A few months ago now, I managed to finally persuade my husband to buy the Freelander I had always dreamt of. These cute little cars have bottomed out in price through taxation, publicity, politics, public opinion etc, meaning that there are a surplus of very heavy duty, lotta car for your money deals out there.
We'd always had Landrover Discovery's and although I love being high up and am pleased with the quality and capability, for me I find them a bit cumbersome and sluggish to drive and difficult to manage with lots of kids, dogs and shopping they are a bit to high to pile in and out of and to park and to do the school run. (Just to state right now - we run a garage and and this car is used for towing off-roading etc - not just a school run Chelsea Tractor type thing)
So we bought a 1999 5 door Freelander 1.8 Petrol.
I Thought it would be an ideal family runaround and so much smaller and more practical than the big Disco. How wrong could we be? After living with it for a week we realised that it was unreliable, impractical, noisy, hard to steer, with poor visibility, it was uneconomical, and poorly put together excuse for a vehicle.
The Lowdown - Engine
The 1.8 16v engine is a pretty nice engine but was very poorly put together at a time when Landrover was in a difficult place being taken over by BMW and eventually Ford.
The build quality is dire and it shows. The Freelander seems like a last desperate hope for Landrover to make money when they didn't have any.
The 1.8 kseries rover engine is best known for blowing the headgsasket no matter which vehicle it is fitted in and this is never a good reference. The headgasket can blow as early as 18k miles from new and then regularly afterwards with no warning - it seems to have no rhyme or reason it plays to it's own tune.
The rover gearbox is smooth and has been taken from the front wheel drive rover cars to make it 4wd it is then fitted with and IRD unit standing for "Intermediate Reduction Drive" which transfers power to the back axle. This again was most definitely an after thoguht from Rover and is extremely expensive to replace £850+ vat plus fitting. The IRD unit howls and whines like a scolded dog and then one day gives up the ghost altoghether leaving you with the only option of rescue and recovery to get you home.
If you have ever tried to service one of these cars yourself you might find the lack of a drain plug on the back axle a little irratating when trying to change your rear diff oil! This is another wonderful idea from some lunatic at rover whose boss gave him the words "life time fill" which means that you are only ever meant to top up the oil and never change it.
One good thing with this is that afer 100k normally the rear diff unit, because it hasn't had it's rear oil changed only topped up, has exploded or is so noisy that you can no longer bear to drive the car and you need a new diff. This could possibly be Landrovers idea of making some extra cash all along and at £375 + vat and fitting for the unit it does net a tidy profit.
In addition to the need to replace your IRD unit you are also advised that at the same time it would be very wise to replace the viscous coupling for £350+vat and fitting. This is half way between your IRD unit and your rear diff unit situated in the middle of your propshaft. The purpose of this unit is to remove excess torque between the front and rear wheels. Basically it allows the rear wheels to go faster than the front wheels if they need to (ie cornering). Normally faliure of the above mentioned IRD unit or the Rear Diff can be attributed to the demise of the viscous coupling.
Landrover may as well have put the new cars out with the sunroof already broken. This would have saved needless hours of dealer time trying to fix them. In fact if you can find an early freelander with the sunroof working this could be bordering on a miracle.
The problem is that they run by two cables and an electric motor, the motor is fine, but the cables only purpose in life is to snap and make the sunroof inoperable and normally jamming halfway open. This is a horrible job to repair and most Freelander owners are subsequently advised to close the roof and tape over the switch.
I can't believe that I found this car to be more impractical than our big Discovery.
The boot is so small we did a good Tesco's shop and 2 adults and 2 kids and found the only way to load our shopping in and out of the boot without it spilling out everywhere is to lower the rear window Not too handy if you aren't very tall. It's really small. I wouldn't dream of taking this on a holiday we'd never get any bags, suitcases, food, kids stuff and all the gubbins you need to take for a family.
Also the rear floor was continuously wet and as the rear tool box is situated in the rear floor it becomes a rusty water Butt, which I suppose is handy when it's low on water because the headgasket is going!
All in all how did they ever sell any? The early Freelander sufferes with such awful deisgn problems. But you do see them everywhere - actually we recently counted 7 broken down along the M5 - M4 on our way to London!
No honestly, I think it's because they look good. I like the idea of a dinkier 4x4 and thought they looked capable but cute. Some of the bolt on accessories are splendid, and you could really customise your car for a funky G4 look if you so desired. In addition the Freelander advertising has been very good I thought as I have always wanted one. It's such a shame that the reality for us was so awfuly dissapointing.
We kept the car for less than a month, it sold quickly and we didn't lose any money. The people who bought it from us sold it on very quickly too - they said it was making a funny whineing noise!
We had one of the first freelanders back in 1998, we selected a new freelander as it was was voted whatcar car of the year.
We kept the car for 12 months. During this time the car developed several annoying and difficult to trace electrical and mechanical faults. Most were concerning electric windows and the build of the cabin, however one fault was a rather dangerous one.
After complaining for nearly two months about a scraping noise coming from the steering colum, the dealer finally agreed to take it apart and discovered a 2p coin lodged inside. One side of the coin was badly worn!, not what you expect when paying £20,000+ on a new car. It still makes me wince to think what could have happened had the coin jammed in the colum.
Faults aside the car itself was very comfortable, and quite capable off road too. Economy wasn't too bad considering the size of the car, we used to get about 28mpg combined. The 1.8 allways felt nippy, however you allways had to work it hard to get any real go. The car's ride quality was very good, and it didn't feel like it was about to tipple over if you pointed it at a corner.
It's worth pointing out that unless you were willing to pay big bucks for extra's when the car was new, the standard car was very basic. Both Air Con & ABS were costly extra's so pay particular attention on any second hand purchase. Also landrover servicing seems to be essential, and it was super costly. our first service came to £280 for what was basically an oil change, so make sure any used buy's have been properly looked after. This is no japanese car, most have proven to be very fragile (I have friends who have had various problems with freelanders) so buy without a service history at your own risk!.
When we sold our car after just 1 year and 10000 miles it was worth a rather poor £11k. Needless to say our next car was a jeep which was a much more complete and satisfying product.