WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — Most local residents here probably have seen a Land Rover Freelander, along with Range Rovers and Discoverys. Not because this slice of “almost heaven” has great demographics, but because The Greenbrier resort is home to the Land Rover Driving Experience.
You, on the other hand, no matter where you live, may never have seen a Freelander on the road, because only 30,000 have been sold in the two years it’s been available in the U.S. With the introduction of the revised, restyled updated 2004 Freelander, those numbers should increase. Land Rover spent $36 million to “significantly update” Freelander with “more than 700 changes that aim to enhance the customer’s ownership experience.”
The most visible changes were styling cues borrowed from the Freelander’s larger upscale sibling, Range Rover. “When we showed the new Freelander to our retailers, they were ecstatic,” reported John Landre, Freelander’s U.S. model manager. “With its new styling, now they think the Freelander fits in with the rest of the Land Rover family.” Yes, the “hippo look” front end has been banished, replaced by a Range Rover inspired twin-pocket, clear lens headlamps (a whopping 70 brighter than last year’s Freelander), redone front bumper and grille. Front and rear bumpers now are body colored, but front fenders still are thermoplastic to resist minor dings. In fact, all exterior plastics are colored all the way through, so if they pick up a gouge or two along the trail you won’t notice as much.
Dirty deeds, not so cheap
Unlike the vast majority of sport-utes, the Freelander and its siblings actually get dirty putting their off-pavement prowess to the test. “Our figures say 40 percent of Land Rover customers go off-road, vs. 10 percent for all SUVs,” Landre told us. But there’s lots of variability in what constitutes ‘off-road.’ When we ask about rocks, mud, or wading through water, our numbers drop down to 25 percent. Clearly we’re selling to a larger percentage of customers using their vehicles that way.”
2004 Land Rover Freelander
2004 Land Rover FreelanderEnlarge Photo
It’s not just the AWD system providing this capability, but four-channel anti-lock brakes working in conjunction with four-wheel electronic traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and Hill Descent Control (HDC) as well. On the Freelander, HDC works only in first and reverse gears. (On Range Rover, it works in all gears.) It limits your speed to 5.6 mph and is “terrain-sensitive,” meaning it’s smarter than you are in factoring the slippery-ness of the trail or how steep that mound of dirt is.
One thing that’s less steep is the Freelander’s pricing, thanks to the one less model (the five-door S); deletion of the navigation system on the HSE, reducing its price from $32,200 to $28,995; and adding an in-dash, six-CD changer and fog lamps to the SE3 (three-door) while keeping its price at $26,995. Because we’ve often wondered why so many manufacturers include expensive navigation systems, we queried Landre about its demise in the Freelander. “We basically took something out of the vehicle that wasn’t being used,” he responded. “We found that our customers who really needed or wanted a nav system bought a portable GPS unit of their own. But many folks didn’t really need or want an expensive factory-installed unit.” So here was a case of decontenting that translated to a lower sticker price.
2004 Land Rover Freelander
The five-door SE gets repositioned between last year’s S and SE and features four 16-inch/five-spoke alloy wheels, privacy glass, and an Alcantara/leather interior. The HSE gets full leather, a sunroof, four 17-inch/six-spoke alloy wheels and an in-dash single CD player. The SE3 gets five 17-inch/six-spoke alloys of a different design as standard and still features a removable hardtop and twin removable glass roof panels. Five 18-inch/nine-spoke alloys are optional across the board, while roof rails and rear fog lamps are standard on all models.
All three Freelanders are powered by a 2.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-6 that produces 174 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with “sport” or “normal” shift patterns and CommandShift manual shift mode. The four-wheel-independent suspension features MacPherson struts all around, plus 21-mm anti-sway bar up front and trapezoidal links in the rear. We can attest to its ruggedness through mud, rushing water, and hilly, bumpy terrain. Yet it also provided a comfortable pavement ride over hill and dale of the West Virginia countryside, where we were impressed with the Freelander’s steering, which the Land Rover folks describe as more linear, sporty, and precise.
According to Landre, “most of the ($36 million) investment went into the interior,” and it shows. Many of the changes were direct results of dealer and customer feedback. “The switches are a lot more intuitive than they were in the previous generation,” said Kevin Haas, our Land Rover Driving Experience instructor. “The foglamps and hazard switches are near top center of the dash and the radio preset buttons are almost the Playskool version, further apart and easier to use.” Haas said the window switches were the biggest customer complaint, so they were moved to the driver’s door. The Freelander’s entire interior layout is more intuitive and more attractive to boot.
With all these positive changes and more bang for your bucks, you might start spotting three- or five-door versions of this “premium compact SUV” almost anywhere.
2004 Land Rover
Base price: $26,995 (SE3); $28,995 (HSE)
Engine: 2.5-liter V-6, 174 hp/177 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed electronically controlled automatic, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 174.1 x 81.5 x 71.2 in (three-door) or 72.0 in (five-door)
Wheelbase: 101 in
Curb weight: 3488–3638 lb
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy): 17/21 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual-stage front airbags; four-channel, all-terrain anti-lock brakes; four-wheel electronic traction control; Electronic Brakeforce Distribution; Hill Descent Control
Major standard equipment: 80-watt/eight-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, 240-watt/nine-speaker Harman/Kardon system with RDS radio and six-disc in-dash changer (SE3); roof rails; power windows, locks, remote keyless entry; cruise control; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
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