This is the driver’s car, giving great feedback on the road. It is fun to drive briskly and easy to drive at a relaxed pace. Steering is precise and the car’s reaction to driver input is predictable.
It’s fun even with the docile early Rover diesel engine. The Td4, equally frugal at around 37 mpg, adds more punch, and the Honda-derived thirsty V6 petrol engine is smooth and swift. The 1.8-litre petrol engine is also smooth unit but lacks the economy of the diesels.
Freelander 1 gives a choice of body styles including the prolific five-door station wagon, a three-door soft back, three-door (detachable) hardback and a commercial van option.
The first Freelander 1 arrived with a choice of the 2.0-litre Rover L-series diesel or the 1.8-litre K-series Rover petrol engine. A V6 petrol was also on offer, and latterly the respected Td4 diesel. Freelander 1 was the best-selling SUV of its time, contributing massively to the survival of Land Rover. It pioneered Hill Descent Control and was Land Rover’s first move into monocoque body construction and independent suspension. As such, it takes an honoured place in Land Rover history.
Most Freelanders are five-door station wagons, but it’s worth considering a 3-door with detachable hardtop – though annoyingly it won’t come off if extended roof bars are fitted. But with the hardtop removed and windows down, plus the smooth V6 engine, you have Land Rover’s sports car. Detachable rear soft top is similar, but reduces security.
WHAT TO CHECK
Freelander 1’s early Rover 2.0-litre diesel is good as gold. Nothing happens. The BMW Td4 (a short version of the Range Rover Td6) likes good servicing so check the record. Exhaust smoke and oil mist in the engine bay may need just a routine crankcase breather filter change, which is often overlooked. An instrument panel warning lamp on is likely to be an engine sensor issue, but don’t buy until it’s fixed.
Early overheating issues with the 1.8-litre petrol engine have long been sorted. But it is wise to test any engine over a drive long enough to see the temperature reach working level and stay there.
The 2001 1.8 Freelander received a revised cooling system, and the plastic dowels locating the cylinder head on the block were replaced by steel versions, which prevented head float. Since then a modified head gasket has become available, curing the overheating issue. So a cheap 1.8 can be a bargain.
Freelander 1’s suspension is tough, but listen for rattling anti-roll bar linkages. A thump from the rear is likely to be a failed front mounting on the rear differential. The viscous coupling normally exerts restriction on the drive when manoeuvring slowly on full lock. If the coupling is failing, the handling at 30 mph plus will be poor and the steering will not self-centre as expected.
Problems here, or noises from the drivetrain, mean the car probably needs work, though a whirr from the rear underside may just be propshaft bearings. Some cars have had their propshaft removed to eliminate transmission problems, so look underneath to see if it is there.
Lack of rear drive means the ability to deal with mud, snow and ice is lost and it may cause stability problems, especially on Td4 and V6 models. Service and routine replacement parts are cheap and widely available.
REASONS TO BUY
Freelander 1 styling is now looking classic, no longer dated, and that rear-mounted spare wheel makes the vehicle look every bit the pocket off-roader that it is. Independent suspension with a rigid body makes the Freelander rewarding to drive on the road. Off road, with traction control and Hill Descent, it is very capable. Cheap to run.
Low ground clearance for off-roading, though lift kits are available. Doesn’t like going backwards with a load on the tow hitch. Early Rover diesel takes its time, V6 is thirsty.
Petrol: 1.8-litre four-cylinder
petrol, 118 bhp, 121 lb-ft; 2.5-litre V6 petrol, 177 bhp, 177 lb-ft torque.
Diesel: 1997-2000. 2-litre Rover four-cylinder turbo diesel, 96 bhp, 155 lb-ft torque. R380 five-speed transmission. 2000-2006:
2-litre BMW Td4, 110 bhp, 192 lb-ft.
Project: £400 – £700
Average: £700 – £1900
Good: £1900 – £3300
Excellent: £3300 – £5600