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The great debate

BMW and Land Rover. One is a topless sportscar. The other a dune-bashing SUV. Which one should you buy?

Vikrant Singh        Print Edition: February 7, 2010

Not too long back, going in for a second or a third car meant either buying another sedan or spending insane amounts on import duty for cars that were only available elsewhere. But now, as was evident from the plethora of new launches at the Auto Expo last month, you are spoilt for choice. In fact, you will be faced with a unique situation if you have Rs 50 lakh or thereabouts to spend—the growing rivalry between a swank and sturdy SUV and a sleek Roadster!

On the face of it, you couldn't have two cars so different from each other. While the former is primarily an off-roader that can double up as a family car, the latter is all about style and speed. And yet, they have certain commonalities—they share a similar price point, and they will never be your primary car. If you know which one you'll go for, then you don't need rescuing, but if you can't decide, we're here to help you make your decision. After all, with the entry of luxury cars in every category, both the options would draw envious stares, to say the least. Especially, if the cars in question are as emblematic of their respective categories as BMW's Z4 and Land Rover's Freelander 2. To put it in context, a little introduction is called for.

The BMW Z4 is a two-seater, gorgeous-looking convertible sportscar with classic proportions—a long hood, a negligible tail, and a sweptback cabin. It has also got the perfect mechanical ingredients—a 3-litre, 6-cylinder engine which pumps out over 300 bhp and drives the rear wheels. The Z4 then is ideal for indulging in endless drift sequences to not only get your pulses soaring, but also land you a part in the sequel of Tokyo Drift. And yes, it sounds heart-poundingly good, too; from a mute burble at lower revs the exhaust note changes to a cacophony of loud explosions and fierce roaring.

But the Z4 does have competition in the form of the Mercedes-Benz SLK. The SLK isn't as good looking, but in dynamic terms it comes pretty close. And the Merc also uses a front engine-rear wheel drive format, and, therefore, isn't short on fun either. The engine in question is a 3.5-litre V6 that generates power similar to the Z4, over 300 bhp at full clip.

The Land Rover Freelander 2, on the other hand, is for those who like to tower over the world and love dirt more than tarmac. But it's not a monstrous, lumbering giant that SUVs of yore used to be. It's sleek, manoeuvrable and more able on road than off it.

It's also a comfortable vehicle; the ride quality is plush and the insides are pretty roomy and well equipped. The Freelander also makes a good case for itself as a highway vehicle, thanks to its stability in a straight line at high speeds. The Audi Q5 and the BMW X3 are two SUVs it competes with in India. But the three road-going or soft-roaders couldn't be more different in their outlooks. The X3 is totally focussed on the driver. It has a stiff ride but the set-up lends it a sportscar-like handling. It's also the most cramped of the three and the comfort equipment isn't great either.

The Audi, on the other hand, is more for comfort-seekers. It's roomier, has more gizmos and it rides smoother as well. The Freelander can't match the handling of either the Q5 or the X3. But then, the latter two are nowhere near as comfortable to be in, both on road and off it.

Z4 or Freelander 2

Of course, the Z4 and the Freelander are as different as chalk and cheese. And so is the mindset of their typical customers abroad. But in India, we neither have the roads nor the inclination to exploit the respective potential of these vehicles. What the Z4 and the Freelander will, in reality, do is to double up as the second car. Maybe even the third.

So, these need to be good on the road and convenient to drive. The Z4 is quick and absolutely stunning to look at. It's a car you won't mind driving to office or to the club. And when you do, you'd always find your adrenalin level soaring. But, it's low and can only seat two. The boot space is negligible and getting in and out of the car requires the agility of a gymnast. Naturally, it's not the most practical car to have.

The Freelander, though, is supremely practical. It can seat more people, and in comfort. It can hold the weekend luggage and more and go over bad roads and speed breakers with utmost ease and certainty. On the flip side, it can't boost your image as much as the Z4 can. To most people, who don't know how great the Freelander is, it will just be another SUV; and you'll be just another guy who likes big cars. But what do they know, eh?

So, which one should you buy? That is a question that you will have to answer yourself. For our part, we can tell you that if you are looking for comfort both on and off the road, it has to be the Freelander 2. But if you already have a sedan and the SUV, and are looking for swank wheels that will turn heads, it has to be the Z4.

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