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Land Rover Freelander 2004 review

The badge might say diesel, but what that means Down Under is "serious off-roader".

The Freelander went oil-burner-only a couple of months ago for the Australian market, with a total switch to 2.0-litre turbo-diesel power.

It's a shift in focus for the Land Rover which, though never a "soft-roader", had a slightly suburban emphasis for young families and people who couldn't afford to jump into a trendier Discovery or flagship Range Rover.

The Freelander has been a huge hit at home in Britain, where the classic Land Rover is still the benchmark for four-wheel-drives. But it has not gone as well in Australia, where Toyota is king of the bush and Japanese four-wheel drives have made life more than tough for a vehicle not close to best in class.

Still, it has a Land Rover badge and Land Rover DNA, and that is enough for some people.

Sales this year have been modest -- 282 in the first seven months -- with the Freelander up against heavy hitters in the compact four-wheel-drive class, where the Nissan X-Trail is setting the pace with 8098 sales.

The Freelander is a class above its size rivals on price, and that means it could also take a hit from the classy BMW X3. The Landie's prices now start at $39,950, which is well above a five-door Toyota RAV4 from $32,290 or a Honda CRV from $31,990, though even the flagship Freelander SE automatic at $46,450 is well below the X3 at $65,300.

No surprise, then, that Land Rover in Australia is pushing the diesel angle and pitching the Freelander at people who really need an all-paw escape machine.

The update hasn't changed the fundamentals, with tweaks typical for any mid-life facelift.

The nose looks a little different with a new bumper-headlamps-grille combination, the tail lamps are new, there are new colours and the removable roof on the two-door can be either a hard cap or a folding soft top.

Inside, Land Rover has tweaked the dash and added cupholders, the seats have more support and new fabrics, and sound and ventilation is upgraded.

It's not much of a change, but Land Rover is concentrating on the all-new Discovery, which it needs to win back lost ground in the luxury 4WD class.

The Freelander has never been a Cars Guide favourite. The British machine has always felt cramped and dozy on the road, but we were hoping the latest version would change our minds.

On The Road

THE Freelander diesel is great in the rough stuff. It has fantastic grip and climbing ability, as well as a sure-footed feel on steep descents that makes it a delight for four-wheel-drive work.

It is easy on fuel, has reasonable overtaking power for country road work, and packs Land Rover suspension that crushes the roughest roads and irons out smaller bumps without upsetting anyone in the cabin. But, and it's a big but, you have to drive out of town to get to the rough stuff.

The Freelander, even with the latest updates, is nothing special for everyday blacktop driving. For suburban commuter work, unless you are a Land Rover fanatic, it would be a real pain.

The diesel engine doesn't get going for the first 30 metres, the touch-change system on the automatic gearbox doesn't provoke a real response, and even when it is going it struggles to provide zip.

It is a snoozer. Fine for country use, but outpaced in town.

The cabin changes make the Freelander a little nicer, but even the latest seats – with great support and comfort – put a mid-sized man far too close to the roof. It's easy to bump your head in rough country.

The cabin still looks a mix-and-match job, unlike the integrated Japanese rivals and the classy X3 for people with big budgets, even with big cupholders and good CD sound in our SE automatic tester.

The doors close with a real thunk and the Freelander feels as if it will go the distance, but not without some squeaks and rattles.

The real enjoyment comes when you turn into the scrub and tackle tracks or hills, when the diesel engine just thumps along and the superb suspension keeps the wheels planted and the car moving forward. That's when you know it's a real Land Rover, capable of realising the dreams of any weekend warrior.

It has a badge to compete with the Japanese hero cars, which won't go close to it in the bush – apart from the Nissan X-Trail – but cannot match their comfort and refinement when you're closer to home.

So we cannot avoid the buts and we cannot really recommend the latest Freelander except to people who are sold on diesel and the traditional Land Rover off-road experience.

The Bottom Line

The Freelander is great for off-road work with a diesel kick, but there are far better choices for all the other jobs.

Pricing guides

$5,040
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,600
Highest Price
$7,480

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Es (4x4) 2.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $3,700 – 5,940 2004 Land Rover Freelander 2004 Es (4x4) Pricing and Specs
HSE (4X4) 2.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $2,700 – 4,620 2004 Land Rover Freelander 2004 HSE (4X4) Pricing and Specs
S (4X4) 2.0L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO $4,000 – 6,490 2004 Land Rover Freelander 2004 S (4X4) Pricing and Specs
SE (4X4) 2.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $3,100 – 5,390 2004 Land Rover Freelander 2004 SE (4X4) Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$2,800

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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