The Freelander arrived in our market in February 1998 intending to broaden the Landrover brand appeal beyond rugged traditionalists.
Urban bush-bashers were meant to be drawn to the badge synonymous for many folk with go-anywhere 4WD’s. Arguably though, the light duty off-road market was at that time dominated by Japanese vehicles, including Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4.
Models and features
The 1.8 litre petrol model was offered in two specification levels, the upmarket Freelander XEi and the more humble Freelander i. Buyers of the base model could choose a three-door softback or a five-door wagon. A three-door hardback was also added to these body styles for those choosing the XEi version.
Softback versions offer the ‘open-air experience’ courtesy of an overly-complicated-to-remove fabric rear roof, plus a sunroof out front. The hardback version has a solid lift-off rear roof section.
All versions offer constant 4WD, dual front airbags, power steering, mirrors and front windows, remote central locking, four speaker radio cassette and tilt steering column. ‘Extras’ on the XEi include ABS, traction control, alloys, two extra speakers and a hill descent control system.
On the road
The baby Landy’s 1.8 litre, 16-valve petrol engine is the K series four-cylinder unit similar to the MGF without variable valve timing. On or off-road the performance is sad, with its feeble 84kW struggling to haul nearly 1500kg about. The only gearbox offered with the 1.8 petrol is a five-speed manual.
On road manners are sound, with a comfy ride and competent roadholding albeit with noticeable body roll. Seating is good and by class standards Freelander provides a spacious cabin. Rear headrests and the spare wheel challenge rear visibility though.
Off-road ability would be competitive with other soft-roaders if it weren’t so lacking in power. There’s no low range, but the hill descent system allows controlled descent of steeper inclines through use of the ABS and traction control system.
From all reports, reliability doesn’t appear to be one the model’s virtues. Australian versions were built in South Africa resulting in variable build and paint quality. But the K series engine once again proves its Achilles heel and is likely to ensure it has regular sojourns ‘off-road’, and into a garage for repair.
Engine overheating woes often related to problems with cylinder liners and head gaskets appear very common and could necessitate expensive engine replacement. Repeat failures have been reported by some unhappy owners, and there are many of them.
The Intermediate Reduction Drive (IRD) units in the driveline also appear to suffer expensive failures. Signs of impending doom may not be present, but excessive driveline noise should be cause for concern. Excessive tyre wear is also common and appears to be driveline related.
For brave souls still set on a 1.8 Freelander, a thorough pre-purchase check including service history is strongly recommended.
From 11 to 15 litres / 100km, depending on model and conditions.
For an indication of what you would pay for this vehicle please go to RACQ's online car price guide or contact our Motoring Advice Service on 07 3666 9148 or 1800 623 456 outside the Brisbane area.