Land Rover introduced a new, less expensive model to join its existing Discovery and Range Rover sport utility vehicles in the United States during the 2002 model year. Benefiting from a new powertrain and chassis improvements, the Freelander was the first Land Rover product with a unibody design and a fully independent suspension.
A new two-door SE3 version joined the original four-door wagon in 2003. This model is equipped with twin removable roof panels over the front seats and a removable hardtop over the rear occupants. For 2004, the base S edition has been dropped, leaving only the SE and HSE models. A new front end that was inspired by the larger Range Rover gives the Freelander a fresh look.
All-wheel drive is standard, but no Low range is included. Compact-SUV competitors include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda Tribute.
Marketers emphasize the Freelanders clean lines, which are intended to evoke the traditional Land Rover character. A broad front bumper that leads directly into the wheel arches helps to set the tone. Generous wheel travel is provided: up to 7.1 inches in the front and 9.4 inches in the rear. Even though the Freelander is a little longer than the Escape and Tribute, it rides a shorter, 101-inch wheelbase. Ground clearance is 8.7 inches.
Offroad strength and rigidity are deemed comparable to traditional Land Rover models. Box-section rails and eight integral cross-members help maintain these characteristics. Aluminum-alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires. A full-size spare tire mounts on the side-hinged rear cargo door, which has a power up/down window.
Five people fit inside the Freelander, which is equipped with bucket seats up front and a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Leather seating surfaces are standard.
Other standard equipment includes heated power mirrors, a security system with perimeter protection, a cargo cover and steering-wheel radio controls. The HSE model includes a Harman Kardon sound system with Radio Data System (RDS) station identification and a six-CD changer. Rear privacy glass is standard, and heated front seats are optional.
Under the Hood
A 2.5-liter, 24-valve dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine delivers 174 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. Full-time four-wheel drive is standard, and the center viscous coupling is similar to that used on the larger Range Rover. The transmission operates in Sport or Manual-Steptronic mode.
All-terrain antilock brakes are standard, but side-impact airbags are not offered. The Freelander has a four-wheel electronic stability system and push-button-activated Hill Descent Control for use on slippery downgrades.
Compared to most SUVs, the Freelanders low cowl gives it an entirely different feeling inside, which causes the driver to feel rather tall. The gauges are small, dark and somewhat difficult to read. The clock looks as if its a mile away, and the radio controls are cryptic. Cupholders sit atop the dashboard.
Performance is reasonably vigorous, especially from a standstill, though acceleration is less than stirring overall. Automatic-transmission shifts are deliberate and noticeable. Steering with a lighter touch than other Land Rovers, the Freelander handles reasonably adeptly. The ride is firm but not at all punishing. All of the seats are quite firm, which is acceptable for short hauls but questionable for longer journeys.