A small, lower-priced sport utility vehicle from upscale SUV maker Land Rover?
It's no joke.
The 2002 Freelander becomes the new, third model in Land Rover's U.S. showrooms this year.
Sold in Europe since 1997, the Freelander is newly revamped for U.S. tastes and combines a stocky SUV look with European on-road handling and the off-road capabilities that Land Rover is famous for.
"Freelander is a real Land Rover, it wasn't built off a car platform," said Andy Thomas, Freelander model manager at Land Rover North America Inc. "It has a dedicated unibody chassis with integrated cross rails like other Land Rovers."
But this new, 175-inch-long model -- which is 3.6 inches shorter than a 2002 Honda CR-V, by the way -- also is easy to maneuver and can fit neatly into downtown parking garages.
In fact, the Freelander is at least 10.2 inches shorter in length than any other Land Rover sold here and at approximately 69 inches tall is closer in height to a Lexus RX 300 than a Land Rover Discovery.
Best of all, the Freelander's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $25,600 -- some $8,395 less than last year's low-priced Land Rover, the Discovery Series II base model.
Even this base Freelander S comes with several standard features that speak to its Land Rover heritage of off-road ability and upscale appointments: permanent all-wheel drive, antilock brakes, traction control, keyless remote entry, cruise control, power amenities and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The clustering of power window buttons in the Freelander's center console area is another Land Rover pattern.
Riders sit up in the Freelander, as you'd expect. But the vehicle isn't as high off the ground as a Range Rover is. At 5 feet 4, I could get inside the Freelander without having to hoist myself awkwardly upward.
Watch, though, as you climb inside. Tall riders may bump their heads on the seemingly low door opening. Headroom inside is less than that provided in the RX 300, Jeep Liberty and new CR-V.
Seats in the Freelander S are cloth-covered and nicely match the cloth-appointed door interior. On uplevel models, they are tastefully appointed in leather.
The Freelander seats provided good comfort on long drives. But there's no height adjustment, even for the driver.
Head restraints in the Freelander are adjustable and lockable and are on each of the five seats. Each rider has a three-point safety belt, too, but side airbags aren't offered.
Three adults fit snugly in the Freelander's back seat, where shoulder room is just 53.1 inches. This compares with 57 inches in the compact-sized RX 300 and 56.5 inches in the 2002 CR-V.
Unlike other Land Rovers sold here, the Freelander comes with a V6 engine, not a V8. It's also the first with a five-speed automatic transmission.
The Freelander's 2.5-liter, double overhead cam V6 provided commendable power both on- and off-road and is well-suited to a mix of duties.
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