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Land Rover will give the compact SUV market another try for 2007 when it replaces the slow-selling Freelander sport-ute with a new entry that grows bigger and more powerful but alphanumerically shorter into a new nameplate, LR2.
The outgoing Freelander has been a problem child in the U.S. Land Rover lineup from the day it joined up in 2001. Already out in Europe since the late 1990s, the Freelander went on sale in America halfway through its life cycle, seeming dated and small next to the grand Range Rover. Worse, no market really existed for premium compact SUVs, and Land Rover lacked the marketing clout to convince shoppers that smaller, richer SUVs were a reasonable alternative to mid- and full-size utes in an era of $1-a-gallon gas.
Now, with gas prices rising, SUV buyers are shifting their sights to smaller crossovers. And as it hits the market, the LR2 will have some high-profile competition to help it draw attention to the whole notion of downsized utes with full-sized off-road capability. The compact-luxury SUV segment is predicted to grow as large as 500,000 units a year in short order with the arrivals of the LR2, the new Acura RDX, yet-unnamed Audi and VW compact utes, and the continuing presence of the BMW X3.
Big brother at work
The LR2 visually succeeds with styling derived from the Range Rover Sport, though it also bears a passing resemblance to the Ford Freestyle, the Honda CR-V, and even the outgoing Freelander, though side by side it’s clearly thicker and more grounded than its more delicate predecessor.