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My left foot

Ah yes, the gap between theory and practice. Science and engineering are littered with examples. Land Rover may have just added to that list with the stop/start technology in their TD4_e.

A car that switches itself off when you come to a stop at a robot and then starts up again as soon as you step back on the clutch seems like a fairly decent idea, doesn’t it? As combustion engine operators, we know that green issues are now an important consideration and those 33 to 60 seconds worth of fuel and greenhouses gases you save can only be a good thing. Right?

Yes. In theory.

And it’s a theory the chaps at Land Rover have applied in the new Freelander TD4_e. (Yes, the underscore is correct). It’s the first SUV sporting such technology and, according to Land Rover, it emits less emission than any other Land Rover ever emitted.

Fantastic. So how does it all work in practice?

Very well actually, and that’s the problem. You see, what the Land Rover guys haven’t factored in is the way evolution (or God — apologies creationists) has wired the human brain. Or, at the very least, how it’s wired the Smith family brain. Firstly, it took three days of driving the car before I would remember to take my foot off the damn clutch (that’s it’s signal to switch off) at a robot or stop street. I’m just so used to sitting there with my left foot pressing down on the clutch when waiting for it to change to green.

That, however, was a minor problem compared to my own reflexes and, I suspect, those of the vast majority of drivers. Here’s the problem: when I’m driving a car — whether it’s stationary or not — if I ever hear the engine start to stumble, my immediate reaction is to stamp on the clutch to save it. And that’s exactly what it feels like when the “e” system kicks in. The engine doesn’t just silently click off. It’s a diesel so it kind of shimmies and shudders a little as it shuts down. So despite the huge effort it took to take my foot off the clutch when the car came to a halt, I could not for the life of me prevent myself stomping on the clutch as soon as I felt the shudder.

Stepping on the clutch when the engine feels like it’s faltering has been so hard-wired into my system that it’s become a reflex. My brain isn’t in the circuit anymore. Just like removing your hand from a hot stove, the impulse goes straight from limb to my spinal chord and back. I admit, this might just be my wiring, but sadly the system was completely wasted on me.

So I switched it off. I also switched off the little green light on the dashboard that’s supposed to tell you the optimal time to shift up through the manual gearbox in order to achieve the best fuel consumption. Not only did I find it something of a distraction from the more fundamental duty of looking where I’m going, but it’s way too fussy, requiring way too much left foot action for my liking.

And with all that out the way I proceeded to enjoy what’s actually a very capable soft-roader.

The 2,2-litre tdi engine is surprisingly enthusiastic providing both a diesel’s signature low-down torque as well as all-round nippiness. The ride is also firm enough to deal with this smile-inducing turn of speed, yet still well within the bounds of comfort to handle all the shopping and family without anything or anyone bouncing around inside.

With the Freelander 2, Land Rover upped its game, buried the dodgy reputation of its predecessor, and this latest model confirms that. The questionable electrics and iffy build quality are replaced by a rock-solid urban SUV that handles and goes way better than I expected. The trim levels are also top class — particularly impressive given that this was the bottom rung “S” spec (“e” tech only available in the “S”)

Verdict
Easy. One sentence. In its niche, it would be hard not to go for the Freelander, especially given its competitive pricing. You might just have to switch off the bladdy stop/start though. Ok, two sentences.

Fast facts
Land Rover Freelander TD4_e
Price
R377 500
Engine
2,2-litre turbo diesel, 4 cyl, 118kW, 400Nm
Performance (claimed)
0-100km/h in 11,7 sec, top speed 181km/h
Fuel consumption (claimed combined cycle)
7,5 litre/100km
Transmission
6-speed auto with Steptronic
Safety

  • Seven airbags. Front passengers get head/thorax and side airbags
  • Roll Stability Control system
  • DSC as standard
  • Electronic Traction Control and intelligent 4×4 system. Dynamic Stability
  • ABS

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