Fleet News

Land Rover Freelander vs Nissan X-trail vs Subaru Forester

Land Rover

Review

If you have user-chooser drivers in your company, it's a fair bet that you will have several sport utility vehicles on your fleet.

Despite the fact their aerodynamics and four-wheel drive hardware count against them in fuel economy and emissions terms, they offer employees the chance to drive something different from the run-of-the-mill saloons and hatchbacks.

And this need to stand out in the company car park has created a booming market sector for vehicle manufacturers, with a host of models now available.

Since Land Rover's Freelander arrived on the market in 1997 it has been the sector's number one seller, combining an aspirational badge with chunky looks and an incredibly capable four-wheel drive system which means it can, should the driver need, go anywhere (within reason).

But the Freelander is not having things all its own way nowadays. The Japanese in particular have cottoned on to this market sector and have launched their own interpretations of the Freelander. Toyota gave us the RAV4, Honda the CR-V, Nissan the X-trail and Subaru has taken a slightly left-field stance with the Forester, more estate car than traditional chunky SUV. Despite their different ways of going about things, all the manufacturers have come up with a simple recipe. Build it big and chunky, give if four-wheel drive and price it below £20,000 for most versions.

And all three cars in our test offer a lot of car for the money, not only in the amount of metal you get but also for the level of standard equipment offered.

The X-trail is the cheapest car to buy here, undercutting the Subaru by £200 and the Freelander by £500. But the Nissan loses its advantage in residual value terms, despite CAP predicting it will retain 38% of its cost new after three-years/60,000-miles. The RV king in this sector is the Freelander – predicted to retain 42% – and it helps the Land Rover to record the lowest depreciation costs of our trio.

The Forester is just behind the Freelander, with CAP predicting it to retain 41% of its cost new.

In servicing, maintenance and repair costs, all three are very evenly matched (the gap between first and third is just 0.04 pence per mile), so at this stage in proceedings the Freelander is ahead by a nose. But its poor fuel economy showing proves to be its undoing and blunts its challenge for a running costs victory.

Because of its weight and design, the Freelander averages 27.3mpg on the combined cycle, leading to a fuel cost of 13.98ppm. The X-trail fares slightly better, returning an average of 30.4mpg for a fuel cost of 12.56ppm.

In fuel costs, the Subaru wins out easily – it averages 33.2mpg and its fuel cost is 11.50ppm – nearly 2.5ppm better than the Freelander. In the final reckoning, the Subaru emerges as the clear winner in wholelife cost terms on 30.85ppm with the X-trail in second on 32.67ppm and the Freelander third on 33.11ppm.

And it is not only on running costs that the Forester scores an impressive victory. It is also the best of the bunch in terms of emissions, resulting in lower company car tax bills for drivers.

Despite its size and weight, the Subaru's CO2 emissions are an impressive 204g/km which puts it in the 24% of P11d value band for benefit-in-kind tax for 2003/04. That means a tax bill of £79 per month for a 22% tax-payer, compared with £91 a month for the X-trail and £107 for the Freelander.

However, the Subaru does not fit into the strict SUV design brief in the way the X-trail and Freelander do, and some drivers may decide that the Forester is not enough of an SUV for them to stand out in the company car park.

Land Rover Freelander 1.8 GS

UNDISPUTED market leader has been on the compact SUV scene since 1997, offering permanent four-wheel drive and the Land Rover badge.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £18,815
CO2 emissions (g/km): 248
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 33%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 27.3
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,875/42%
Depreciation (16.34 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,804
Maintenance (2.79 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,674
Fuel (13.98 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,388
Wholelife cost (33.11 pence per mile x 60,000): £19,866
Typical contract hire rate: £339 per month

Nissan X-trail 2.0 Sport

SELLING well following its launch last year, the X-trail aims to offer less of a compromise than traditional SUVs with estate car-like practicality.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £17,815
CO2 emissions (g/km): 221
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 30.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £6,750/38%
Depreciation (17.32 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,392
Maintenance (2.79 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,674
Fuel (12.56 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,536
Wholelife cost (32.67 pence per mile x 60,000): £19,602
Typical contract hire rate: £333 per month

Subaru Forester 2.0 X AWP

AN estate or an SUV? Subaru claims its Forester will go anywhere its SUV rivals can and offers a pukka dual-range transmission. Doesn't look as trendy though.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £18,065
CO2 emissions (g/km): 204
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 24%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 33.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,400/41%
Depreciation (16.60 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,960
Maintenance (2.75 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,650
Fuel (11.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,900
Wholelife cost (30.85pence per mile x 60,000): £18,510
Typical contract hire rate: £394 per month

  • Land Rover Freelander 1.8 GS 5dr

    THE Land Rover Freelander has spent five years as king of the compact SUV market but despite minor cosmetic changes and a new diesel and V6 a little more than two years ago, nothing else has changed.

    Designed and built when Land Rover was firmly entrenched in the BMW-owned Rover group, the only cars in its sights were the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, both of which have been substantially updated since then.

    Despite having perhaps the most desirable badge in its sector, it is also in the firing line of a new crop of SUVs, for which on-road performance and being easy to live with are high priorities. How the Freelander fits the bill compared to its group test rivals proves to be its undoing.

    Although the high driving position would be welcomed by many, some of the switches are obscured by the steering wheel and the ergonomics are decidedly out of date. Should we really have two separate push-button switches for rear window wash and wiper?

    And while the Freelander was praised for its nimble on-road behaviour when it was launched, it feels the least composed of the three cars in this test. It wallows when cornering at medium to high speeds, although the ride quality is decent and there is plenty of grip.

    Short first and second gears make up for the lack of any 'dual-range' transmission, and also makes the Freelander quite sprightly around town. The cars were tested at a proper off-road venue and the Freelander felt the most at home. Although this is tame stuff compared to what it might be capable of if exploited to the full, it was rather reassuring.

    At a glance

    For

  • Land Rover badge
  • Compact dimensions
  • Good off-road

    Against

  • Average on-road
  • High BIK liability
  • Cluttered switchgear

  • Nissan X-trail 2.0 Sport

    NISSAN'S X-trail moved the goalposts for ride and handling in the SUV sector when it was launched last year.

    Recognising that most drivers do not buy this type of vehicle for off-road ability, the X-trail was designed to slot in the line-up below the heavy-duty Terrano and Patrol. There is a four-wheel drive system, but for most of the time the X-trail runs in front-wheel drive mode. Even when you push the four-wheel drive button on the console, the rear wheels only come in when the fronts begin to slip.

    For really difficult conditions there is a differential lock, but don't expect the X-trail to go anywhere. Fitted with normal road tyres, as our test car was, it failed to scale a moderate incline to take its position for a planned group photograph.

    However, on the road the X-trail acquits itself very well, although with peak torque of 142lb-ft coming in at 4,000rpm you need to rev the engine to get the best out of the car, which hurts fuel consumption.

    The X-trail is reluctant to lean when facing challenging corners, although while the Freelander wallows and grips gamely, the Nissan tends to scrub off the excess speed with a hefty dose of understeer.

    The interior is one of the cleverest of any car on the market, let alone the SUV sector. The main instruments are located in the centre of the dashboard, angled towards the driver (like the Primera) and the CD/radio/cassette player is flanked by two chilled can holders.

    The electric sunroof is enormous and the rear compartment offers great headroom and legroom. The seats are covered in an a wipe-clean fabric and reflect the general robust feel of the car.

    At a glance

    For

  • Youthful image
  • Interior space
  • Clever design features

    Against

  • Unconvincing off-road
  • Engine needs revving
  • Thirst for fuel

  • Subaru Forester 2.0 X AWP

    MOST people in the market for an SUV probably wouldn't give the Forester a second glance if looks are all important.

    But the mild-mannered estate car appearance hides seven inches of ground clearance, the shortest wheelbase in this comparison, permanent four-wheel drive and a dual-range transmission.

    Inside you do feel loftier than in a normal estate, but you don't get the commanding view that you might find in the X-trail or Freelander.

    The latest Forester has a number of improvements over the previous car and, fitted with the all-weather pack, more or less matches the X-trail on price and equipment. Where the X-trail has a six-CD autochanger and chilled can holders, the Forester makes do with a single CD player, but has heated seats and metallic paint – both have climate control, an electric sunroof and various other goodies absent from the Freelander spec sheet. Cruise control is also standard. The seats are covered in a hard-wearing fabric and the centre console has an expensive-looking metallic finish.

    The Forester is 160mm lower than the X-trail and 120mm lower than the Freelander, and combined with the low centre-of-gravity characteristics of a 'boxer' engine (four cylinders horizontally opposed) is easily the most nimble of the three.

    Body roll is almost non-existent while the steering feels the most communicative of the three. It grips well and while it will understeer on the limit, this can be easily adjusted to a four-wheel drift if the driver feels so inclined.

    On the downside, the gearchange feels notchy, sometimes needing a patient and firm hand, and the frameless windows generate too much wind noise.

    At a glance

    For

  • Car-like handling
  • Good fuel economy/emissions
  • Well equipped

    Against

  • Looks like an estate
  • High-speed wind noise
  • Notchy gearchange

    Verdict

    THE Freelander and X-trail are evenly matched on image and costs, sporting rugged SUV looks along with some four-wheel drive ability. Although the Forester will do just about everything the other two do off-road, it doesn't quite offer the same experience of sitting high above the other traffic. But its clear and convincing victory on running costs, lowest benefit-in-kind tax liability, along with the car-like driving experience, make it our choice, with the X-trail nudging ahead of the Freelander for second place.

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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