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Free 'n easy: the next Freelander will cure the ills of the current model.

‘Every single issue’ with the current Freelander will be fixed with the new model

31 Mar 2006

LAND ROVER’S forthcoming Freelander small 4WD wagon is scheduled for launch in July at the London International Motor Show ahead of an Australian release early next year.

Larger and more powerful than the current model, the small off-roader will be crucial to Land Rover Australia’s efforts to rebuild its entry offering in this country.

Spy shots reveal a car that visually borrows cues from the Range Rover Sport and Range Rover Vogue, with a sharper exterior, pronounced Land Rover grille and Vogue-style headlights, vented mudguards, large glass area and vastly improved interior and equipment levels.

Although unconfirmed, the vehicle is tipped to be available with two engine choices: a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder and a 3.2-litre six-cylinder petrol engine with the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, according to Autocar magazine.

Featuring variable valve timing and producing 175kW of torque and 320Nm of power, the 3.2-litre engine will also debut in select Volvo passenger cars in Europe later this year. It is a compact unit, being just 3mm longer than Volvo’s current five-cylinder engines.

The engines slated for the Freelander are likely to appear in Ford’s forthcoming small 4WD which is based on the same platform as the "little Landie" and is due to be shown in concept form at the Paris International Motor Show in September. To that end, a Volvo-based small 4WD is also understood to be in the works.

Developed by BMW, the current Freelander is almost the forgotten model in the Land Rover line-up, which is dominated in Australia by the Discovery III and recently launched Range Rover Sport. Last year Land Rover Australia sold just 145 Freelanders, significantly off its 2004 pace of 418.

Despite being a strong seller in the UK, the vehicle has suffered here because of its high price relative to a barrage of newcomers. Under-performing engines and poor build quality have also dented its appeal.

As someone who worked on this and the new-generation Freelander before taking over the reins at Land Rover Australia, managing director Steven Morten has admitted "the vehicle, to be honest with you, has been a compromise, really, from day one".

"I think the reason for it is physical – the size of the car is not what consumers really want," he said soon after arriving in Australia in 2004. "If they want a five-seat 4x4 they would tend to go for a bigger car … (and) the fact that it’s only 4.5m long and the fact that it’s got, relatively speaking, low ground clearance – those sorts of things have probably made it not the ideal car for the Australian market.

"Every single issue that a customer finds a disadvantage or an annoyance with the current car is addressed – and some – with the new one."

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