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Car reviews - Land Rover - Freelander - XEi 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Innovative design, ride and handling
Room for improvement
Noisy, lacklustre engines

14 Mar 2001

ALTHOUGH it may carry the reputation of the marque's off-road prowess, it is in the urban jungle that Land Rover Freelanders will spend their time - and here it falls well short of its rivals.

This is not to say it does not have its good points. The ride and handling are among the best in its class. The all-in pricing tends to make it look more expensive that its option-free competition.

In what is a highly competitive and growing market segment, it is a brave move by Rover, though probably one dictated by the poor exchange rate, to put such a premium on the Freelander.

Holden learned a valuable lesson about what people are prepared to pay for off-road ability when it launched the Frontera - and a three-door at that - at $36,650 in 1995.

Paying a premium for the BMW-owned Rover product might be excusable if the vehicle is better suited to its target market than its rivals, but in reality the truth is the polar opposite.

Noise, vibration and the lack of engine power are the three biggest concerns that make the Freelander seem pedestrian and unrefined compared with its rivals.

The 1.8-litre petrol engine is a direct transplant from the small two-seater MGF and is simply not up to the task of hauling 1.5 tonnes of vehicle plus passengers.

To keep the Freelander moving in traffic requires constant stirring of the manual gearbox - an auto is not yet available - and keeping the revs above the peak torque level of 2750rpm.

But keep pushing the engine above 3500rpm which, with three other passengers, is necessary to keep up with the traffic, and engine noise rises alarmingly while vibrations are felt through the seat, steering wheel and virtually every surface in the vehicle.

That is not the only problem. Cruise at 100km/h and you will hear a particularly loud and deep whine from the Michelin 195/80 15-inch tyres.

Likewise, the air-conditioning fan howls loudly at full thrust.

Combine all three and the atmosphere in the cabin becomes increasingly unrefined, especially when compared with the Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester.

Rover might argue the Freelander will appeal to part-time off-road adventurers, but in Australia the reality is they will be driven by young mums and dads in the suburbs.

Comfort levels are good, thanks to a reasonably soft suspension tune that does not translate into too much body roll or wallowing through corners.

But the driving position requires a person of average 178cm height to sit too close to the steering wheel to reach the pedals while having to stretch for the gear shift.

Space inside the cabin is reasonably good and the seats themselves offer adequate support and comfort. Door bins, incorporating big cupholders, provide plenty of storage space.

Land Rover has excelled in making the Freelander the best riding and handling small off-roader in the market but it is seriously let down by loud, unrefined and underpowered engines.

The lack of an automatic transmission, probably due to the engine's inability to cope with such a device, is a disaster for city-based drivers.

- Automotive NetWorks 11/03/1999

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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