While the Land Rover Freelander immediately had an impact on the local market when it was introduced in 1998, it has not been all plain sailing for the diminutive off-roader. Various reliability related niggles have reared their ugly heads, and the Freelander has even become the butt of a joke or two.
Six years on, and the market has also evolved into a fiercely competitive environment, with very strong offerings from Jeep, Nissan, Toyota and Subaru. Can this latest upgrade buy Land Rover some time before the inevitable arrival of the generation 2 Freelander.
Refined appearance for Land Rover FreelanderAlthough there are certainly some areas in which the Land Rover Freelander needed an upgrade, design was not one of them. Nevertheless, the facelift has endowed the Land Rover Freelander TD4 with a subtly more sophisticated overall appearance, mostly as a result of colour coding of the bumpers and a new headlamp design.
Otherwise, the design has withstood the test of time remarkably well. It also remains remarkably individualistic, with its elevated roofline at the rear and clamshell bonnet remaining unique design elements in an increasingly crowded segment.
The same can, unfortunately, not be said of the interior. Land Rover has tried its best to hide the vehicle’s age by significantly revising the facia design and trim, but it has not been entirely successful. Instead of a desired upmarket ambience, the cream leather trim simply clashes rather harshly with the shiny black plastics of the facia.
The fit and finish of the cabin can’t be described as poor, but certainly won’t trouble the aforementioned rivals. And there are some ergonomic issues, too. The ventilation controls are placed very low on the facia. The seats are perhaps slightly too high. And the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment. The placement of the cup holders on top of the facia is another quirk, but at least the window switches are now in the right place.
For what is a relatively small vehicle with a short wheelbase (2 557 mm), the Freelander’s rear legroom is rather good, and the boot measures a very decent 354 litres, helped by not having to accommodate a spare wheel – mounted on the sideways opening tailgate. Headroom is also excellent all-round, although it’s not the roofline bump that’s responsible for that – it really is a bit of a design gimmick in the Freelander’s case, done to endow it with mini-Discovery looks.
HSE specification, of course, is synonymous with luxury, so everything but the kitchen sink is included, including park distance control and a very snazzy Harmon Kardon sound system. If there’s one area where the Land Rover Freelander perhaps falls short in terms of specification, however, it is in the safety department. Offering only two airbags these days is really the bare minimum.
BMW powerThe Land Rover Freelander TD4 is powered by a BMW-sourced 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that delivers 82 kW and 260 Nm of torque. These figures are somewhat short of what is expected at this level, with the Jeep, for example, offering a full 100 Nm more torque. And despite its relatively small size, the Freelander is quite heavy, weighing in at 1.6 tonnes.
Consequently, performance is not a strong point, with the Freelander needing a leisurely 15.7 seconds to “sprint” to 100 km/h. Overtaking acceleration is also rather poor, with such manoeuvres close to the national speed limit requiring plenty of patience and planning. At least the engine is very economical – most drivers should do better than 10.5 litres/100 km.
The engine is mated with a five-speed automatic transmission that delivers torque to all four wheels, the two axles “locked” together when required by a centre viscous coupling. There’s no low-range transfer case, but first is low enough for most situations you’re likely to encounter, and an automatic transmission is a boon in those scenarios in any event.
A hill-descent control system is also fitted. With a ground clearance of around 200 mm, good approach and departure angles and suspension set-up that allows for some travel, the Freelander is quite a confident little machine off the beaten track.
Importantly, its off-road prowess doesn’t come at much expense where it matters most – on the road. The handling is benign, with early understeer being an understandable characteristic of a vehicle such as this. The ride quality is quite superb, with the Land Rover Freelander doing well to mirror the waft-like ride comfort of bigger Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
Of course, the downside is quite a lot of roll in the corners, and noticeable nose diving under braking. ABS and EBD boost the car’s ability to stop in all conditions, but it must be said that the brakes are perhaps no longer among the class best (drums are used at the rear), and they lack the power of some newer rivals.
VerdictSix years on and the Land Rover Freelander remains an attractive offering, even when facing stiff competition. There’s something about its design, genuine off-road ability and perhaps that Land Rover badge, that is very hard to resist. In HSE trim, however, it is perhaps over-specced, and priced beyond its station, because there are some flaws.
The engine lacks power, resulting in poor performance, and the interior, though still largely comfortable, scores below par for ergonomics and build quality. Freelander 2, Land Rover needs you, soon…
We don’t like:
Reputation for reliability niggles
Fast factsEngine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 82 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 260 Nm @ 1 750 rpm
Transmission: five-speed automatic
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 162 km/h
0-100 km/h: 15.7 seconds
Fuel economy: 10.64 litres/100 km
Also consider:Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited Automatic
Also offers an impressive blend of premium appeal and genuine off-road ability, but packs more power and equipment than the Landy, as well as a reputation for sturdier build. Cabin can’t match the Freelander for comfort, though.
Perhaps not a direct rival – it is bigger and certainly not from a premium brand. But the Sorento is an underrated vehicle, with good looks and a very spacious, comfortable interior. Can’t match the others off-road, but is also not completely talentless in the rough.