My view is that if you had a Land Rover Freelander, you would want to go off-road at an early time. That's the way it was with me too! With that frame of mind, I went off-roading three times in one week! Now the first off-road experience had to wait over an hour after I picked up the car. You see, I had to leave Sydney first!Within a couple of hours, on day one, I was in the Ourimbah State Forest, just west of the NSW Central Coast, not far from Wyong. This is very mild off-roading, so it was an easy run, just as expected, for the new model Freelander. But an easy run is essential, so you can get to know your 4WD before you take on the serious business of 4WD'ing.
After a few hours behind the wheel, the absolute delights of driving the little Land Rover were very evident. I was hoping the day wouldn't end! Already it's abundant qualities of very good on-road manners were clearly evident. The exceptionally comfortable driving position was impressive! A good driving position is not uncommon, but it is uncommon to be outright impressed by a driving position. What makes the Freelander driving position so good is the positioning of the seat and the steering wheel and the pedals all in, shall we say, harmony with each other. This harmony was perfect with the Freelander. It was even more perfect (huh?) when you consider the particularly impressive positioning of the head restraint. Head restraints are, unfortunately, often considered as headrests. But they are a safety feature and, as such, it (they) should be positioned as such. In the Freelander, the head restraint is immediately behind the drivers head, not some centimetres behind in a laid-back position. All things considered, day one revealed the Freelander was one mighty fine customer! It felt strong, very strong. It felt secure, very secure. And it was so easy to handle!
But what's it like living inside the Freelander? We've already discovered the amazing on-road and off-road qualities of this mighty fine compact-sized all-wheel drive wagon, so it comes as no surprise that the interior is equally well planned. Passengers get the same deal as the driver. Very comfortable seating. For the record, some vehicle seats are firm, other can be soft. The Freelander seats are of the firm variety, just the way it should be for long distance comfort or for off-roading. So it's clear that the Land Rover design team got this aspect right.
There's only one fault with the Freelander and it's not really a fault. But the heater is mounted under the dash above the passenger's feet. There's plenty of leg room, but not much foot room. This never produced any problems for us in any of our many drives. But it will be noticed by some passengers.
What about the model range? Good point. The Freelander comes in 3-door softback or 5-door wagon versions. The 5-door wagon comes in 2 trim levels, the S and the SE. All models have a 2.0 litre turbo-diesel engine. Depending on model, there's manual or auto transmission. The 3-door auto softback is $45,450. The 5-door models range from $39,950 for the manual S to $46,450 for the auto SE. These prices exclude the traditional add-ons and options (such as metallic paint).
The Editor off-road testing
the Freelander near Mt Sugarloaf, NSW
The Freelander at Yengo National Park, NSW
As mentioned, it's diesel only with the Australian versions of Freelander. One thing is certain though! The fuel gauge moves slow! We carried out no tests, but using the Euro standards, the fuel usage is 9.1l/100km urban or combined urban/highway it's 7.6l/100km. It's this latter figure which impressed us.
The test vehicle was an "S" wagon with 5-speed manual transmission. So we're looking at the base model which comes in at $39,950 plus on-road costs. The test vehicle was a very attractive metallic red. The front-end appearance of this new 2004 model makes the car quite attractive. The price makes it a niche model. But the car's character and performance (that's both on-road and off-road) make it an exceptionally good package and quite a desirable package too.
Standard features include air conditioning, ABS, ETC, HDC (which worked wonderfully well), EBD, power steering and CD player.
Suspension is independent all-round with coil springs with Macpherson struts. Brakes, which perform quite well, are the traditional disc/drum lay-out.
But back to the driving! The performance of the 2.0 litre turbo diesel is best described as 'steady as she goes'. It's not in a performance car category, so you don't expect race car dynamics. On this basis, you won't be disappointed with the small diesel, but be assured if you want additional performance, just get those revs up a little. The biggest surprise of all with the Freelander, from my perspective, was the willingness of the diesel engine to provide some entertainment with good acceleration by simply keeping the revs up around 3000-3500 rpm. By the way, maximum power is at 4000rpm.
Before concluding, I would like to mention two other off-road trips. We (the Next Car team) took the car for a run in the hills just south of Mt Sugarloaf (west of Newcastle). This is relatively mild off-roading, but some areas are just not suitable for soft-roaders for example. But the Freelander was quite at home in this environment. So much so, we were there for hours.
Another trip was to Yengo National Park, which is in the middle of no-where, east of the Putty Road, well north of Windsor NSW. This was to be a most-of-the-day trip, with a convoy of 3 vehicles. But we have to leave it there for now. Sign-up now for our free weekly newsletter here (simply send a blank e-mail for automatic subscription lodgement) and you'll hear about our trip OR re-visit our site next week for the story of our visit to Yengo National Park. It was a great day and a great trip. The Freelander added to the joys of the day, by performing just as expected, in it's truly magnificent way.
So after a week, covering 976 kms, mostly on-road, we can happily report the Freelander has additional members in it's fan club. It's a well sorted package that performs everything well, just the way it was designed to do! It's like a big 4WD, but without the bulk and, more importantly, without the big fuel bills!
The hype tells you that the Freelander is a great compact sized 4WD. Driving it confirms that notion ..... decisively!