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Economy drive is the future.

Byline: CHRIS RUSSON

THE first two-wheel-drive Land Rover goes on sale in January, signalling a significant change in strategy for the legendary off-road car maker.

Shifting focus from performance to economy will see the latest Freelander capable of averaging 47.1mpg - the most fuel efficient Land Rover in the company's 62-year history.

Driven only by the front wheels, the Freelander eD4 becomes the eco-champion of the great British brand, whose slogan is the Best 4x4 By Far.

But sceptics who thought the shift would cause the new Land Rover to lose its all-terrain credentials can think again.

Not only is the new Freelander among the cleanest SUVs in the world with CO2 emissions down to 158g/km, it is surprisingly capable off-road - although the driving technique is somewhat different.

With the forthcoming rise in VAT to 20 per cent, the new Freelander will cost from around pounds 22,000 - making it the cheapest Land Rover on the market at pounds 750 less than its 4x4 TD4 counterpart.

On the road you would hardly notice any difference, although changes to the 2.2-litre diesel engine to create more economy across the whole Freelander range have resulted in a lot more power at low revs.

Performance figures for the two wheel drive Freelander are the same as the 4x4 with a 0 to 60 time of 11.6 seconds and top speed of 112mph, but the drive is now more refined.

The eD4 is available only as a six-speed manual and comes with a stop/start system as standard.

That energy-saving feature was launched on the current Freelander a couple of years ago and the latest system has been improved to speed-up restarting and make the whole operation smoother and quieter.

Brake energy regeneration, which recharges the batteries once the throttle is lifted, is also fitted as a further ecodevice.

Although the eD4 is very much aimed at drivers who want to enjoy the feel and practicality of an SUV but who don't need to venture off-road, the new Freelander lacks little of Land Rover's heavy duty reputation.

There may be no low ratio gears, hill descent control or Land Rover's Terrain Response computerised drive system, but there is some beefy traction control which is the eD4's secret weapon.

With its body and suspension the same as all other Freelanders, the two wheel drive is just as sturdy and has plenty of ground clearance.

Using maximum power in harsh conditions brings all the electronic traction systems into play and the eD4 can pull across very rough terrain.

It has the same wading ability and can climb and descend rocky trails, as was proved during our drive of the eD4 at Land Rover's Spanish off-road centre near Barcelona.

The eD4 will satisfy most people's off-road needs and has enough grunt to pull a two tonne braked trailer.

While the 4x4 versions remain the genuine article, the newcomer is well placed to exploit the 23 per cent of SUV buyers who go for two-wheel-drive models.

It also brings the Freelander below the 160g/km CO2 threshold, making it much more attractive to business users.

The new drive configuration is hugely important to Land Rover and will also feature on the new Range Rover Evoque which will be built alongside the Freelander at Halewood on Merseyside.

Such is the technology used on the eD4 it is now more economical than a Lexus RX450 hybrid.

In fact the engine improvements also see the 150bhp TD4 Freelander better the hybrid with average fuel consumption up eight per cent to 45.6mpg.

Auto versions average a claimed 40.4, the same as the higher output 190bhp diesel used in the range topping Freelander sD4, which now has CO2 emissions of 185g/km.

Cosmetically, the latest Freelanders have a new grille, bumpers and redesigned headlamps which give the vehicle a squatter stance from the front.

At the rear there is now a chrome strip across the tailgate while the tail lamps are also jazzed up.

Even the Land Rover badge has received a new look with the name now picked out in silver as opposed to gold.

CAPTION(S):

TWO-WHEEL-DRIVE ECONOMY: The Land Rover Freelander eD4 SIGNIFICANT BOOST: The wraps come off the new five-door version of the Range Rover Evoque at the Los Angeles Motor Show next week
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 12, 2010
Words:720
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