1 Mar 2004
By CHRIS HARRIS
Despite dominating its segment in Europe, Land Rover’s Freelander had a pretty hard time of it since BMW Australia launched it locally back in February 1998.
Its on-road behaviour, while acceptable for a tallish 4WD, trailed most of its Japanese rivals while off-road the LR’s size and build limitations curtailed it there too.
In the end the Freelander became a classic case of being neither fish nor fowl.
Quality and reliability were also concerns, as was the rather poor packaging, which meant that taller people were cramped while versatility wasn’t a high point.
Late 2000’s motor transplants – a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder and a smooth (though thirsty) 2.5 V6 – certainly addressed some performance anxieties.
But by then the second-generation RAV and upcoming CR-V, Nissan X-Trail and even more competitors had already moved the game on.
So LR’s third attempt – and the first developed under Ford’s stewardship since the Americans took over LR in 2000 – at the Freelander.
Here’s what changed.
1. A new nose (bumpers, 70 per cent-improved headlights, grille) and tail-light design that reflects the familial face of the current Range Rover and Discovery III.
2. More supportive front seats, a revised dashboard (with new instrumentation and switchgear) and fresh cabin trim that better imparts a ‘premium’ feel.
3. Sole engine availability is now BMW’s nifty little 82kW/260Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, in both two and four door wagon guises.
The good news is that the cabin did feel more upmarket, and kept the Freelander respectable as the world’s first ‘premium small 4WD’, as LR claimed.
But the front chairs didn’t adjust nearly enough for taller folk, and that old Freelander bugbear of limited headroom remained, although that got better out back thanks to the higher stepped roof design.
Even the base Freelander S offered anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, traction control, Hill Descent Control, power steering, cruise control, driver's seat lumbar adjustment, remote central locking, CD audio, electric windows, air-conditioning, alloy wheels and an alarm.
Up-spec models boasted leather, parking radar, CD stackers and fancier wheels and trim, while the sunroof option wasn’t recommended unless you were two of King Henry VIII’s wives.