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Expert Reviews 3 of 3
By Anita And Paul Lienert
The Detroit News
November 19, 2003
Freelander falls short When the Land Rover Freelander sport utility vehicle debuted in the United States in 2001, it gave Anglophiles a chance for relatively inexpensive entree to a British brand that has long been associated with royalty.
But to us, the original Freelander was a disappointment. We couldn't get past the puny engine and unfriendly cabin laden with impossibly tiny controls and a silly cupholder that popped up out of the top of the instrument panel. So we were
anxious to have a look at the restyled 2004 Freelander, which is set to go on sale at the end of the year. We traveled to California to test several Freelanders on the highway as well as off-road over desolate stretches of Santa Catalina Island. For
this test drive, we focused on a top-of-the-line Freelander HSE model with options like a $900 audio system with a 6-disc CD player and $300 heated seats. It was priced at $31,345. SHE: It's easy to fall in love with the Freelander when you're in
the middle of enormous piles of bison droppings and countryside stripped of vegetation by feral goats. HE: I knew we should have paid our city taxes earlier. SHE: I'm talking about Catalina. It's in such a setting that a relatively obscure
standard feature like "hill descent control," which gently applies the brakes to keep you out of trouble on a downhill slope, becomes your best friend. But even in that unfamiliar setting deep on the island, I wondered if an engine with bigger
displacement wouldn't have been a better investment, especially for the Freelander's audience -- primarily professional women in their 40s and female empty nesters who I suspect don't cross paths with wildlife in their daily commutes. HE: I don't
know. I thought the one feral goat bore an uncanny resemblance to your new schnauzer puppy, Pinki. SHE: Not unless it was wearing a pink cashmere sweater and a rhinestone collar. HE: I knew I shouldn't go there. Land Rover didn't need to
resort to cashmere and rhinestones to give the Freelander a fresh new look to tide it over until a full redesign in model year 2007. Although the vehicle has only been on sale for two years here in North America, it started production in Europe back in
1997, so the Freelander was looking pretty dated alongside some of the competition. I really like the new front-end styling, which gives this compact SUV a snazzy "baby Range Rover" look. The cabin is cleaned up and modernized, with a bit more attention
paid to ergonomics. I'm glad to see that the CD changer is no longer under the front passenger's seat. And they relocated the window switches to the door, instead of the center console. SHE: I'm always on the lookout for extra attention to safety
features. Unfortunately, there's no news there. The Freelander offers standard antilock brakes and traction control, but you still can't get side air bags or side air cur
tains. And even though Land Rover is in the Ford family, and Ford has offered adjustable pedals on many of its products, you can't get them on the 2004 Freelander. The five-passenger SUV does get a couple of new options, including $250 park-distance
control, which sounds an audible warning if you are about to back up into something. HE: One of my beefs remains power, or a lack of it. We noticed it on the highway and more especially off-road. The Freelander's surprisingly tiny 2.5-liter V-6
engine makes only 174 horsepower, and even a mild recalibration of the five-speed automatic transmission doesn't make much difference in the vehicle's sluggish acceleration times. Unfortunately, there are no big changes in the powertrain department until
the 2007 makeover. SHE: The competitive terrain for the Freelander is almost worse than the physical hazards we traversed on Catalina. In the under-$35,000 price segment, it's hard to stand out in a field crowded with such conv
ntional SUV competitors as the Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Liberty, as well as car-based models like the Ford Escape and Honda Pilot. I just worry that there are still too many compromises with Freelander, including cupholders still in the all-time dumb spot
on the top of the instrument panel. HE: With Freelander you can purchase a Land Rover for a surprisingly affordable price -- but for the same money, there are many better vehicles in this crowded segment of the market.