’04 Land Rover Freelander: fitting in with rest of family

Numerous changes have been made to Freelander’s interior, many of which were direct results of dealer and customer feedback.

By: Bob Hall

The 2004 Freelander. Land Rover spent $36 million to "significantly update" this model with "more than 700 changes that aim to enhance the customer’s ownership experience."

   WHITE SULFUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Most local residents here probably have seen a Land Rover Freelander, along with Range Rovers and Discoveries. 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 United States.
   With the introduction of the revised, restyled and 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 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.
   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) and 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.
   Unlike the vast majority of sport utes, 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, versus 10 percent for all SUVs," Mr. 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," he said.
   Of course, if one buys a vehicle chock full of off-road capability, you’d figure they’d be at least tempted to use it that way. Start with permanent all-wheel-drive (AWD) with intermediate reduction drive (a 1.36:1 ratio) and center viscous coupling unit. The system is biased toward the front, but constantly variable depending on conditions. The maximum torque split is 50/50, meaning in the three-of-four-wheels-on-ice scenario, 25 percent of available torque is available to get you moving. On the extremely rugged trails by the Greenbrier, we encountered some snow, but no ice. We can relate that the system works fine even with two wheels off the ground.
   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 Freelander, HDC works only in first and reverse gears. It limits your speed to 5.6-mph and is "terrain-sensitive," meaning it’s smarter than you are in factoring the slipperiness of the trail or how steep that mound of dirt is.
   One thing that’s less steep is Freelander 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. The five-door SE gets re-positioned between last year’s S and SE and features 16-inch wheels, roof rails, privacy glass and an Alcantara/leather interior. The HSE gets full leather, a sunroof, 17-inch wheels and an in-dash single CD player.
   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 Freelander’s steering, which the Land Rover folks describe as more linear, sporty and precise.
   According to Mr. 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 fog lamps 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."
   Mr. Haas said the window switches were the biggest customer complaint, so they were moved to the driver’s door. 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" anywhere.
For more on the automotive hobby, visit Carlisle Events at www.carsatcarlisle.com. With thanks to our friends at www.thecarconnection.com, where a version of the above first appeared.