BY ANDY ENRIGHT
To the uninformed, a Land Rover Freelander is just one of a number of rather unnecessary compact 4x4s that seem to be popular. Those who know a little more about the Freelander will know that it has developed into the best car in its class. True students of the Land Rover marque will know why and why the Freelander is a vehicle with one of the more interesting development stories behind it. What you probably want to know now is how much you should pay for a used example and what to look out for.
The original Freelander had a very troubled birth. Despite seeking help from Honda to develop the car, the Japanese declined as work was already in an advanced stage with their own offering, the CR-V. Forced to go it alone and utilising many parts from the Rover group parts bin including a modified Maestro floorpan and the K-series engine, the Freelander nevertheless was a good looking car that wore the right badge and had broad appeal. Unfortunately reliability was dreadful. Over its ten year lifespan, the Freelander tightened up in terms of quality and design but after the launch of the all-new Range Rover in 2002, the Discovery 3 in 2004 and the Range Rover Sport in 2005, the Freelander was conspicuously the weak link in the Land Rover line up.
With Ford bankrolling the car's development, industry insiders knew that the Freelander 2 was going to be good; a 'proper' Land Rover at long last. So it has proved. With talented rivals like the Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V and BMW X3 to contend with, the Freelander has more than held its own. Launched in 2006, the Freelander range concentrated on diesel power, was bigger and better built than before and was far superior off road. Latest reports also suggest that reliability is at a decent level as well. In early 2008, the sporty road-oriented HST variant was announced.
What You Get
The shape is instantly familiar, albeit one which looks as if vehicular geneticists have artificially inseminated a Freelander with some purebred Range Rover DNA. The MK1 Freelander was one of those rare exceptions - a vehicle that just got better and better looking throughout its lifetime and the second generation car has upped the ante again. Whilst it retains the chunky good looks, Land Rover has imbued it with a far more premium look and feel, which is just as well as, model for model, the Freelander2 is a more expensive car than its immediate predecessor. It feels it as well, but that's because a cheap three-door variant is no longer offered, nor is the rather weedy 1.8-litre petrol engine that never did the Freelander any favours.
Although the shape is familiar, you get more Freelander for your money in second generation guise. It's 50mm longer, 109mm wider and 32mm taller but the wheels have been moved further towards each corner, freeing up another 105mm in the car's wheelbase, making rear seat accommodation a whole lot better. Weight has crept up a whopping 250kg to around 1770kg in the process but a parallel improvement in safety, refinement and quality is a transaction most customers will be willing to accept.
What to Look For
Land Rover Freelander owners no longer sleep fitfully, with waking dreams of clutch pedals going flat to the floor, head gasket failures and groaning diffs being a thing of the past. This generation car has been built with a clear idea of what its customers want and with access to a far greater array of quality components. Check if a tow bar has been fitted and also check the tyres for odd wear patterns. Although the Freelander 2 is very capable off road, there are limits to its ground clearance so inspect the underside for signs of damage to the suspension, exhaust and front valance.
(Freelander 2007 2.2 TD4 - approx exc.VAT) Mirror glass retails at £20 for the flat panel and £25 for convex glass. Tail light bulbs are just 29p a pop, and a lamp assembly for the rear number plate is £10. An auxiliary drive belt is £15 and oil and air filter elements are £7 and £6 respectively.
On the Road
A pair of new engines were developed for the Freelander 2, one diesel, the other petrol powered. The oil burner is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that's good for 159bhp and which develops 400Nm of torque - a useful increase on the 352Nm of the old Td4 diesel unit. It's enough to make this model the one to go for if you're planning on towing or plenty of urban use, a fact reflected by its excellent combined fuel economy of 37.7mpg. Jointly developed by PSA Peugeot Citroen and Ford, this engine will be badged TD4 and features the latest common rail technology and electronic injectors. For the technically minded, this engine's key highlight is a variable-flow twin port system that increases midrange urge without having to wind the turbocharger's boost up overly high. Mated to a six-speed manual transmission, the TD4 is a sweet piece of kit but owners of this variant can also talk to their dealers about an automatic option.
The 3.2-litre petrol engine is the powerplant the Freelander has always deserved and generates 232bhp. This Volvo-sourced all alloy straight six (badged i6) is so compact it's mounted transversely and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Land Rover's Command Shift system offering the driver the option of knocking the stick back and forth in a sequential mode while there's also a sport mode for added zip.
One of the most exciting parts about this model is Land Rover's decision to fit their excellent Terrain Response system, standard on all but the entry-level model. This allows the driver to select what sort of off-road conditions the car is experiencing via a rotary knob on the dashboard and the car's electronics work out how best to dole out power and maximise traction, turning the Freelander 2 into a far more capable off-road tool. There's still no low range transfer case, which may scrub the Freelander 2 from the shortlists of those who want something really rough and ready, but the Freelander 2 comes up with a number of other ways to get you out of a tight spot. A full-time intelligent 4x4 system is based around a sophisticated Haldex centre differential which helps keep economy manageable on road while a sophisticated Gradient Release Control system is a logical extension of the old Hill Descent Control system for descending steep and slippery slopes.
The Freelander 2 has returned Land Rover to its rightful position at the top of the class. Our pick would be an early TD4 in either GS or SE trim, mated to an automatic gearbox. Take your time, look at a few cars and don't be afraid to negotiate hard. Do this and you'll end up with the best small 4x4 around for prices you won't believe.