2003 Land Rover Freelander

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2003 Land Rover Freelander
Available in 4 styles:  2003 Land Rover Freelander shown
Asking Price Range
$2,059–$7,915
Estimated MPG

17 city / 20 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 3 of 3

By 

chicagotribune.com

Can Volkswagen sell a $200,000 Bentley?

Can Land Rover sell a $25,000 Freelander?

Some would say a $200,000 sedan from Volkswagen, maker of the Beetle, seems a tad out of character. And some would say a $25,000 small sport-utility from Land Rover, maker of the big $70,000 Range Rover, would seem equally out of character.

For the 2002 model year, Land Rover brought out the Freelander, an entry-level SUV designed to get folks into showrooms who usually would venture into a Jeep store.

Years ago Porsche tried luring wannabes to the brand by offering a low-cost 924 starting at less than $25,000. If Porsche wanted to grow in the U.S., the automaker thought, giving folks discount entry to the prestige nameplate would pay dividends when those folks earned more money and moved up to the higher-priced offerings in the Porsche lineup. Only trouble is that those who owned Porsche sports cars that cost $10,000 to $15,000 more than a 924 took issue with rubbing shoulders with the unwashed masses. Of course, in addition to the low price, offering a car with a liquid-cooled Audi engine upfront didn't please Porschephiles, who bow only before air-cooled engines housed in the rear.

For $25,000, it was thought, folks could gain discount membership into the Land Rover club with such privileges as being able to drive unescorted through Lake Forest.

Land Rover sold 15,000 Freelanders in '02, it's first year in the market, or about 20 percent of its U.S. sales. It expects sales to hold at 15,000 for '03, even with a new addition to the lineup, the SE3 two-door companion to the current four-door. The SE3 features twin sunroofs that can be removed for open-air motoring.

While it sells for considerably less than a Range Rover, Freelander buyers are hardly down-and-outers. The median income is $87,500, the median age 46. So these are young, somewhat affluent people.

Land Rover says those attracted to a Freelander are looking for "a rugged, yet sophisticated image in a comfortable size for both urban and suburban use." Translated, that means they're looking for a small SUV with a more prestigious name than a Jeep Wrangler, Toyota RAV4 or Hyundai Santa Fe.

We tested the '03 Freelander SE, which comes with full-time all-wheel-drive designed for optimum on or off-road capability. Land Rover insists that a Freelander can go anywhere the larger ($34,000) Discovery or largest ($71,200) Range Rover can go--off-road or through Lake Forest.

To help get you wherever you are going, the fuel tank adds about a gallon more capacity, to 16.9 gallons. Should you wander off-road, bodyside moldings have been added to protect the panels. While a little noise is tolerated when off-road, it isn't on the road, so the air-conditioning system has been tweaked to operate a little more quietly for the '03 model year.

Freelander is powered by a 2.5-liter, 175-horsepower V-6 with 5-speed automatic and CommandShift, which gives you the choice of manual shifting without fiddling with a clutch pedal.

Some might say the 2.5 could use a few more horses, some might argue it could use a little more torque, while others might argue that with a 17 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway rating, it could use a little more mileage. Have to suspect those arguing for better mileage prompted the extra-gallon fuel-tank capacity to at least increase driving range.

For the benefit of off-roaders, Freelander features four-wheel anti-lock brakes with traction control as standard teamed with Hill Descent Control (HDC) to better manage travel down steep slopes. HDC uses the ABS sensors to rapidly pulse the brakes to limit steep descents to a maximum of 5.6 m.p.h. And the standard 17-inch radial tires are designed for sure grip.

Nice touches include a wide-opening rear cargo door for easy loading/unloading, plus added storage space in the door. The rear cargo door also comes with a power window, but you or someone in the cabin has to press a button in the front console for it to function, which sacrifices some of the convenience.

Couple of gripes: To ensure down-the-road visibility, the driver's seat sits high. But the roof line is low, so taller drivers may want to wear a helmet to enter. And why is the ignition key so difficult to fit into the opening?

Also, the greenhouse (the glass on up) is pinched and unnecessarily makes Freelander look very narrow. The power window controls in the center console are on a vertical plane low in the center console, where they are difficult to reach and use. And the button that locks the rear windows to keep the kids safe inside, is just below and too close to the driver's side power window button. It sometimes takes a couple of attempts to strike the right one. A power plug serves rear-seat occupants, but it would be nice to have one upfront as well.

One questionable feature is the dual popup cupholders dead center in the top of the dash.

The owner's manual, obviously authored by Land Rover's legal staff, warns:

"The driver should not drink and should not use the cupholder while driving."

Only "suitable drink containers" and neither "open-top or sealed-top" containers nor "cups made of china or glass" should be placed in the holders.

Spilling a hot drink while driving or in a collision could not only "cause personal injury" but also "damage upholstery, carpeting or electrical systems" as well.

With so many don't's, you have to ask why Land Rover put the cupholders dead center in the top of the dash. Of course, you also have to ask why a person who puts 12 ounces of boiling hot coffee in an open-top china container in a vehicle meant for off-roading and then worries about damaging the carpet when it spills would be allowed to carry a driver's license.

But we digress.

The base Freelander starts at $25,600, while the top-selling SE model we tested starts at $27,775. Standard equipment includes power windows, locks and mirrors (heated), air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, leather seating surfaces and tilt steering.

Two options on the test vehicle were heated seats at $300, which were used often and worked well in the recent freeze, and a power sunroof at a hefty $875 that we didn't attempt to use because the manual warned not to even try in a freeze. Besides, we didn't want the coffee in the open-top china cup in the center of the dash to cool off.

Top sellers: The Toyota Camry got all the attention because it was the top-selling car in the industry last year, beating the Honda Accord 434,145 to 398,980. Rounding out the 10 car sales leaders were the Ford Taurus (332,690), Honda Civic (313,159), Ford Focus (243,199), Chevrolet Cavalier (238,225), Nissan Altima (201,822), Chevy Impala (198,918), Toyota C orolla (198,678) and Chevy Malibu (169,377).

TEST DRIVE

2003 Land Rover Freelander

Wheelbase: 101 inches

Length: 175 inches

Engine: 2.5-liter, 174-h.p. 20-valve V-6

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway

Base price: $27,775

Price as tested: $28,950. Includes $300 for heated seats and $875 for sunroof. Add $625 for freight.

Pluses: Lets you gain entry into the Land Rover family for less than $30,000. Meant for rugged off-roading and ability to go anywhere the larger Discovery or Range Rover can go.

Minuses: Inexpensive for Land Rover, but not as low priced as other small SUVs. Only way to make window controls less accessible to driver would be to put them in back seat.


    Expert Reviews 3 of 3

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