Forgotten Cars: Land Rover Freelander/LR2

Remember when Land Rover used to have a compact offering for people that wanted something more “upscale” and with some offroad chops that wasn’t a CR-V or RAV-4? Not many people do as time goes on. But that’s pretty much what the old Land Rover Freelander(later LR2) was.

The first gen Freelander eventually came to market in 1997. It was the result of research done by Land Rovers previous owners, the Rover Group to see if the automaker could compete with a vehicle in this size class.

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Early Freelander design studies. Top right shows original Pathfinder on the left and the Rover Oden on the right
Graphic: CarThrottle

There were originally supposed to be 2 versions. Land Rovers version was originally called the Pathfinder, and the Rover version called the Oden. But the Oden never went forward as it was an oddball at that time: it was the first irritation of a crossover. No one then wanted a fwd vehicle pretending to be an SUV. So it was scrapped.

Testing for what would become the Freelander was done from ‘94-’96 using Austin Maestro vans as test mules. These test vehicles were powered by a 2.0 liter Perkins Prima turbo diesel. This engine was originally slated for introduction into the production version of the vehicle, but that was changed at the last minute

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With them being the small company like they were though, development money was tight. So they sought out a partner they had worked with for years before: Honda.

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A little background: Honda and Rover had history developing vehicles together with their short lived luxury brand Sterling in the 80’s. But the falling out between the 2 came as a result of sort of an industry betrayal. Honda had had a controlling stake in Rover for years, and it had been rumored that Honda was going to go all in and buy Rover outright. (had they done so Rover might still be around today as BMW didn’t do good by them in the long run). But Honda simply didn’t have enough cash to buy a controlling stake in the company. BMW, who had been eyeing the company, simply had more money to buy it right then and there and that’s what they did. This is where the falling out happened: Honda owned 20% of Rover while Rover owned 20% of Honda’s Britirsh manufacturing arm. The other 80% of the company was owned by Britirsh Aerospace who apparently went behind Honda’s back and sold that 80% stake to BMW for $1.2 billion. BMW had hoped Honda would stay on with their stake, but the betrayal really hit them, and they calmly informed BMW they would be ending their partnership with them.

This is where the development of the Freelander jointly (internally named CB40) would cease. It was being jointly developed as a vehicle both Rover and Honda would get. But when Honda backed out of their partnership, Honda continued development of their own version of the CB40. This went on to become the first gen CR-V.

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With BMW being the new majority owner in the company, development on the vehicle pushed forward with the Freelander debuting in October of ‘97. The final design was spearheaded by Gerry McGovern, who later would go on to become head designer of Land Rover in ‘07.

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The Freelander was initially offered in a variety of different versions with different engine options. Initially there was the standard 5 door, 3 door softback convertible (which seemed to be popular at the time with small SUV’s in the mid to late ‘90’s), a hard top 3 door hatch and commercial versions that could be compared to panel delivery vans. Here in the US we got the 5 door and softtop versions.

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Initially engine options included:

  • 1.8 I4 which wore the 1.8, Xi and XEi badges
  • 2.0 I4 diesel with Di, XDi or XEDi badges
  • 2.0 I4 diesel with the Td4 badge
  • 2.5 V6 which simply had a “V6” badge
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It should be noted that the 1.8, 2.0 XDI and the V6 were all Rover engines, while the 2.0 Td4 was a BMW designed diesel engine. In proper fashion manuals were available with all engines. But the V6 and Td4 models could be had with an auto that was similar to VW/Porsche’s Tiptronic.

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With it being a Land Rover, off road prowess was a selling point. With its initial debut it competed in the Camel Trophy, an off road event that was known for having Land Rover compete to show how good they were over rough terrain.

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The Freelander was also a test bed of a number of patented off road features that are pretty much standard on many off road vehicles today including vicious coupling, hill descent control and something called IRD which stood for Intermediate Reduction Drive. It was a fancy name for what amounted to be a front diff and a fixed ratio transfer case. While the Freelander was very good off road for what it was, especially compared to other vehicles in its class, its lack of low range and a locking diff meant that it still wasn’t as good off road as the rest of the Land Rover lineup, but good enough to where it could say it had off-road chops, something the CR-V, RAV-4 and Geo Tracker didn’t. The first gen Freelander was produced from ‘97-’06.

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The 2nd gen came around under the time of Ford ownership, when Land Rover was apart of Fords useless empire building PAG (Premier Automotive Group). It rode on Fords EUCD platform, which itself was a variation of Ford’s C1 platform. This platform underpinned other Euro Ford vehicles such as the Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy, but the bulk of the platform was used by Volvo (S60,S60 Cross Country V60,V70, V70 Cross Country,S80. The XC90 was supposed to use this platform as well but it was cancelled during its development phase) and is still in use there.

The 2nd gen debuted at the British Motor Show in 2006. In Europe it stayed with the Freelander name while here in North America its name was changed to LR2 to follow the recently introduced alphanumeric naming scheme Land Rover had recently debuted with the Discovery becoming the LR3.

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The LR2 came with a number of updates to make it more luxurious and modern. The interior was heavily redesigned and revised from the mostly spartan and almost work like interior the first gen had.

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It had big changes tech wise too, gaining xenon headlights, upmarket audio systems, heated seats and washer fluid and a touch screen nav system among other things. The bigger changes though were under hood. The new LR2 came with 2 engine choices. There was a 2.2 liter diesel that was co-developed with Peugeot Citroen and a Volvo sourced 3.2 I6 (which made its debut on the S80 at the time). The diesel came in 2 versions with 3 different power ratings. 150 horses or 160 were standard on Td4 versions while Sd4 versions came with 190 horses. The 3.2 I6 had 230 horses.

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2013 LR2

Towards the end of its life in 2014 the the LR2 dropped the I6 in favor of a version of Ford’s 2.0 Ecoboost I4. This engine was shared with the Evoque. This new engine helped the LR2 shead 88 lbs and helped fuel economy, but only gave the LR2 a 10 horse advantage over the old 6 cylinder.

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The LR2 also gained a variant in 2010 called the TD4_e that had a start/stop system as well as a heavy duty alternator which worked in conjunction with the regenerative braking system as well. The LR2 was sold from 2006-2014. It was replaced the following year with the problematic and Explore-esque Discovery Sport. While its hard to find sales pre 2009, from 2009-2015, 310,619 Freelander/LR2’s were sold around the world. And while the vehicle was constantly popular in Europe, it was never a hot seller in the US. In 2004 for instance, just 5,430 were sold and in 2006, just 13 were sold the first few months of the year.

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If you’re looking for one used, they can be had for cheap, as depreciation was not kind to these things. I checked online, and for some reason there are only 2 first gen Freelanders for sale in the entire state of California. I couldn’t explain that. But it looks like low mileage versions (and you can find them with under 100k miles) can be anywhere from $2500-$5k. A few examples close in on $10, but don’t come close and you wont find any that crest $10k either.

LR2s are more expensive and can be found for $10-17k depending on miles and year, with ‘14s and ‘15s being the more expensive. Thats if you want to buy one though. I cant bring myself to think of one good reason why anyone would buy one of these things used when Range Rovers and LR3s of the same vintage go for similar money.

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