Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE car test drives landrover
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson


Capable on and off the pavement

Land Rover’s compact sport utility vehicle, the Freelander, went on sale in Canada in 2001 as a 2002 model – about four years after it first went on sale in Europe. Despite its delayed arrival, the Freelander is still a technically-sophisticated and attractive-looking SUV, and one of the few small luxury SUV’s available. As well, there have been some upgrades to the Freelander since 1997, including a new powertrain and improvements to the chassis – both of which have improved its performance.

Like other Land Rovers, the Freelander is designed to be equally at home on steep, rocky mountain trails as it is on smooth, highway surfaces. This is where the Freelander differs from other luxury SUV’s such as the Lexus RX300 and Infiniti QX4 – the Freelander is capable of tackling the absolute worst off-pavement conditions whereas the RX300 and QX4 are oriented more towards urban use with some light off-road use.

Three trim levels ranging from $34,800 to $43,800

The 2002 Freelander is offered in three trim levels, S ($34,800), SE ($38,800), and HSE ($43,800). Standard equipment on all models includes a 175 horsepower 2.5 litre DOHC 20 valve V6 engine, 5-speed automatic/manual transmission, all-wheel-drive, traction control, ABS, electronic brake distribution, keyless entry, air conditioning, 60/40 split folding rear seats, power windows, rear wiper/washer, power heated mirrors, and heated windscreen.

Freelander S models have all of the above plus cloth upholstery, 80 watt AM/FM/CD stereo with eight speakers, and 16 inch tires with alloy wheels.

SE models have leather seats and steering wheel, 17 inch tires and alloy wheels, radio controls on the steering wheel, and illuminated driver and passenger visor mirrors.

The top-of-the-line HSE model has unique beige leather upholstery, a leather and wood steering wheel, premium 240 watt Harmon Kardon sound system with nine speakers, Becker in-dash CD player with a 6-disc CD changer, power sunroof, and unique 17 inch alloy wheels.

Heated seats are optional on all models ($435), the sunroof is optional on the SE model ($1,230), and the Harmon Kardon sound system and 6-disc CD changer are optional on S and SE models ($1,075).

My test vehicle, a Freelander SE with heated seats and sunroof, came to an as-tested price of $41,460.


Different from other Land Rovers

Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE car test drives landrover
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The Freelander is different from other Land Rovers in a number of significant respects. First it has a unitbody design rather than a body-on-frame design which Land Rover says allows the Freelander to be strong and durable while still being lightweight. The body is all steel except for the front fenders which are made of a dent-resistant polycarbonate material. To strengthen the body, there are two longitudinal box-section rails and cross members mounted to the side sills, and the front and rear suspensions are isolated from the body by front and rear steel sub frames.

Though it has a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a centre viscous coupling, the Freelander does not have a Low Range gear. Instead it relies on Hill Descent Control, four wheel traction control, ‘all-terrain’ anti-lock braking system, electronic brake force distribution, and its all-wheel-drive system to slow it down when descending hills and provide proper traction and stability when ascending hills and under all adverse driving conditions.

The Freelander is the first Land Rover with a fully independent suspension: MacPherson struts at each corner with generous amounts of wheel travel: 180 mm (7.1 in.) in front and a full 204 mm (9.4 in.) in back. The suspension allows the wheels to move backward as well as upward relative to the body when hitting bumps. In most vehicles, fore-aft movements is around 5 mm (.20 in.), but the Freelander’s is 10 mm (.40 in.) at the front and 8.5 mm (.33 in.) at the rear. This suspension geometry improves ride comfort by giving the shocks more time to work as the suspension reacts to a bump.

The Freelander is also the first Land Rover to offer a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.


Driving impressions

The Freelander’s 175 horsepower 2.5 litre V6 is responsive, smooth and the drivetrain is remarkably refined for an SUV. It develops 175 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 177 ft-lb of torque at 4000 rpm — perhaps not as much torque as you might like in a 4X4. The engine has good off-the-line response, but it’s not a powerhouse, sending the Freelander from 0 to 100 km/h in about eleven seconds. Its five-speed automatic transmission is smooth yet sporty – Sport or Normal shifting modes provide quicker shifts or more economy, depending on what you want. Its manual mode shifting intervals are quicker than many I’ve tried — a pleasant surprise.

At a steady 100 km/h, the engine does a relaxing 2500 rpm in fifth gear, and at 120 km/h it turns over at 3000 rpm. The engine is quiet at that speed, and aside from a little wind noise, the Freelander is comfortably quiet at freeway speeds — another surprise for such a tall, upright vehicle.

The Freelander has a nice highway ride – not choppy or tippy or bouncy like some SUV’s — however the ride is a bit firm over pavement breaks and manhole covers. Still, with firm handling, great visibility, and accurate steering response, I found it easy to drive. At slow speeds, however, the steering feels a bit heavy, and the steering wheel rim seemed unusually thick to my hands. As well, I found the Freelander’s turning circle of 11.6 metres (38.0 ft.) a bit wide.

The Freelander’s body is very tight (as Land Rover advertises) and the suspension components don’t creak or squeak when travelling over rough surfaces. The front disc/rear drum brakes offer good pedal modulation and the Freelander offers such high-tech goodies as electronic brake force distribution to even out braking forces during hard braking and four wheel ABS to help steering control during panic braking.

As well, its combination of all-wheel-drive and four-wheel traction control provides superb traction on wet or slippery surfaces — if one wheel has traction, the Freelander will get going again. Ground clearance is substantial — a minimum of 186 mm (7.3 in.) at its lowest point, so driving in deep snow or mud is possible. As well, the Freelander has short front and rear overhangs, an advantage when travelling over sudden dips in the terrain.

All of these things add up to a very capable off-road vehicle that’s also quite capable of a comfortable urban commute.


Interior impressions

Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE car test drives landrover
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For an SUV, the Freelander has a fairly low step-in height, but once you’re in, it seems like you’re sitting up higher than other vehicles. Outward visibility is good in all directions, even to the rear where there is an externally-mounted rear tire. The driver’s seat is not height-adjustable, but the steering column tilts, and I found the driving position satisfactory. I liked the Freelander’s flat hood because it makes it easy to judge parking distances – it’s also handy when driving off-road when you need to be able to judge the distance to a rock or a tree.

The front leather bucket seats are firm but comfortable and the Freelander’s tall, boxy cabin provides plenty of legroom and headroom for front and rear passengers. The front seats are raised allowing generous footroom for rear passengers – however, there is a plastic-covered bulge under the front passenger seat that restricts footroom for the right rear passenger.

Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE car test drives landrover
Click image to enlarge

The Freelander has a comprehensive set of gauges, including a tachometer, but they’re comparatively small in size when compared to other SUV’s. A round plastic hood over the instruments minimizes glare on the gauge faces. The top of the dash is flat, and includes a couple of cupholders – easy to reach but not a good place for cups if they spill.

During the week that I drove the Freelander, it was hot (over 30 degrees Celsius) and I found that it took ten minutes for the air conditioning to cool down the interior. Even at its maximum setting, it struggled to keep the interior cool.

Like many European vehicles, the Freelander’s power window controls are on the centre console between the front seats, rather than on the doors, and the buttons for the rear wiper, fog lights, and traction control are high up on the outer edges of the glare hood. While most controls are on the instrument panel, the button for the Hill Descent Control is between the seats, just behind the gear lever. My car had the optional steering wheel mounted audio and cruise control buttons which are easy to use, and the optional seat heaters which are a must in winter.

For storage, there are large door pockets, an open cavity on the left dash, an open cavity on the right dash, a glovebox, a small storage bin between the seats, and unique roof-mounted nets at the rear.

Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE car test drives landrover

Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE car test drives landrover
Click image to enlarge

There are three seatbelts at the rear, but it’s really only wide enough for two adults to sit comfortably. Rear passengers have a folding rear centre armrest with two pull-out cupholders, and a 12 volt powerpoint at the back of the centre console for video games.

One unique feature is a rear window which goes up and down with the press of a button — handy for loading light packages in the cargo area. The rear window also includes an electric defogger, wiper and washer.

The rear hatch door opens sideways towards the curb revealing a large opening with a fairly low loading height, but the door blocks the way if you are loading from the sidewalk. The rear opening is about 42 inches wide and 36 inches tall, but only about 27 inches deep with the rear seats in the upright position. Still, there’s a total of 540 litres/19.3 cu. ft. with the rear seats up. For securing cargo items, there are eight tie-down hooks on the side walls and four on the cargo floor.

With both 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks folded, cargo area more than doubles in size to 1032 litres (46.6 cu. ft.). The rear seats don’t fold quite flat though. There’s also a small hidden storage area under the cargo floor.

The Freelander includes a full-size spare tire with alloy wheel mounted on the rear hatch door.


Competitors

There aren’t many compact SUVs in the luxury class – the closest competitors might be the Lexus RX300 ($48,000) and Infiniti QX4 ($48,000). They’re more expensive than the Freelander, but they come fully-equipped — there’s no base models. Both the RX300 and QX4 have bigger V6 engines with more horsepower (220 and 240) and better straight-line performance. They’re also a bit roomier than the Freelander, and offer longer powertrain warranties. But they probably wouldn’t perform as well off pavement, and the base Freelander models are considerably cheaper and a better value.


Verdict

The Land Rover Freelander is a truly capable off-road SUV as well as a competent grocery getter. If you actually do head into the boonies now and then, the Freelander is an SUV that will provide satisfying all-around performance.

The Freelander is built in Solihull, England.


Technical Data: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE

Base price $38,800
Freight $995
Price as tested $41,460
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sport utility vehicle
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 175 @ 6250 rpm
Torque 177 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission five-speed electronically controlled automatic with locking torque connector. Intermediate reduction drive. Sport/normal modes and sport/manual shifting.
Transfer case Permanent all-wheel-drive, centre viscous coupling
Curb weight 1,642 kg (3,612 lb)
GVWR 2060 kg (4,541 lb.)
Max. payload 441 kg (972 lb.)
Max. trailer weight 1,133 kg (2,500 lb.)
Wheelbase 2557 mm (101.0 in.)
Length 4447 mm (175.0 in.)
Width 1805 mm (71.1 in.)
Height 1757 mm (69.2 in.)
Luggage capacity 540 litres (19.3 cu. ft.)
Rear seat folded 1032 litres (46.6 cu. ft.)
under-floor storage 20 litres (0.6 cu. ft.)
min. ground clearance 186 mm (7.3 in.)
Fuel Regular unleaded
Fuel consumption City: 13.8 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 11.2 l/100 km (25 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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