Preview: 2002 Freelander
|Land Rover's baby ute finally gets its U.S. papers.|
Mar 17, 2005 19:41:50|
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MOOSENEE, Ont. -- Never heard of Moosenee? No wonder. You can't even get there by road! And that's exactly the reason that Land Rover Canada chose this ancestral home of the Cree - and the hub of more than 300 years of fur trade history - as the first location on the North American continent for a ride and drive of the all-new, gas-powered Freelander (the turbodiesel TDI version has been out since '98). Even the locals call it "the edge of the world." And, then there are the polar bearsâ€¦
Okay, so how did a bevy of motoring press and Land Rover's first all-wheel-drive runabout get there? Therein lies the challenge that this British marque has made a business out of and - in case you've been wondering -
it's obvious that parent company Ford hasn't tightened the leash on this 4WD automaker's hankering for the unusual, the extreme or the nearly impossible.
In the half-century that Land Rover has been building its rugged vehicles, this automaker has earned a legendary status that makes their own British Empire seem a bit milquetoast in comparison. In Africa, Australia, India, and of course England, it's considered that for globetrotting to the most remote spots on the globe, nothing but a Land Rover will do.
Here in America, the legendary Land Rover badge could until now be had on only two vehicles. There's the flagship Range Rover - a finely appointed wagon that can traverse the Continental Divide Trail and the rock slabs of Moab, Utah - and the second-generation Discovery, a more pragmatic piece that is nearly as luxurious and larger to boot. (The slab-sided Defender, an iconographic truck that resembles the original 1948 Land Rover, hasn't been sold in the States since 1997 but is slated to return in 2003.)
Later this year, Land Rover showrooms from Greenwich to Sausalito will have another product on hand, and Americans - especially those without an excess of disposable income - will be able to romp to work or to the local fishing hole in legendary Land Rover style: Coming to the U.S. for 2002 is the Freelander, a cute and capable small sport-utility vehicle with all-wheel drive.
Freelander is the best-selling SUV in Europe, but will be 70 percent new when it comes to our shores. The biggest and most welcome part of the redesign is the 2.5-liter V-6 engine, a powerplant specifically engineered for the North American market and the only one that will be offered here. With this 175-horsepower engine, Freelander will join the company of only a handful of V-6-powered small SUVs.
More significant is the five-speed "Steptronic" automatic transmission that will be standard on all Freelanders here. Not only does it boast the latest in adaptive shift patterns - the transmission's electronic control unit can recognize driving style and terrain conditions, then adjust gear selection accordingly - but it can also be shifted manually through all five speeds.
A major innovation - and a unique feature in the popular SUV and 4WD market - is Freelander's electronic Hill Descent Control (HDC), which is a true bonus for serious off-road travel This astute technology guides a controlled descent for steep downhill or traction-compromised grades. When in either first or reverse gear-and HDC is engaged (by push button control) - the driver adopts a unique "no-feet" style of descending an off-road track or wintery slope, since Freelander's brakes automatically act upon the wheels with traction to maintain a speed of between 4.4 and 5.6 mph. Applying either throttle or brakes disengages HDC, although it remains active until the system is manually turned off.
Freelander is the first Land Rover without the traditional low range, four-wheel drive gearing that made this British marque renowned worldwide. Instead, it comes standard with a specially-tuned viscous-coupling unit that divides the engine's power between the front and rear axles; four-wheel electronic traction control further ensures that this compact ute can carry on when only one wheel has traction. And, because of its relatively lightweight, hearty powerplant, and automatic transmission, the Freelander can keep up with its Land Rover brethren in the rough stuff, and in other conditions, it speeds away confidently.
Also unconventional is Land Rover's decision to use a fully independent MacPherson strut suspension instead of a solid-axle arrangement. With vastly better ride quality, much more dynamic on-road handling, lighter weight, and exceptional wheel travel, (some seven inches up front and eight inches at the rear) this suspension is a win-win solution both on the street and in the woods.
Land Rover outfitted this seriously competent SUV with a level of equipment that places it at the very top of its class. Standard are heated exterior mirrors that fold in at the touch of a button for tight squeezes, for example, as is cruise control, an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD audio unit, a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, vehicle security system, and ample storage options for all one's gear, whether its for a safari in Senegal or a tailgate party in suburbia.
After driving this new model on the ice, snow and mud conditions of northern Canada, it comes as no surprise that Freelander is now the best-selling 4WD vehicle in Europe. For the North American market, it has been substantially remodeled and upgraded to satisfy tastes this side of the pond. On balance, it has small sedan European on-road handling with Land Rover backcountry capability, such as ground clearance that ranges from 7.2 inches to 8.7 inches, notable angles of approach and departure along with Land Rover's unique Hill Descent Control ( 5-mph downhill braking).
While different from its brethren - it was not built for the same type of duty cycle as the Discovery and the Range Rover - this British marque describes that it is "Land Rover-capable" in its segment, where its length (175 inches) and wheelbase (101 inches) give it nearly the same footprint as the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute.
Impressive handling characteristics come as the result of its robust unibody construction (welded onto C-section cross-members that run the length of the vehicle and enhance body rotation) that requires nearly 13,000 lb-ft of twisting force to generate one degree of deflection across its wheelbase and its four-wheel independent suspension with front and rear subframes and unique bushing geometry, composition and mounting angle of the shocks (front: MacPherson struts, lower arms, coil spring, anti-sway bar; rear: MacPherson struts, trapezoidal links, coil springs).
Notable is responsive steering, capable brakes (power-assisted front disc and rear drums, designed for good hill-holding along with the parking brake) and an engine that despite its somewhat small size, revs freely and sounds sexy. Freelander's Steptronic transmission also allows for independent gear selection, particularly useful on limited-traction surfaces.
Largely a front-driver, with nearly 90 percent of engine torque sent to the front, Freelander's AWD system makes fairly seamless transitions to the rear axle, when slippage occurs, and can split up to 40/60 for climbing hills.
When the Freelander goes on sale in the fourth quarter of 2001, its base price will be less than $30,000. Land Rover hopes to sell some 20,000 of the 2002 Freelanders in the U.S.
2002 Land Rover Freelander
Base price: $29,500 (est.)
Engine: 2.5-liter V-6, 175 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 101.0 in
Length: 175.0 in
Width: 71.1 in
Height: 69.2 in
Curb weight: 3444 - 3585 lb
Safety equipment: Front-seat inflatable restraint system; four-channel, all-terrain anti-lock brakes (ABS); four-wheel electronic Traction Control (ETC); three-point seatbelts and head restraints for all seating positions;
collision activated inertia switch (unlocks doors and turns off fuel pump)
Major standard features: Remote keyless entry; heated, fold-in exterior mirrors; cruise control; eight-speaker AM/FM/CD audio unit; leather-wrapped
tilt steering wheel; vehicle security system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
- Jaguar and Land Rover plunge to '200m loss - Ford's three upmarket UK brands - Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin - have racked up losses of more than £200m, sending the US carmaker's European operations crashing into deficit.
- Toyota ships transmission units from B'lore - Japanese auto major Toyota Motor Corporation has started exporting transmission equipment, manufactured at its dedicated plant set up under Toyota Kirloskar Auto Parts (TKAP), to seven plants across the world.
- Land Rover Sees Sales Up 15 Pct in '05 - Ford Motor Co.'s luxury brand Land Roverexpects to boost unit sales around 15 percent this year andturn a profit, while its Jaguar brand sees flat sales and aloss, a senior executive told Reuters on Wednesday.
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