Landrover freelander starting the compact suv craze

Landrover Freelander 1 – Starting The Compact Suv Craze

The first generation Freelander from the Rover Group was a product of market research conducted in the late 80s.  It pointed to a potential market demand for compact all-terrain 4×4 that characterized the emerging SUV popularity of the period.  The Rover Group lost no time to undertake a classified product R&D in the early 90s codenamed CB40, after the Canley Building 40 where the project was being hatched.

Rover was looking to get some funding from its business partner Honda which promptly declined because they were already developing their own compact SUV program that would hatch the CR-V in 1997.  Rover decided to go for the project on its own and after BMW bought the group in 1994, its autonomy was assured and hardly did BMW get itself involved in the project.

In 1997, the Landrover Freelander 1 was launched eventually becoming Europe’s best-selling 4×4 until 2002, when the Group was already under Ford Motors.

Freelander Models

For almost 10 years, from 1997 to 2006, the first generation Freelanders had just two basic models – the 3-door softback semi-convertible SUV and a 5-door Estate SUV.  But it’s interesting to note that the 3-door model also had sub-models that included a hardback and commercial van versions.

Both would come in various edition trims with the 3-door E, S and SE variants and the 5-door models coming in E, S, SE, HSE, Sport and Sport Premium trims.  In 2004, the Freelander had a major facelift in the Mark 1 version sporting a new interior and external updates like a new front face and rear.

Under the hood, the Freelander came in different inline 4-cylinder engines starting with the 1.8-liter Rover K-series badges as 1.8i but not sold in the US.  Then there’s the 2.0-liter Rover L-series badged1.8 Di between 1997 and 2001 that was replaced by the BMW M47 diesel badged TD4 from 2001 until its production end in 2006.

At the same time, the 2.5 liter Rover V6 petrol engine badged V6 came out.  With all engine configuration, the Freelander was offered with either 5-speed automatic or manual transmission which dominated the early releases.  The automatic Tiptronic gearboxes came with the V6 and enjoyed a large following among SUV enthusiasts.

The Freelander K series had been problematic as its head gasket/cylinder liner often failed while its engine block was considered made of poor alloy build causing many of the liners to “drop” in the blocks causing the gaskets to fail. Overheating in the K-series also caused head-gasket failure and prompted Rover to update an underpowered engine to the more popular 2.0 liter L-series.

The Landrover Freelander 1 was a capable off-road 4X4 that earned some credentials in a number of endurance races like the Camel Trophy and the Land Rover G4 Challenge.  But while the first generation Landrover Freelander 1 enjoyed hill descent control as well as Traction Control which used ABS to control each brakes to give excellent off-road handling, it was generally considered a compromise as it didn’t have low range gear selection or center locking differential found in other Land Rover models.

But it was excellent in city driving as most SUV users rarely ever pushed their beloved SUVs in rural dirt and mud roads.  It had it last production run in 2004 mainly due to the lack of V6 engines.

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