference between the two versions is when you really throw the eco model into a corner. Then, there’s a hint more understeer as the front tyres scrabble for grip, and the nose will push wider. But in all honesty, it’s marginal stuff. Besides, when was the last time you properly thrashed a Freelander?

 

They’re also visually virtually identical. The only interior change is the lack of the Terrain Response controller on the dash – outside, they look the same. There’s no large two-wheel-drive logo to let other roads users know you’d really rather not get muddy, thank you very much.

 

The price of this eco-friendlier Freelander? It starts from £21,995, which is £750 less than the four-wheel-drive version. Brand dilution is rarely a good thing, but it’s a struggle to see what the downside is here.

 

Piers Ward

We like: Lower emissions, smooth engine   We don’t like: Not a huge amount   TopGear verdict: You’d think a 2WD Freelander would be a mortal sin. This fine SUV proves otherwise   Performance: 0-62mph in 10.9secs, max 112mph, 47.2mpg   Tech: 2179cc, 4cyl, FWD, 148bhp, 310lb ft, 1710kg, 158g/km CO2   Tick this on the options list: Sparkle silver style 1 alloys, £665   And avoid this: Dark chestnut wood effect, £free

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