Land Rover introduced a new, less expensive model during 2002 to join its existing Discovery and Range Rover sport utility vehicles. The all-wheel-drive Freelander was the first Land Rover product with unibody construction and a fully independent suspension.
A two-door SE3 version featuring twin removable roof panels over the front seats and a removable hardtop in the rear joined the original four-door wagon in 2003.
For 2005, the Freelander comes only in basic SE and SE3 trims. The SE now comes with a sunroof, fog lamps and a full-size spare tire. A new Premium Package for the SE offers the same specifications as the now-departed HSE; the package adds leather upholstery, a Harman Kardon six-CD changer, 18-inch wheels and a cargo area cover. New instruments and switches have been installed on both models, which may prove to be good news because the previous gauges were difficult to read.
Clean body lines are intended to evoke the traditional Land Rover character. 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 Ford’s Escape, 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 in achieving ruggedness. Aluminum-alloy wheels hold standard 17-inch tires on the SE3 and standard 16-inchers on the SE. The rear cargo door is side-hinged.
Up to five occupants can fit inside the Freelander, which contains front bucket seats and a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Fabric upholstery is used for the SE3, while the SE has Alcantara surfaces. Perforated leather is optional in the SE.
Heated power mirrors and rear privacy glass are standard, and heated front seats are optional. The SE3 is equipped with a Harman Kardon 240-watt audio system that includes Radio Data System station identification and an in-dash six-CD changer.
A 2.5-liter V-6 delivers 174 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque. The five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates a Sport mode and has a manual-shift provision. All-wheel drive is standard, but no Low range is included. The center viscous coupling is similar to the one used on the larger Range Rover.
All-terrain antilock brakes are standard, but side-impact airbags are not offered. Freelanders have button-activated Hill Descent Control.
Compared with most SUVs, the Freelander’s low cowl makes the driver feel rather tall. Performance is reasonably vigorous, especially from a standstill, though acceleration is less than stirring overall. Automatic-transmission shifts are deliberate and noticeable.
The Freelander steers with a lighter touch than other Land Rovers. This SUV handles reasonably well. The ride is firm but not at all punishing. The seats are quite firm, which is acceptable for short hauls but questionable for longer journeys.