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Small inside and lacking a low-range transfer case, the Freelander won't appeal to buyers looking for a seriously capable small SUV, despite the Land Rover name on the hood. Think Jeep Liberty.
Hill Descent Control, Steptronic automanual transmission, permanent all-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension.
Tight on cargo space with rear seats folded, priced at the top of its class, V6 engine a tad on the weak side, rear drum brakes.
Available Freelander Models
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The first new Land Rover to come to America since 1995, the compact Freelander is expected to boost U.S. sales by 50 percent by offering the go-anywhere cachet of the LR brand name and the daily drivability of a small SUV in a package priced under $30,000.
Land Rover is launching the Freelander in the U.S. this year, six years after the mini-ute debuted in Europe to critical acclaim. Initially available only as a four-door with an automatic transmission, the 2002 Freelander has been substantially reworked since its introduction on the continent; fully 70 percent of the parts are new.
A dual-overhead cam all-aluminum 2.5-liter V6 engine is the only powerplant available. It makes 175 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. While this is less power than is made by some competitors in the class, the Land Rover's V6 is designed for smooth, quiet operation; something that cannot be said about the motors under the hood of the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute twins.
Permanent all-wheel drive is standard, driven through a five-speed Steptronic automanual transmission sourced from BMW. How is permanent all-wheel drive different from permanent four-wheel drive? No low range gearing, according to Land Rover. Instead, Freelander has traction control that's active up to 31 mph, limiting slip across both axles.
A viscous coupling unit automatically applies and distributes power as required, limiting slip between front and rear axles. Land Rover freely admits that the Freelander won't go places a Defender can, but claims it leads the segment in off-road ability. We think Jeep may beg to differ.
The Steptronic automanual includes a Sport mode that revs the engine higher between shifts for better acceleration and earlier downshifts. Adaptive programming understands operating conditions such as mountain tracks, hill climbing, descents and high altitudes, and adjusts shift points accordingly.
Hill Descent Control operates in first and reverse gears. It's set to target a descent speed of 5.6 mph (4.4 mph on rough surfaces). Standard four-wheel ABS with electronic brake distribution is standard, but we're not impressed with the rear drum brakes (fronts are ventilated discs).
Unibody construction and a four-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension won't impress hardcore off-roaders, but Land Rover has dialed in 7 inches of wheel travel in front and eight in back. Standard wheel size is 16-inches, but 17s are optionally available. A full-size spare is mounted on the side-opening cargo door.
Inside, buyers can choose either black or gray decor. Rear seating is stadium-style, with a 60/40 split-folding backrest. Freelander offers 19.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the seat in use and a meager 46.6 cubes with it folded. That's substantially smaller than most players in this market, so if you need to bring large amounts of stuff with you, look elsewhere.
Standard equipment includes power windows and central locks, air conditioning, remote keyless entry with theft alarm, a CD player and cloth upholstery. Optionally available are leather seats, a power sunroof and privacy glass. Prices start under $30,000, but can rise quickly as options are added.
Freelander will certainly meet Land Rover's sales goals for 2002. Might even exceed them. But practical folk, the types who tend to buy these kinds of small SUVs in the first place, will likely shy away from the high price and small cargo capacity in favor of utes like the Jeep Liberty and the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute twins.
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