The Blue Oval is nudging into £30k+ executive territory with flood of new, pricier models
On test: Land Rover Freelander 2.0 TD4 review (2001-2006 model)
Bodystyle:4x4Engine:2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodieselFuel type:DieselTransmission:5-speed manualDate of test:October 2003
What is it?
It's the biggest selling 4x4 in the UK by a significant margin. The Freelander has been a tremendous success for Land Rover. That's undoubtedly true, but newer competition has been threatening Land Rover's baby and the company has responded with this heavily revised version to keep customers coming back for more. As before the Freelander is available as a five-door estate model and a three-door model with a removable rear section - which allows open air motoring, something that's fairly unique in this class. Three engines are offered, a 1.8-litre petrol and a 2.5-litre V6 coming as standard with an automatic transmission. The 2.5-litre shifts the Freelander convincingly, the 1.8-litre struggles, neither offering decent economy, the V6 particularly frightening in this respect. That makes the 2.0-litre diesel engine the only (sensible) option.
Where does it fit?
Models like the Freelander are seen as lifestyle accessories. That means it's as likely to be competing against the latest sports car, hot hatch or whatever other fad is of the moment as it is against its obvious 4x4 rivals. The strongest of its 4x4 rivals are the Toyota RAV4 and the Nissan X-Trail, both receiving minor revisions at around the same time as the Freelander's facelift. In the Land Rover range it sits under the Discovery and Range Rover models, they like it being big sellers in their respective categories. The Freelander's re-style brings its looks closer in line with its more expensive relatives, the headlamps in particular echoing their look.
Is it for you?
That depends on your lifestyle. The Freelander is aimed at young, busy people with the sort of active lifestyles that demands a versatile go anywhere vehicle. The reality is that most will be used to ferry children to and from school, or be parked up in town with a resident's permit on it. As capable as they are off road very few ever venture further than a woodland carpark - something even Land Rover has admitted, explaining their move in offering the new Sport model with stiffer more road-biased suspension. Certainly the heightened driving position appeals to many drivers, as does the good space (in the five-door), while the image is all-important too, something that Land Rover has in spades over its Japanese rivals.
What does it do well?
Although it's unlikely ever to be used off-road the Freelander is hugely capable should you need it to be. It'll clamber, scrabble and wade through, up and over obstacles that you'd avoid on foot, many liking the 'over-engineered' aspect of such machines. The heightened driving position Is useful around town, allowing you to see over the majority of the traffic (unless they're all in 4x4s and vans too). The diesel is refined in this class and offered decent economy given the Freelander's size and weight. The Land Rover badge is seen these days as premium, and the recent re-style does give it a really smart look. Perfect for one-upmanship at the school gates.
What doesn't it do well?
Land Rover claims that the Freelander has been better tuned for the road with its Sports suspension but the reality is that it's little different. Even though it's stiffer and more resistant to roll this isn't a car that you're going to derive any pleasure from driving it hard on the road. The interior is also claimed to be improved, and while that's true of the styling the execution is not so good. There are still some plastics that look rather iffy for a 'premium' product - Land Rover has proved it can do seriously impressive interiors with the Range Rover but it seems little of that knowledge has filtered down to the Freelander. Equipment is now only just competitive, rivals offer more, not just in terms of kit, but on the road too. There might be three engines too, but the diesel is the only one worth considering.
What's it like to live with?
The Freelander had a poor reputation for reliability when it was first launched. Things have improved dramatically, and let's hope that the revisions go deeper than just a visual spruce up. Space inside is good which means if you actually are the type that lives the active lifestyle that these vehicles suit then you'll be able to load up all your kit with ease. In every other way it's much like its rivals, which means you have a compromised driving experience as a result of the tall stance and four-wheel-drive hardware.
Would we buy it?
Unless we had a genuine need for a off-road capable vehicle we'd have real difficulty in recommending the Freelander, or any of its rivals as an everyday vehicle. Their size and weight means you have a compromised drive, the off-road capable suspension meaning roll and pitch on the road. Land Rover have addressed this with some success with the Sport models, but in doing so highlight that the majority of people don't need the off-road ability. An estate car or compact MPV will offer as much, if not greater versatility, several offering four-wheel-drive should you live somewhere where it might be useful. If we had to buy a 4x4 of this type the Freelander would win on badge appeal, but as an overall ownership proposition the Nissan X-Trail and RAV4 are better propositions - not just due to their lower cost, but they offer a more impressive driving experience too.
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