Land Rover’s most affordable model (below the venerable Discovery and luxurious Range Rover), Freelander debuted in 1997 and gets its first major upgrade for 2004. Its ruggedly handsome new face is more like the Range Rover’s, with body-colored bumpers and twin-pocket, clear-lens headlamps that shine 70 percent brighter than the previous units. Like the Saturn VUE’s, its thermoplastic front fenders shrug off minor dings. Around back, its taillamps sit higher to reduce their vulnerability to dust and dirt.
Inside its cabin, a new instrument cluster in an all-new panel with new controls and switches, new door trim, improved HVAC system and premium seats — all in new materials that look and feel much richer than before — significantly enhance the driving environment. And this more luxurious interior is also substantially quieter, even at elevated freeway speeds.
Powertrain and Chassis
The only power team is a 174-hp 2.5-L DOHC 24-valve aluminum V-6 driving a smoother 5- speed automatic with LR’s CommandShift enabling sequential manual gear changes for added driver involvement. Four-wheel independent MacPherson-strut suspension provides 7.1 inches of vertical front wheel travel and a whopping 9.4 inches in back. Steering is power rack-and-pinion with the rack mounted high on the firewall out of harm’s way.
All-Wheel Drive and HDC
Freelander is probably the most off-road capable contender in its size class, and the only one with a standard V-6. Its always-ready all-wheel drive (no need to manually select it or for a computer to activate it after detecting slippage) is augmented by 4-channel all-terrain antilock braking, Electronic Traction Control (ETC), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Hill Descent Control (HDC). The system can maintain progress even when only one wheel has traction. Its long wheel travel allows it to step over obstacles without pitching its occupants side-to-side, and its short wheelbase allows for excellent breakover angles.
When selected in forward or reverse, HDC automatically applies braking to individual wheels to maintain a 5-mph crawl down the steepest slopes. Though it can get a little rough and noisy, it works amazingly well to keep scarily steep descents under control. Among Freelander’s immediate rivals, only Nissan’s Xterra offers 4-wheel ETC (optional), only Mitsubishi’s Outlander offers manual shift control, and none offers HDC.
Models, Features and Prices
Freelander is offered in 5-door SE and HSE versions, plus a 3-door soft-top SE3, with prices beginning at $25,995. Standard features include a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with convenient controls for sound system and cruise, a power window in the rear cargo door, an 80-watt audio system, power heated outside mirrors, pre-tensioning height-adjustable front seatbelts with load limiters, plenty of cargo bins, trays, nets, (appropriately deep) cupholders and a whole lot more. The $28,995 HSE adds a full leather interior, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, 17-inch tires and wheels and an indash single CD player, while the sporty $26,995 SE3 gets integrated fog lamps and an in-dash 6-CD changer.
What We Think
For those wanting a sub-$30K SUV with serious off-road capability, the ’04 Freelander is a pleasant surprise and a huge improvement over previous models.
|What is it:||An upscale compact SUV with world-class off-road prowess|
|Who’s it for:||Off-road enthusiasts wanting more capability and cache than afforded by others in its class|
|Where’s it built:||Sulihull, England|
|Parent company:||Ford Motor Company|
|Competitors:||Ford Escape, Honda CRV, Jeep Liberty, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Xterra, Saturn VUE, Toyota RAV4|
|Engine:||2.5L DOHC 24-valve aluminum V-6|
|Horsepower:||174 @ 6250 rpm|
|Torque:||177 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission:||5-speed electronically controlled automatic with locking torque converter, Sport/Normal modes and CommandShift sport/manual shifting|
|Layout:||Front-engine, all-wheel drive|
|Wheelbase:||101.0 in. (2557 mm)|
|Headlamps and taillamps:||Koito|
|In Car Entertainment:||Visteon|
|Window lift switches (five-door):||ALPS|