Introduction

If only a Land Rover Freelander had been available, the characters in Jules Verne's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" could have saved themselves days of toil over harsh terrain. A Freelander would have quickly transported Professor Hardwigg, his reluctant nephew, and guide Hans to the volcano that allowed them to follow in the footsteps of subterranean explorer Arne Saknussemm.

In reality, no one, including Land Rover, has ever been to the center of the earth. At least not to our knowledge. But Land Rovers have clambered over most of the crust of this planet. For our part, we drove the new, highly capable Freelander up the side of a volcano and partially across a huge glacier.

Technically, the new Land Rover Freelander doesn't match the off-road capability of the bigger Discovery or of the expensive Range Rover. In reality, though, it will go much farther into the backcountry than most anyone will want to go. Equipped with permanent all-wheel drive, traction control, Hill Descent Control, and a surprisingly capable suspension, the Freelander easily surpasses the capability of the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and other so-called cute-utes. For practical purposes, the Freelander matches the off-roadworthiness of the impressive Jeep Liberty.

On the road, the Freelander drives superbly, much better than the LIberty and it's more satisfying than the other cute-utes. Crisp rack-and-pinion steering, an agile road-worthy suspension, and an extremely rigid chassis give it excellent road manners, even when driven aggressively. The Freelander is stable at high speeds both on pavement and on gravel. It has excellent brakes. It rides smoothly and it's comfortable. The sport shifter that controls the automatic transmission makes it fun to drive on winding blacktop, allowing the driver to keep the V6 engine revving in the power band. In short, the Land Rover Freelander strikes a fine balance between asphalt agility and off-road capability.

Around town, it's smooth and quiet. It feels like an premium vehicle. The Freelander is, as Land Rover puts it, the first premium, small sport-utility vehicle.

Model Lineup

All Freelanders are equipped with a 2.5-liter double overhead-cam V6 engine, an automatic transmission with a manual-shifting feature, permanent all-wheel drive, ABS, and traction control. Other standard features include air conditioning, cruise control, power windows with driver's auto down, keyless entry, rear foglamps and other features associated with a premium brand.

Three trim levels are available:

S ($24,975) is upholstered in black cloth. The S model comes with 215/65HR16 tires on 16-inch alloy wheels. About one-third of Freelander buyers opt for the S.

SE ($27,775) adds leather upholstery in a choice of black or gray. The SE also gets 17-inch wheels, illuminated vanity mirrors, steering wheel audio controls, and roof rails. It's the most popular model.

HSE ($31,575) comes swathed in Alpaca Beige leather upholstery with slightly wider and deeper seats and matching door panels and carpets. A Harman/Kardon audio system with an in-dash CD and navigation system along with a six-disc CD changer provides information and entertainment. A power sunroof lets in more light and air. Unique 17-inch wheels set the HSE apart.

The sunroof ($875) and the Harman/Kardon six-disc CD premium audio system ($750) are available as options for the S and SE models. Heated seats ($300) are available for all models.

  Walkaround

In a broad sense, the styling of the Freelander is similar to that of other small sport-utilities: aerodynamic headlamps and creases on the sides that say small utility wagon. Coming head-on, though, the Freelander looks tougher than the CR-Vs, RAV4s, and Foresters of the world. The prominent front skid plate says it's ready to go off road. It's not just for show, and it's backed up with additional underbody protection to reduce the chance of damage off road.

Black trim helps distinguish the Freelander, though the front bumper juts out a bit farther than aesthetics dictate. From the rear, the Freelander is distinguished by round lenses in its tail lamps that give it a British/European it's-from-over-there look. Overall it's an attractive design.

Interior Features

Freelander offers a high seating position with plenty of headroom and legroom. The seats are firm and supportive. They are manually adjustable in all models with no height adjustment. HSE comes with slightly larger seats, wider and deeper, designed for better comfort. However, I found the seats in the SE quite comfortable and didn't notice a major difference in comfort between the two models.

The cloth in the S model appears to be of higher than average quality. Cordura-like material covers the door panels. A cup holder strap on the door is clever; the fancy cup holders on top of the dash are not ideally located, however. (Brits and Europeans just do not understand or respect America's interest in cup holders and continue to struggle with them.) Window switches on the center console are placed far enough to the rear as to make them awkward.

The steering wheel feels nice, and trimmed in leather on SE and HSE models. The dash has a utilitarian appearance, noticeable among today's more organic designs. Dual glove boxes add storage space up front.

The rear seat is roomy and comfortable for two people. Getting in and out of the back seats is a bit of a squeeze past the inner rear fender. Pressing buttons on the rear center console lowers the rear windows. The rear seatbacks fold down and the seat flips up to increase cargo capacity from 19.3 to 46.6 cubic feet. That's a decent amount of cargo space, but considerably less than what's found in the Toyota RAV4 or Jeep Liberty.

Driving Impressions

While hurtling around fjords at speed on Iceland's smooth two-lane roads it occurred to us that the Freelander was much more than an off-road truck. Smooth and stable at 80 mph and above, with crisp handling and sharp steering, the Freelander quickly became an extension of my being. It went precisely where I wanted it to go and it had no trouble with maneuvers normally associated with sports sedans. It's easy to drive this Land Rover quickly, something that cannot be said for the Discovery.

Yet it'll go nearly anywhere. Stepping off smooth pavement, onto rocky, rutted trails covered with volcanic rock, we discovered that the Freelander rides smoothly and comfortably on rough roads. It soaks up potholes well. Handling is controlled and very sporty, allowing a driver who is so inclined to blast down unpaved roads at speed. Its transient response and predictable behavior instill confidence in slow and fast corners.

Putting it to a more strenuous test, we drove the Freelander across a glacier. It should go without saying that glaciers are slippery, a giant river of ice covered in places with snow. Nor are they smooth. Rivers of melting ice are everywhere, cutting deep trenches with slippery banks. Deep chasms create a constant hazard. Traction is limited.

The Freelander had little trouble with this hostile terrain. Its all-wheel drive system and a four-wheel electronic traction control (4ETC) kept us moving forward with surprisingly little difficulty. Freelander's impressive suspension articulation, with seven inches of wheel travel in front, and a full eight inches in the rear, allowed it to clamber over the deep rivulets of melting ice. Even when one or more wheels comes off the ground, an extreme situation, the all-wheel drive and traction control push and pull it through. Short front and rear overhangs afford good approach and departure angles, so the bumpers don't drag. The permanent all-wheel-drive system uses a viscous coupling unit that works with the traction control to transfer power to the tires with the best grip.

Land Rover's Hill Descent Control works great when going down steep, slippery slopes. (It's used on the Discovery, Range Rover, and in the BMW X5.) Pull it down into first on the automatic side and press the HDC button for steep descents; take your feet off the pedals and steer. Hill Descent Control uses the anti-lock brake system to keep the Freelander at a slow pace, below 5.6 mph. Brake if you need to, but that shouldn't be necessary in most conditions. (There is no low range available.)

Departing from Land Rover tradition, the Freelander is built on a unitized body and chassis, or monocoque, instead of a body on a frame. Unitized construction gives the Freelander strength and durability without excess weight. Substantial box-section rails run the length of the underbody and are tied together with integral crossmembers, a design inspired by the Defender's ladder-frame construction. The Freelander's rigid structure allows the suspension to do its job. Land Rover's chassis engineers were able to start with the proverbial clean sheet of paper when they designed the Freelander. A four-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension with coil springs was chosen to provide generous amounts of wheel travel for off-road use with sufficient compliance and control for a comfortable ride and excellent handling.

The Land Rover Freelander's rack-and-pinion steering is sharp, very precise. The power assist is tuned to offer easy maneuvering when parking with European steering feel at high speeds. The steering system is mounted on the firewall to keep it out of harm's way in rugged terrain.

Unlike the Discovery, the Freelander has excellent brakes, effective and easy to modulate. It uses ventilated disc brakes in front, with drums in the rear. The ABS is designed to designed to work in all types of terrain.

The 2.5-liter V6 delivers good performance. The 2.5-liter, 24-valve, double overhead-camshaft engine is rated at 175 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque. It works seamlessly with the five-speed automatic transmission.

The sport shifter that controls the automatic transmission makes it fun to drive on winding blacktop, allowing the driver to keep the V6 engine revving in the power band. The shifter is placed well and is a joy to operate. It works quite well in the Drive mode, shifting up and down appropriately. Shifting it manually is quite satisfying, something that is not true of all of these Tiptronic-type semi-automatic transmissions.

Around town, the Freelander is smooth and quiet. Refinement was a top priority when developing the Freelander. Land Rover's objective was to make the Freelander smoother and quieter than other small sport-utilities, while retaining the driving sensations of a European sports sedan. The stiff chassis helps the Freelander achieve low levels of noise, vibration and harshness. The Freelander was tested extensively to eliminate squeaks and rattles. The result is a refined driving experience.

Summary

The Land Rover Freelander is the most interesting of all the small sport-utility vehicles. It brings luxury and panache to this class. SE and HSE models are swathed in leather. All come with a V6 engine and a suspension that handles well on the road. Off road, the Freelander will drive away all of the other SUVs in this class with the exception of the Jeep Liberty, which does not deliver the on-road poise of the Freelander.

 


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: S ($24,975); SE ($27,775); HSE ($31,575)
Engines: 2.5-liter V6
Transmissions: 5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): all-terrain ABS, all-wheel drive, four-wheel electronic traction control, front airbags, seat-belt pretensioners and load limiters, child-seat anchors with LATCH, rear fog lamps
Safety equipment (optional): N/A
Basic warranty: N/A
Assembled in: Solihull, England

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): SE ($27,775)
Standard equipment: air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power central locking, power heated mirrors, power windows, power rear window in cargo door, rear wiper/washer, AM/FM/CD, 60/40 split folding rear seat, rear power outlet, keyless entry, security system; SE adds leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch wheels and tires, privacy glass, illuminated vanity mirrors, remote audio controls on steering wheel, roof rails, roll-up rear cargo cover
Options as tested (MSRP): N/A
Destination charge: ($625)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $ 28,400
Layout: all-wheel drive
Engine: 2.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 174 @ 6250
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 177 @ 4000
Transmission: 5-speed electronically controlled automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 17/21 mpg
Wheelbase: 101.0 in.
Length/width/height: 175.0/71.1/69.2 in.
Track, f/r: 60.4/60.8 in.
Turning circle: 38.0 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 38.4/NA/41.8 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 38.9/NA/36.8 in.
Trunk volume: 46.6 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 2500 Lbs.
Suspension, f: Independent
Suspension, r: Independent
Ground clearance: 7.3 in.
Curb weight: 3612 lbs.
Tires: P225/55R17
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS, EBD, HDC
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gal.

 

 

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of August 23, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-FINE-4WD - 1-800-FINE-4WD

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.


 

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

Related Articles & Car Reviews

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

Shopping Tools

For Sale on Autotrader.com

Please enter your ZIP to see prices and listings near you.

Loading Ajax Content Loading Ajax Content