2002 Land Rover Freelander Review

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TCC Team TCC Team
September 3, 2001

Land Rover All Over? by TCC Team (9/3/2001) 

The sky is the rich blue of mid-summer, the air crisp and fresh and warm enough to start melting the ancient ice of the Langsjokull Glacier. Rivulets of frigid water race through the crevices that have opened up below our wheels, slowing the convoy of Freelanders heading towards the ice mountain’s summit.

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2002 Land Rover Freelander

2002 Land Rover Freelander

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Welcome to the center of the earth, or more precisely, the place where Jules Verne, grandfather of science fiction, began his epic tale of exploration. Iceland was a fitting place for Verne to start the “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It’s a sparsely populated volcanic crag that has risen out of the North Atlantic at the point where the North American and European tectonic plates are pulling apart. The island’s mountain peaks are capped with snow and ice, its valleys filled with mist steaming from fissures leading to the volcanic cauldrons bubbling below.

Iceland was an equally fitting place to take the new Freelander, which in December will become the latest addition to Land Rover’s U.S. line-up. To be more precise, Freelander isn’t new. The compact sport-utility vehicle was introduced in Europe in Autumn 1997. But it made its debut with a pair of engines far too under-powered for the American market, so Land Rover decided to delay the U.S. launch until it was time for a mid-cycle update.

Complicating matters was the financial crisis that forced BMW to sell off most of its British holdings (it has kept only Mini). The SUV maker was acquired early last year by Ford Motor Co., which is beginning the process of blending Land Rover, Jaguar and Aston Martin into one giant British super-group.

2002 Land Rover Freelander

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Icelandic foray

2002 Land Rover Freelander

2002 Land Rover Freelander

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While Ford has plenty of problems to deal with right now, its success with Jaguar suggests it may achieve some miracles with Land Rover, which has been a perennial also-ran in the quality charts. A first glance at the phalanx of Freelanders delivered to Iceland showed a lot of attention has been paid to fit-and-finish. But how would they handle the country’s harsh terrain? Our three-day foray was designed to provide some answers.

The basic Freelander design is attractive and rugged-looking. It stands tall, with the sides tumbling home at a rakish angle. Though there’s plenty of protective cladding front and rear, there’s little on the sides, so Freelander’s profile is clean and uncluttered.

The compact exterior belies the unexpectedly roomy interior. Even with the driver’s seat positioned for this author’s 6’2” frame, there was plenty of knee room for another large male in the rear seat. The spacious passenger compartment did put some constraints on the cargo compartment, but you’d still find space for camping gear or a week’s luggage, if you prefer more genteel diversions.

 “On the order of 70 percent” of the Freelander that will arrive in the U.S. later this year has been revised from the original, a company official claimed. Most of the changes are hidden under the skin, though the interior appointments have been upgraded. Our high-line HSE would compare favorably with any luxury sedan, with its leather seat trim, tinted glass, sunroof and 240-watt sound system.

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2002 Land Rover Freelander

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Interior motives

2002 Land Rover Freelander

2002 Land Rover Freelander

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There were some typically British touches we’d like to see changed, such as the power window switches. Mounted by the center armrest, they were hard to find without taking your eyes off the road. Unfortunately, there were several such ergonomic eccentricities we hope Land Rover will revise with the next generation Freelander.

The most notable improvement in the American edition is the 2.5-liter, quad-cam V-6 under the hood. It generates 174 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque.  You won’t smoke the tires, but there’s more than enough power to handle the highway or a steep hill. For the U.S., Land Rover has also introduced a segment-leading five-speed automatic, which is made more attractive by its manual shift mode. The all-wheel-drive powertrain relies on a center viscous coupling for improved off-roadability.

Freelander borrows some of the most attractive features of its bigger and more expensive brethren, including Hill Descent Control. Nose down and shifted into first, HDC automatically pulses Freelander’s antilock brake system, slowing your descent to a crawl. This proved especially attractive as we descended the slick and treacherous trails carved into the Langsjokull Glacier. But it’s an equally assuring feature when you’re heading back down a steep, dry hill.

The SUVs independent rear suspension doesn’t offer quite the clearance of the solid axle in other Land Rover models, but it does improve on-road handling quite noticeably. And with only a little effort, we found it easy to maneuver off-road, as well. During our three days “in-country,” we found no terrain the little SUV couldn’t overcome, from muddy waterholes to icy outcrops.

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2002 Land Rover Freelander

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But Land Rover is well aware that only the smallest percentage of its buyers will ever attack a glacier. Indeed, no more than 10 to 15 percent of Freelander customers will ever drive down anything rougher than a dirt road. So while its mechanical features may provide reassurance, the real selling points are likely to be the Land Rover badge—and an unexpectedly attractive price. The base Freelander S starts at $24,975, which positions it about $1700 above the lowest-priced V-6 AWD version Jeep Liberty. The top-line HSE will set you back $31,575—but get you leather seats, 17-inch wheels, a navigation system and other features.

Until now, Land Rover has been little more than an asterisk on the American sales charts. Under Ford, the goal will be significant growth. To achieve that, the British maker will have to increase brand awareness, expand its line-up and ensure it can resolve nagging quality problems. The Freelander is likely to help deal with the first two challenges. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed on the quality issue. But if the SUVs we drove in Iceland prove to be any example, Land Rover is heading in the right direction.

2002 Land Rover Freelander
Base Price Range:
$24,975 - $31,575
Engine: 2.5-liter V-6, 174 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with “Sport Shifting” manual mode
Wheelbase: 101.0 inches
Length: 175.0 inches
Width: 71.1 inches
Height: 69.2 inches
Curb Weight: 3620 lbs
EPA (city/hwy): 17/21
Safety equipment: Dual airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard features: Single-CD player, air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/locks, cruise control, Hill Descent Control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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