Land Rover developed the Freelander, a compact Ute, as the market for recreational 4x4s grew. The traditional Land Rover and Land Rover Defender had a loyal following, but the expanding market demanded another option.
There were plenty of new, stylish, elegant vehicles coming onto the market for the burgeoning off-roading class. In 1997, the first Freelander rolled off the production line and immediately brought Land Rover competitively back into the market place once again.
The Freelander had a definite modern look, bold and sturdy but with the softer lines of its competitors, and it was an award-winning design from 1997 until 2002. Land Rover now also understood the blend of customers that made up the Ute market and made the Freelander available in a number of versions. There were five-door estates, three-door convertibles, hard tops, and commercial van designs, along with various trims and differing engine sizes.
The second generation, the Freelander 2, brought out in 2006, pushed the body shell even further. It was based on the EDUC platform and featured higher ground clearance and better off-roading abilities, more closely matched to its established cousins. The shape was more rounded than before, with a narrower front grille, changes to the look of the lights, and a 38% bigger boot space. With the back seats down, it was cavernous.
The Freelander 2 came equipped with the 2.2L 110kW turbo diesel engine and could be linked either to a 6-speed Aisin automatic or 6-speed Getrag manual gearbox. Currently, they are fitted with intelligent start/stop buttons. The 2.2L has a combined fuel consumption rate of 8.5L/100km, producing a CO2 emission level of 174g/km, while going from 0-100km/h in 10.9 seconds.
The first Freelanders had the novelty of the Hill Descent Control system, as well as traction control and ABS to enhance the off-roading experience. Many 4x4 soft-roaders out there look good but handle poorly when taken off the black stuff; the Freelander has both a stylish appearance and comfortable ride, but it is a quality bush basher as well. Concerns over running costs for the 3.2L transverse mounted petrol engine have led to it being dropped, but this is nothing new as Land Rover also did away with the previous 1.8L, 2.0L, and 2.5L V6 Rover engines.
The latest models do not have any improvements to their off-roading technology either, but when you have written the manual and been voted “best off-roader” as many times as Land Rover, upgrading would just be showing off. You are looked after in the Freelander, its Hill Descent control, four-mode terrain selector, and four-wheel traction ensure you are glued to the ground, whether in normal conditions, or on grass, gravel, or snowy surfaces.
The new Land Rover Freelander models do give you a good level on standard equipment, including such new features as rear camera, 5-inch screen, and 11-speaker stereo system. The better quality satnav and larger 7-inch touchscreen do cost a little more though. All round, they are well looked after, with comfortable body hugging seats, fold-away front armrest, Bluetooth hands free system, climate control, leather-covered steering wheel, and 18-inch alloys.
The addition of extra connectivity and increased gadget level has seen a rethink on the dashboard and central panel. This is now cleaner, less cluttered, and easier to access. The dividing cubby is the perfect hideaway for all the AUX/iPod/USB ports, nicely concealing cables and equipment out of the way. It achieved an ANCAP five-star rating due to its many safety features and all-surround airbags.
The early Freelander did not have much in the way of options, but you could choose to have air-con, ABS, soft top with removable roof, and driver’s airbag.
Land Rover have successfully blended their off-roading know-how and introduced an increased level of refinement into the range. Soft-roaders are a tight market and trading on your reputation is not enough, especially when the competition features the likes of the Honda CRV and X-Trail, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Volvo S60, and even Land Rover’s own Evoque.
This is a tough market, and the competition has brought their ‘A’ game to many of their compact 4x4s. Land Rover has stepped things up, increased the desirability of the interior, and added extra gloss on the outside. Where a Land Rover will always edge the market is in its quality away from the crowds and in wide open spaces. The Freelander is still capable of bouncing the opposition when the ground conditions get difficult.