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On test: Land Rover Freelander 1.8 review (1996-2006 model)
Bodystyle: EstateEngine:1.8 in-line 4-cylFuel:PetroTransmission:5-speed manualDate of test:June 2002
What is it?
The Land Rover Freelander is the undisputed market leader in the 4x4 market in the UK. The next biggest seller is its larger sibling - the Discovery, with the others following in their impressive wake. The Freelander is a so-called compact 4x4 - or as the Americans might put it SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). With the legendary Land Rover badge and chunky styling the Freelander has been a huge success for the marque. It’s offered in five-door estate or three-door models, the three-door version with a removable rear section allowing open-air motoring. Three engine choices are available: a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 2.5-litre petrol V6 and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel.
Where does it fit?
It’s virtually created its own market - such are its sales. There are competitors like the Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota’s Rav4 but the Freelander sells more than these two combined in the UK. You’re more likely to see one in a supermarket car park than trundling across a moor with a bale of hay in it for the sheep. Knowing this, Land Rover developed Freelander to be a competent road car first - but Land Rover hasn’t forgotten its roots, for while the Freelander is at home on the Tarmac it’ll clamber over obstacles off-road that would leave many of its rivals defeated. The 1.8 was the first on the scene and accounts for the majority of sales. The turbodiesel is the best overall choice, though, while the V6 the performance version is only for those willing to pay the price at the petrol pumps.
Is it for you?
It’s difficult to advocate the sales of 4x4’s for purely road use, as despite all Land Rover’s efforts such vehicles are easily eclipsed on the road by conventional estate cars. Still, the Freelander is one of the best out there if you must have that ’commanding’ driving position offered by such vehicles. If you’re used to a larger 4x4 it’ll feel light footed and responsive - conversely if you’re moving up from an estate car or hatchback it’ll feel rather cumbersome in comparison. The Freelander is one of the best of its kind, but do you really need it what it's offering?
What does it do well?
Apart from sell in large numbers? The Freelander is the class leader when it comes to providing an all-round package. It’s a good road car, and off-road its rivals are left trailing. The 1.8 is surprisingly willing given the fact that it’s dragging around all that weight and technical 4x4 gubbins. Overall the five-door is a far more practical proposition, though the softback three-door is good fun on a summer’s day. Its styling hasn’t changed much since its introduction and there’s a host of body kits to make it look even more distinctive.
What doesn't it do well?
It may be the class leader off the road but Toyota’s Rav4 betters it on the road. It also looks smarter in some eyes - but lacks the 4x4-only prestige of the Land Rover marque. Early cars were plagued with problems and although the opening rear on the three-door makes for enjoyable summer driving it’s a pain to remove the canvas cover. The interior is fairly basic and it’s pricey compared to the competition. The 1.8-litre petrol engine needs to be worked hard to produce its performance. All off-roaders are compromised driving machines on the road and the Freelander, though good, is no exception.
What's it like to live with?
If you’re in the market for this type of vehicle then the 1.8-litre Freelander is unlikely to disappoint. The specification isn’t as high as rivals so you’ll need deep pockets to spec it up - but there’s little to match the Land Rover badge for real off-road kudos. Earlier production and quality problems have been much improved, and you're backed by a three-year warranty. However, it’s unlikely to be completely trouble-free. The 1.8 petrol (or the diesel) are the most cost-effective means of Freelander ownership. Space inside isn’t perhaps as generous as you might expect - if you need to use the rear seats frequently and want a decent-sized boot, then the five-door is the only sensible option.
What's it like to live with?
While huge numbers of people have voted with their chequebooks, the Freelander wouldn’t be our first choice in this market. Toyota’s Rav4 would win our vote. While it doesn’t offer the same off-road ability of the Freelander it’s not far off, and on the road the Rav4 betters the Land Rover, and importantly, the specification is higher. Unless we really needed the Freelander's better off-road ability, the Toyota would be a far better proposition in terms of value.
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