1 Feb 1998
By CHRIS HARRIS
THE Freelander has not been the success Land Rover had hoped for.
Released locally in February 1998, the diminutive 4WD arrived in three body styles – a two-door hardtop, a two-door cabriolet-style soft-top and a four-door station wagon, all built on a 2555mm wheelbase.
It was designed to quell the upswell of light SUVs led by Toyota’s RAV4, while upholding the British marque’s formidable off-road reputation.
But the early ones were too noisy, coarse and unrefined to lure urban buyers, while the missing dual-range gearbox, live rear axle and ladder-frame chassis also limited its 4x4 appeal.
Quality and reliability issues, tight interior packaging and the lack of a strong petrol powerplant (an 84kW/158Nm 1.8 four-cylinder engine, nicked from the MG-F sports car, and mated to a five-speed manual only gearbox) also held it back.
Only a 72kW/210Nm 2.0-litre OHC turbo-diesel four-cylinder unit proved more suitable. But this engine too came with no automatic gearbox, a serious marketing oversight.
It was, to borrow a British expression, all a bit of a cock-up.
Against the soaring Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, the Freelander soon found the going tough in Australia.