At Bangernomics we rather like the Land Rover Freelander. Not everyone does, but as the next Land Rover Defender is going to be posh and expensive, if you want a credible, pukka off roader that costs buttons and is pretty tough then here it is…

Unlike most of the so-called soft roaders, a Freelander actually has some serious ability. When you stray into the muddy stuff the Hill Descent Control is just one of the clever gadgets that will help you to stay on track without slipping off. When you are in town doing the shopping though you won’t bounce uncomfortably over rough roads like some small 4 x 4s. Also on smooth roads it corners fairly flatly with plenty of grip. Overall then this is a practical and usable vehicle, especially in estate car format. Most of all that badge is the guarantee of ability. Land Rover is 4 x 4 aristocracy and despite the early well-publicised quality shortfalls and regular return visits to the dealer for warranty work, the all-important image remains intact. It is still thehandy sized soft roader with the all-important rock hard, Land Rover edge. If you want to tow or you need a family estate with a bit more ability then it is hard to think of a better buy. The boot is a decent size whilst there are plenty of storage cubbyholes with the cabin and controls well laid out for optimum comfort. Also values of the early modes have now come down to an affordable level.

Freelander History

In the early 1990s the company that invented the civilised on road 4 x 4 in the shape of the Range Rover found that it’s market was under attack from the Japanese. Not only were full sized vehicles like the Toyota Landcruiser and Mitsubishi Shogun proving to be increasingly popular, the pocket sized Toyota RAV 4 and Suzuki Vitara opened up a whole new market. For Land Rover it was vital that they fought back. Like the small Toyota, which handled just like a car rather than a truck the prototype, Freelander was based on a conventional bodyshell. This meant it was lighter, without all the oily bits and suspension and wheels being attached to a big lump of metal called the chassis that was then attached to the body. Working within a tight budget and before BMW became involved Rover managed to create a five door that they called a Station Wagon, a three door Hardback and also a Softback model. Not surprisingly this last all British designed Land Rover was an instant hit, with superb on and off road ability. Unfortunately that other British design fault unreliability had been unwittingly incorporated and the Freelander seemed to break down a lot. That never stopped people buying them, or led to a collapse in second hand values. Proof that the Land Rover brand is all powerful.

The Freelander Range

Introduced in 1997 you could buy yourself a five door Station Wagon, or a three door as a Hardback or open Softback. Oh yes and few years later you could also get a Commercial model with no rear seats or rear side windows which was essentially a four wheel drive van. The original engine options were 1.8 petrol and a 2.0 diesel. These were joined in September 2000 by a 2.5 litre turbodiesel and a 2.5 V6 petrol engine. The basic specification apart from permanent four-wheel drive included electric front windows, driver’s airbag, heated electric door mirrors and an alarm/immobiliser. XE specification included alloy wheels, ABS brakes, hill descent control which meant as the name suggests a safe way to tackle a muddy incline, plus passenger airbag and split rear rear seats on the Station Wagon. Top Xi specification meant air conditioning, metallic paint and a load cover. In the year 2000 there was a facelift and the usual shuffle of trim levels. S was now the lowest, GS had aircon, alloys and twin airbags, whilst the ES had larger 16 inch alloys, electric folding door mirrors and a CD autochanger. There were also option packs so you could add sat-nav, leather and a cold climate pack that included heated front seats and windscreen. Revised again in 2003 the most significant addition to the range was the excellent 2.0 TD4 turbo diesel engine and a raft of new trim levels from E to S and SE, Sport and Freestyle V6s. There was another round of spec changes in 2005 but you are probably bored by now.

Freelander Things That can Go Wrong

The Freelander has had a patchy record, although some owners have been luckier than others. The engines are prone to overheating and that causes head PETROLkets to fail, plus early versions had weak oil seals which should have been replaced under warranty back in the late ‘90s. Also if engines seem to over rev this could be due to a faulty throttle linkage which should have been fixed under warranty to pre 1999 models. More of a concern is the transmission. If it jumps out of gear then there are serious gearbox problems. The hydraulic clutch can cause issues as it is very difficult to adjust, so if it slips or engages too quickly it may need complete replacement. Owners report that clutch life especially for urban dwelling Freelanders can be as low as 20,000 miles. Ideally you should try out the Hill Descent Control (HDC) where fitted. The HDC light should come on when engaged, then all you have to do is find a steep slope. If it is working properly the Freelander should not be able to exceed 5 km/h. The seals in the power steering pump can occasionally split and you will get a dashboard warning light as well as a mess on the floor. The power steering system can also groan or rumble if it starting to fail. Overall the most important thing you can find is a full service history with a receipt for every item replaced. Indeed, always take a look at the spare wheel cover. Often you will find the selling dealers name on it, at the very least ask them what they know about it’s previous history.

Freelander special editions

Special editions became a feature of the Freelander line up for some time and there are plenty to choose from. The 50th, in 1998 celebrated a half century of Land Rovers and meant 16 inch alloy wheels, roof rails on the Station Wagon, aluminium side steps, leather interior and air con plus a CD. Atlantis Blue or White Gold were the paint finishes on offer. The V6 GS could be had in over the top ESX specification in 2002 with 17-inch alloys, roof rails, black side runners and nudge bar. There were also mud flaps, double driving lamps, lamp guards plus electric sunroof, aircon and a range of interesting metallic colours. Biarritz blue, Alveston red, Java black, Monte Carlo blue or Blenheim silver were the options, but if you missed the ESX a year later you could buy the ES Premium. This had different alloys, dark privacy glass, Alpaca luxury interior, Harmon Kardon music system and whilst we are name dropping a Becker sat nav system. At the other end of the scale the 1.8 Serengeti in 2002 had special alloy wheels, metallic paint, privacy glass, aircon and CD. It proved such a hit that it became a full production model just six months later.

The Freelancers that Bangernomics will buy

As the all new Freelander is getting most of the attention, the oldest versions from the 1990s are likely to dip in value quite significantly. However the late vehicles registered in 2004 and 2005 can still make very strong money, especially with Premium specification. As ever it is the 2.0 Td4 diesel which is the model that most people want whilst the petrols can be ignored or downvalued. The practical five door estates fill up the classified adverts, with the three doors and soft-tops are less common. Certainly diesel is the obvious choice if you are going to do the mileage to justify it, or serious towing, but if you want value then the petrols are worth considering. The V6 in particular will usually have a better specification. Bear in mind that that the range was heavily revised in September 2003 so there is usually a significant price blip for these later models. Three door Freelanders are not as popular and so are harder to sell and if you want a fun vehicle or simply one for hard work then they make sense. As for special editions a Kalahari just has some extra bits of trim, alloys and a CD, but the Serengeti has air conditioning, whilst the Millennium just looks over top with too many shiny bits and isn’t worth paying any more for.