The Land Rover Freelander
First on public show at the London Motor Show '97 the size of the stand and the extent of the ballyhoo surrounding it’s launch was sure evidence of the importance of the new sport off-roader, the Freelander, to the future well being of Land Rover.
Widely accepted as the best 4x4s by far - for that is their slogan - the Range Rover, the Discovery and the Defender all have large and profitable markets world-wide but none of them are built in huge volumes, the sort of volumes that exist at the budget end of the off road market and which have, so far, been almost entirely the preserve of 1 or 2 Japanese jeep makers.
Land Rover looked covetously at the volumes and profitability of that market and thus there was born the new Freelander, a new and unusually modern looking sport utility, Land Rover’s answer to the latest generation of Japanese mini-jeeps, and produced by relatively simple formula.
Take the major assets of, say, the Discovery, 4 wheel drive, the ability to travel off road in most terrains, great chassis and suspension strength, mechanicals that are as strong as a water buffalo and a willing collection of petrol and diesel engines from the Rover car range that drive more like cars than big off roaders and you have a more car like sporty off - roader that is more biased towards road use and less towards off road use than the Range Rover or Disco.
Now slash the price well below those luxury offroaders, indeed to a long way under 20 grand, while retaining much of the cabin equipment and comfort, clothe all of that in two sporty and stylish new bodies and you have the Freelanders which combine the solid reputation that have made their larger off-roader brethren the best in the field yet add a new style, prices that make them exceptional value for money and add fun for an entree into a completely different market sector from their more usual green wellied buyers.
Freelander offers 2 very distinctive body styles, a 5 door station wagon which is overtly derivative of the class leading Range Rover but smaller and rounder and, sharing the same frontal treatment, a more radical 3 door available in soft or hardtop. There are two spec levels - i and XEi - and a choice of 1.8 petrol or 2 litre Turbo diesel power plants. Prices are very aggressive because the Rover Group really want a piece of that huge sport utility market but there’s no diminution of that Range Rover quality and solidity, it feels like a class act.
First Published 1997 - Article © Graham Benge 2007