The Freelander was drawn up in the first half of the 1990s to give Land Rover a lower-priced, more mainstream passenger-carrying vehicle which would attract a new group of customers to the marque. To this end, it was radically different from any earlier vehicle to wear the Land Rover badge, with a monocoque bodyshell and all-independent suspension carried on separate front and rear sub-frames. The engine was transversely mounted, and although all four wheels were permanently driven, a torque bias towards the front wheels was achieved by differently-geared front and rear differentials. In place of a transfer gearbox, the Freelander had an Intermediate Reduction Drive which geared-down the output from the main gearbox and performed the function of a centre differential while apportioning the drive between front and rear axles. There was no low ratio for off-road use, but an electronic Hill Descent Control (which pulsed the brakes through the ABS system to limit downhill speed) and Electronic Traction Control (also operating through the ABS) were designed to compensate for this absence. These features were nevertheless not standard on the earliest models with basic specification levels. The Freelander went on sale in January 1998 with two alternative bodyshells on the same wheelbase, one a three-door with an open rear section, and the other a five-door Station Wagon. The open rear section of the three-door could be equipped with a folding convertible top (when the vehicle was called a Softback) or a resin-moulded roof and sides (when it was known as a Hardback). There were initially two trim levels – i and XEi for petrol models and di or XEdi for diesels. In March 1998 an intermediate Xi and Xdi trim level was added. These designations never appeared on the vehicle as badges. Interior trim was always cloth, although leather was used on certain special editions, such as the Millennium Edition in 2000. Two engines were available. The petrol option was a 1.8-litre four-valve four-cylinder, derived from the K-series engines used since 1989 in Rover cars. The diesel option also came from Rover cars, and was a version of the 2-litre L-series engine introduced in 1995. Both were higher-revving engines than used in most other Land Rover products. Gearboxes were always five-speed manuals, both engines having versions of the Rover PG1 type originally developed for cars. The Freelander was an immediate and massive sales success, quickly overtaking the Discovery as Land Rover’s best-seller.
Major changes were introduced for the 2001 model-year, affecting the structure, engines, gearboxes, suspension and steering and braking systems. Multiplexed electronic systems were introduced, and the heating and ventilating system was uprated. On the visual side, there were clear direction indicator lenses in place of the earlier amber type, and a longer nose with ribbed belly panel for those models with the new V6 engine. Front wing badges now indicated the trim level – S, GS and ES for most markets, and tail door badges indicated the engine type on diesel and V6 but not 1.8-litre petrol models. With the ES trim level came leather upholstery as standard. The body structure was stiffened, and this also allowed minor suspension changes to improve the ride and handling. The power steering was made more responsive, while a new ABS system quietened the HDC operation of earlier vehicles and came with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution to ensure even braking all round. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine remained available, but was now slightly less powerful after being reworked to meet EU3 exhaust emissions legislation. Models with this engine were now known as 1.8i types. The earlier L-series diesel was replaced by a more powerful 2-litre four-valve four-cylinder BMW-built engine with twin camshafts, common-rail injection and a Variable Nozzle Turbine turbocharger. Models with this wore Td4 badges. At the top of the range came an all-alloy 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine (known as KV6 because of its relationship to the K-series engines) – again, a version of an engine originally designed for Rover cars. The Rover PG1 gearbox remained the only option for 1.8i models, but the manual gearbox for the Td4 models was a new five-speed type made by Getrag. Optional on the Td4s and standard on V6s was a five-speed automatic gearbox made by JATCO. This came with switchable Sport and Economy modes, and was coupled to a Steptronic manual override control system. Further minor changes were made for 2002, at the same time as the Freelander was introduced to the North American market. The most visible of these was a change to black instead of grey for the bumper aprons and for some of the interior mouldings. All Freelanders were built at Solihull until November 2001, when assembly of KD examples began in Thailand. This was followed by further KD assembly in South Africa from mid-2002.A minor facelift for 2004 brought new front and rear details, interior changes, and the option of a more road-biased suspension in the Freelander Sport models.
A van derivative of the Freelander went on sale as the Freelander Commercial in September 1999 as a 2000 model after an April 1999 announcement. Based on the three-door Hardback model, this was converted by Land Rover Special Vehicles, and featured a rear “hardback” without side windows. The rear interior included special side panels, a three-quarter-height bulkhead, lashing points and heavy-duty floor covering. Freelander Commercials were available with either the 1.8-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel engines. They switched to the 1.8i engine and Td4 diesel when these became available for the 2001 model-year, but a V6-powered Commercial has not been made generally available. Exact production figures for Freelander Commercials are not available, but the vehicle was being built at a rate of around 550 a year.
The Freelander was introduced to North America in December 2001 as a 2002 model. Only five-door Station Wagons were available, with the V6 petrol engine and Steptronic automatic transmission. Trim levels were S, SE and HSE, the upper two with leather upholstery, and new cupholders were added to the centre of the fascia above the air vents. All NAS Freelanders had side running lights in the front and rear bumper wraparounds.
The second-generation Freelander (L359) was longer, wider, heavier and slightly lower than the model it replaced – and, inevitably, more “premium”. Sales began at the end of 2006, and Freelander 2 was badged as LR2 in the USA and certain other markets to counter negative associations from the earlier model.
All models were five-door Station Wagons, and all were built at the Halewood plant in Liverpool that was shared with Jaguar. The 104.5-inch wheelbase and wider body gave more passenger space, and the spare wheel was now under the boot floor. Side wing vents and overlapping light units at the front reflected the new Land Rover family look.
It was again a stiff monocoque mounted on two sub-frames, with all-strut, all-independent suspension and no transfer box to give low range. The 4x4 system was biased to give 90 percent of drive to the front wheels, but a Haldex Centre Coupling provided rapid progressive torque transfer to the rear wheels on demand. Brakes were discs all round, and most models had a suite of electronic traction aids; only entry-level types lacked four-mode Terrain Response.
Engines were again transversely mounted. The diesel 2.2-litre (TD4) was a four-cylinder from the Ford-Peugeot alliance, while the six-cylinder 3.2-litre (i6) petrol came from Ford-owned Volvo. The diesels had a six-speed Getrag-Ford M66 manual gearbox or after spring 2007 could have the same Aisin six-speed automatic that was standard with the petrol engine. From 2009, fuel-saving and emissions-friendly Stop-Start technology was introduced as standard on the manual diesel model, which was then badged as a TD4-e.
With the 2011 model-year facelift came the option of two-wheel drive (in the eD4 models), and the diesel engine was made available with more power in SD4 models while the standard engine lost some power to reduce emissions. From mid-2012, new headlight units incorporated daytime running lights.
The impending end of Freelander 2 production was marked by a special Metropolis edition in May 2014. The last Freelander 2 was built at Halewood on 3 October 2014, but in practice some examples were completed later from CKD kits sent out to Pune in India. The replacement model was not badged as a Freelander but as a Discovery Sport.