2002 Land Rover Freelander SE
2002 Land Rover Freelander SE. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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Of all the car companies to bring out a “cute-ute”, Land Rover did just that in 2002 when it launched the Freelander here – about four years after it debuted overseas. Perhaps cute isn’t quite the word here, though. While it was smaller and less-powerful than any Land Rover we’d seen before, it was still capable of serious off roading.

Sporting a four-wheel independent suspension bolted to a unibody structure and no Low Range gearing for the four-wheel drive system, the Freelander looked, on paper, like it might have been designed more for on-road use. But if you’d dove a little deeper into the specs, you’d have noticed that the Freelander still employed a raft of electronic traction aids, like Hill Descent Control, traction control, an all-terrain anti-lock braking system and, of course, all-wheel drive.

The Freelander was powered by a 2.5-litre V6 engine good for 175 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque; it was hooked up exclusively to a five-speed automatic transmission. According to Natural Resources Canada testing, fuel consumption looked something like 13.5 L/100 km in city driving, and a little better than 11 L/100 km on the highway. Overseas buyers could get at least one other powerplant, that being a diesel engine that would have been well-suited to Land Rover’s off-road leanings.

2002 Land Rover Freelander SE
2002 Land Rover Freelander SE. Click image to enlarge

Land Rovers have a reputation of being unbeatable off road, but here the challenge might be getting to the rough stuff without something breaking: in general, Land Rover’s reputation for dependability leaves something to be desired, and the Freelander doesn’t deviate much in this regard. Consumer Reports gives the Freelander the publication’s dreaded black dot, meaning “poor” overall. According to CR, trouble spots include, well, just about everything.

But finding details online isn’t an easy task. I did come across this site, which lists fixes for a couple of common drivetrain issues. One of these deals with the Viscous Coupling Unit (VCU), which is a well-known problem among Freelander owners; a failed VCU can damage the transmission and the rear end.

2002 Land Rover Freelander SE
2002 Land Rover Freelander SE. Click image to enlarge

This site even says that buyers looking at used Freelanders should make sure all the four-wheel drive components are there, as the VCU and front driveshaft are often removed altogether from problematic vehicles and are very expensive to replace. I’d recommend spending some time on the Land Rover websites and forums listed at the end of the article to get a feel for what can go wrong with a Freelander. The fact that most Land Rover sites are based in the U.K. might make finding relevant info difficult, due to the availability of four-cylinder gas and diesel engines that weren’t offered here. But at least the drivetrain is common to North American Freelanders, and they did get the V6 that served as the sole powerplant here.

2002 Land Rover Freelander SE
2002 Land Rover Freelander SE. Click image to enlarge

In crash testing, the Freelander got an “acceptable” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in that organization’s frontal offset impact test, and a “poor” rating in that organization’s side impact tests. Considering the Freelander’s premium SUV status, it’s strange that it was never offered with side airbags. The IIHS cited that, plus a high likelihood of internal organ injuries, broken pelvis and head injuries for the Freelander’s poor side impact rating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn’t test the Freelander.

For comparison’s sake, a Kia Sorento gets the same “acceptable” frontal offset crash rating from the IIHS and also earned four and five stars from the NHTSA, in part thanks to the availability of side airbags in the Sorento.

2002 Land Rover Freelander SE
2002 Land Rover Freelander SE. Click image to enlarge

The Freelander wasn’t terribly expensive to begin with, given new prices starting in the mid-$30,000 range. You could get a mid-range version of that Kia Sorento for about the same money, and even if it lacked the electronic off-road aids that the Freelander boasts, it did get a low-range four-wheel drive system, which I think is conspicuous by its absence in a vehicle wearing the Land Rover badge. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the Sorento holds its value as well as the Freelander, if not a little better. According to Canadian Red Book, used Freelander values range from $13,000 for a 2002 four-door S model, to $26,100 for a 2005 two-door SE3 model, or $23,675 for the four-door SE (the two-door model, offered from 2003 through 2005, was more expensive than the four door).

2002 Land Rover Freelander SE
2002 Land Rover Freelander SE. Click image to enlarge

Park a used Freelander next to a Sorento from the same year and choosing which one to buy might be a tougher choice than you’d think. Given their similar values, the Land Rover offers more luxury and pedigree, but it also comes with a lot of potential problems and expensive fixes. What the Kia gives up in cachet and maybe even full-out off-road potential it gains back in reliability and more affordable maintenance. Which one is the better value is a subjective question that can only be answered by the person signing the cheque.

So the Freelander falls squarely into the “buy-at-your-own-risk” used vehicle category: it’s an affordable way to get into the Land Rover fold, but whether you’ll be willing to foot the bill required to stay there is a choice only you’ll be able to make.

Online resources
Perhaps not surprisingly, most popular Land Rover forums are based in England. There’s LandyZone.co.uk and LandRoverForums.com; both have Freelander discussion sections. So do LandRoverNet.com and LandRoverGroup.com. I’d recommend scouring all four of these sites for info before plunking down your hard-earned bucks for a used Freelander.

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  • Test Drive: 2002 Land Rover Freelander SE


Manufacturer’s Website



Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007031; Units affected:

2002-2005: On certain vehicles, the brake lamp switch may become maladjusted as a result of incorrect setting procedure during vehicle assembly or as a result of switch mounting bracket flex. A maladjusted switch may allow the contacts to remain permanently connected as the switch has reached the extent of its travel, which may result in the brake lamps remaining permanently illuminated. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, where required, adjust and/or replace the brake lamp switch.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005193; Units affected:

2002-2005: On certain vehicles, the Child Safety Lever, incorporated into the rear door latch assembly fitted to the left rear door, when engaged, may permit the door to be opened by the interior door handle (when the Child Safety Lever is still in the ON position). Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if needed, replace the latch assembly.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004159; Units affected:

2003: On certain vehicles, after extended use or repeated cycling of the left rear door latch with the child lock engaged, two interfacing components could jam, disengaging the child lock. Correction: Dealers will replace the left rear latch.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004382; Units affected:

2005: On certain vehicles, the deflector panel contained in the passenger side airbag module may not have been manufactured to specification and may result in unsatisfactory performance of the deflector panel’s structural integrity during airbag deployment. This could result in damage to the airbag that consequently could then allow the release of a fragment of the deflector panel into the passenger compartment. Correction: All vehicles have already been corrected at port.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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