02 September 2009

If Mike and Mal Could See Us Now

OUTthere 63


Can a lightweight, soft-roader cut it outback? The All Torque team saddled up three little Land Rover Freelander 2s and disappeared into the middle of Queensland. We surprised ourselves. You might too.

Away from the city, past even the furthest outer suburbs is 4WD land. For over 90 per cent of off-road owners, it is a mystical place full of tall tales and legend, where men can be boys and boys can be men.

In the yard of the Land Rover dealer in Brisbane’s busy Fortitude Valley, we unfurled the Drive Queensland tourist map and plotted our course taking us past the iconic outback town of Longreach and into the vast unbroken paddocks along the dingo fence and marked with tantalising red warnings like, “drivers do so at their own risk” and “travellers should advise police of their intentions”. Excellent!

Armed with a keen sense of adventure, spare tyres and extra water, we set off in three brand new compact Land Rover Freelander 2s to test the comfy little 4WD’s ability to match our enthusiasm. The new $50k Freelander has the latest confidence-enhancing electronic driver aids, seven airbags, fulltime 4WD and a fuel economy that won’t break the bank, especially the thrifty little turbo diesel.

The smart 6-speed automatic transmission which the Land Rover hype department calls CommandShift™, does manual sequential gear changes with a driver-selectable sports mode. It comes standard across the range. Cool.

By the end of a long day at the wheel, we were outback, reminded by the necessity to stay vigilant in the failing light for marsupials with appalling road sense, several of whom barely escaped conversion to crow food.

The next day was a whole new world, waking to choruses of crows and magpies in the crisp country air of Charleville. We headed out through rough cattle country leaving satisfying trails of dust, stopping occasionally to open (and close!) gates and pulling up for Cornettos at godforsaken little stores that often required going in search of the owner to complete the transaction. My favourite line, “Do you take Amex?” always got a hearty laugh. This is the outback!

In the 2000-something kilometres we travelled, the little showroom-standard Freelander 2s performed flawlessly. There was the mandatory flooded creek crossing, sand dune bogging, rocky hillclimb and even a bit of wild horse mustering. We weathered countless jibes aimed at our lurid, metallic painted soft-roaders from crusty locals at the many dusty saloons along the way. Clearly the venerable Land Rover had slipped in their estimation in recent years, but that didn’t stop them from coming out for a butcher’s at the little runabouts.

“Nah, ain’t got them things on the troopie mate,” said Mick, the no-nonsense licensee of the Windorah pub out of the slightly curling corner of his mouth, “don’t think you’d sell too many seat warmers out ‘ere.”

So ended our little Leyland Brothers remake (yes, they used Land Rovers once) and we handed back our trusty, mud-splattered mounts with all the hair-shirted satisfaction of knowing we went where no mere sedan could possibly follow.

Liked:

* Remarkably good off road manners, sturdy chassis
* Arsenal of electronic aids and safety enhancements
* Frugal diesel – expect 6l/100km (country) when driven carefully

If we were picky:

* Limitations with underbody clearance excludes really heavy work
* Petrol a bit thirsty for city work (15.8L/100km)

Test Vehicles:

Land Rover Freelander 2 Si6 SE and Td4 SE
3.2-litre i6 petrol (171 kW), 2.2-litre TD4 diesel (118 kW)
6-speed auto, with CommandShift
Full time intelligent four-wheel drive
Si6 SE $49,990, Td4 SE $51.990 *
3 year/100,000 km warranty

Further information: www.landrover.com.au

* Price is a guide only, please refer to your Land Rover dealer for full pricing and options

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