In a car the size of a Metro, that may be a little over the top. None of the five passengers suffered more than superficial injuries.
Later, for the benefit of photographers, another A-class was blasted around cones on a dry track in Germany and got up on two wheels. The new A-class – the “Baby Benz” – has been an unmitigated PR disaster for a company which hitherto has been as cushioned from bad publicity as most of its owners are from poverty. How the mighty fall – or, in this case, roll. Mercedes-Benz, a motoring exemplar that stands for solidity, safety and “engineering like no other car in the world”, has had its latest model exposed for tipping over at only 40mph, and for being about as steady as Jeffrey Bernard after a session at the Coach and Horses.
But no rival 4×4 is as solid or as civilised, whether in looks or demeanour. Why it has taken so long is hard to fathom, but if you want a compact off-roader you won’t find a better one than this.Freelander Station Wagon diSpecificationsPrice: pounds 18,995. Engine: 1,998cc turbodiesel, four cylinders, eight valves, 97bhp at 4,200rpm Five-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive Top speed 96mph, 0-60 in 14.6sec. Fuel consumption: 32-37mpg.RivalsHonda CR-V, pounds 17,020: Car-like driving qualities, but lacks substance. No diesel.Jeep Cherokee 2.5 TD Sport, pounds 19,495: Square-cut and dated.Subaru Forester, pounds 16,400: Not as capable off-road but surprisingly sporty.Suzuki Vitara 2.0 V6 5-door, pounds 16,200: Refined engine but conceptually crude.Toyota RAV4 GX five-door, pounds 17,463: Lively performance but lacks substance.Vauxhall Frontera 2.8 TD Estate, pounds 20,640: Big diesel engine, but slower and much cruder than Freelander..
Neat details abound, such as a high-level brake-light mounted on a stalk and shaped as a Land Rover badge, and rear lights held on with chunky screws like those on Farmer Giles’s Defender. As you might expect, there’s a big range of Freelander accessories of what you might call a lifestyle nature.The Freelander is not perfect: it gets stuffy without the optional air conditioning, there’s no seat-height adjustment, the horn is feeble and the dashboard looks dated. Still, I doubt if many owners will get to the stage where they rue this failing.This smallest Land Rover comes in two body shapes: a five-door estate car and a three-door which looks shorter, but isn’t. Both have bash-proof plastic front wings, and the three-door has novel sloping rear pillars between which can fit either a soft convertible top, or a solid roof.