FREELANDER TAKES THE

21 April 2000




FREELANDER TAKES THE

COMMERCIAL ROUTE

A marketing reshuffle and

some mods from the Special

Vehicles Division brings

Land Rovers diesel Freelander

into the commercial

sector. Andrew Pearce

sees how it fits

NOW that the Commercial Discovery is no more, Land Rover stalwarts looking for workaday transport must think smaller. And should they fancy something a touch more civilised than the Defender, itll have to be a Freelander.

Solihulls little un finds itself among some thoroughly established competition. Isuzus Trooper Commercial, Nissans Terrano and the Daihatsu Fieldman have all made friends in farming and dont look like retiring just yet. So what, other than a fluffy suburban image, does the bulldog-nosed Brit bring?

Something a little different. Based on the entry level three-door model, the Commercial comes well specced, like it or not. Electric windows/mirrors, a single airbag, fancy alarm/immobiliser, a basic sunshine roof and steering column adjustment are all standard, and theres a big options list that includes a 300kg-capacity slide-out floor. Promisingly for agriculture, the front wings and headlamp lenses are moulded from dent-resisting polymer. All this comes at a price: before adding reclaimable VAT and tiptoeing into the options, a diesel Commercial costs £15,421. Thats around £2000 beyond the smaller, more basic Daihatsu Fieldman, £1000 up on the Nissan and on a par with the similar-sized but more powerful Isuzu.

&#42 Black hole

The Commercial is about carrying loads, so thats where well start. Land Rovers Special Vehicles Division hoiks out the back seats and blanks off the small side windows, then jetties the floor forward over the rear passenger footwell to extend the bed. Mesh grille separates the cab from the payload, plastic panelling seals the sides and the whole thing is finished by a removable hardtop.

The resulting load zone measures 1470mm (57.9in) deep, 1406mm (55.3in) wide and has 998mm (39.3in) between the wheel arches. That looks to be Tardis-style load space from a small vehicle, until you spot that the Freelanders 100in wheelbase is shared by the Discovery and Range Rover Classic. So small is a relative term. But space doesnt go hand-in-hand with weight carrying – at 505kg, payload falls short of the competition.

Opening the single back door involves a pause while its heated glass panel retreats, then access is easy. The bad news is that the low load-bed forces a bent back while lifting heavy stuff, and that the deep rear bumper is at precisely knee-cracking height for anyone under skyscraper size. Better tidings comes in the shape of the floors impressively non-slip rubber mat and the generous sprinkling of roping eyes.

Topless motoring is a wheeze that the tin-top opposition cant match. Four clamps hold the weighty hardtop shell in place so a couple of minutes fiddle turns the Commercial into an open half-tonne pick-up. One man can lift the top clear but single-handed refitting is a struggle.

&#42 No slumming, please – were British

A look round the cab confirms youre not short-changed on content or style. Big doors give easy access (handy if youre in and out of a vehicle all day), a deep screen lets in plenty of light, the quality and fit of the furnishings is good and the whole place has a cheerful, upbeat feel to it. Chunky dashboard detailing looks more computer game than off-roader, yet manages to hold two gloveboxes and a swarm of storage slots and shelves. Overhead are twin lift-out panels which would be a sunroof if they werent solid black plastic; a carry-over from the Freelander leisure lifestyle.

The vehicles cabin offers plenty of room. In fact, the soft seats put the driver in splendid isolation; too far from the door to rest an arm and without support on the other side. Tall users should be OK for legroom but may find backrest angle limited by the mesh bulkhead behind. Other negatives are the non-existent rear three-quarter vision and seatbelts mounted so far back as to challenge even a supple user. These gripes aside, the Commercials cabin is cut above the usual drab fare and has enough kit to make the cost premium worthwhile.

&#42 A little more needed

Rovers 2.0 litre turbodiesel generates just enough oomph to hold boredom at bay but not enough to bring much twinkle into driving. Its a well-sorted unit; flexible across the range and with no vices beyond a tingle and lack of couth towards the 4200rpm max power point. Yet while you cant accuse the little direct-injection lump of being noisy its not soothing either, always humming away with an overlay of combustion rattle like a muted mini-Tdi.

"Adequate" best fits the motors 96hp/155lbf ft, particularly when the car weighs around 1500kg and is rated to tow 2000kg. Youll smile at fill-up time, though – our previous Freelander (see FW Feb 20, 1998) returned 33 mpg in rural running.

No moans attach to the transmission. Light clutch, easy gearshift and five sensible ratios translate into smoothly-controllable progress. Lowish gearing leaves the Freelander pretty busy at 70mph and breathless beyond 80; gear whine hovers and is particularly strong just below the legal limit. At speed the empty rear bay adds hollow noise, while wind rush and tyre roar come and go with conditions. None of this is over the top, so both Commercial and driver will survive long trips.

Much of the cars cheerily benign nature comes from its ride. Freelanders are built all of a piece; theres no separate chassis and the suspension is independent. The resulting rigidity and lighter underpinnings let coil springs and compliant damping serve up consistently untroubled road voyaging, come potholes or high water – aided and abetted by the cossetting seats. The only waywardnesses are some float over big crests and the occasional bang from the front if a wheel reaches full droop.

High rigidity promises good steering, and again the Freelander delivers. The wheel rim is over-chunky but the rack system it talks to does the job; turn-in on fast bends is gentle and accurate and response to driver input consistent. Roll is less than you find in a taller 4×4 and the car doesnt wander, so its easy to push along confidently – and with permanent 4wd in charge of the engines limited torque theres no grip crisis.

Off the road, the elements that carry the Freelander to a decisive win over conventional 4x4s start to work against it. Ground clearance is in shorter supply, wheel travel limited, the suspension harder-pressed and the engine short on low-rpm reserves. There is a self-locking centre diff but no low range box, and were still to be convinced that traction control electronics do a better job than a battery of driver-selectable diff locks. So you wont take a Freelander where a Defender will go. That said, Hill Descent Control (part of an £863 option package) does help on slippery drops and with much whining and pulsing from the myriad systems and thumping from the nether regions, the Freelander climbs well. More relevant for everyday farm use, run-of-the-mill excursions away from hard tracks give it no trouble.

FREELANDER FACTS

Model: Commercial 2.0di.

Engine: L-series, 4cyl 2.0Tdi.

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

Drive: Permanent 4wd.

Brakes: Disc/drum.

Suspension: Independent, McPherson strut front, coil rear.

Weight: 1550kg.

Payload: 505kg.

Towing capacity: 2000kg.

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000miles.

Base price: £15,421 before VAT.

Price as tested: £16,888.

Above: Not a bad way to start the day. Freelander cabin is bright and cheery, though soft seats will need covers and carpet lies under the rubber mats. Its not all work and no play, either – an airbag, electric mirrors and column adjustment are standard. Dash has plenty of crevices for oddments and two gloveboxes.

Right: Commercial Freelander is based on three-door; windows are blanked out and removable hardtop added. Cost is £15,421 before VAT.

Above: One man can lift away the hardtop in a couple of minutes to uncover a half-tonne pick-up bed. Rubber matting is grippy so a toolbox doesnt slide too much; when it does, a mesh bulkhead catches it. But the low centre section wont keep friendly

animals out of cabin.

Above: Two of these locking handles and a pair of latches hold the hardtop on. During refitting the back corners have to be forced home, so its a bit of a wrestling match.

Above: Easy-working gearshift

(1) has yellow collar to engage optional Hill Descent Control, which uses the brakes to limit speed on drops; helpful as theres no low-range box. Electric windows (2) and headlamp levelling (3) are standard, while the radio shows stations only on a remote display (4) – better for the driver and inconvenient for thieves.

Above: Under the floor is a fair-sized lockable compartment. Bumper is at knee-cracking height; lower lamps set in it may not last long. Right:. Still cant get used to seeing pint-sized 2.0 turbodiesel sitting so low in bay. Maybe if you water it, itll turn into the V6 promised soon.


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