Our Cars : Say hello to the new AROnlinemobile

Keith Adams

Freelander (4)

It’s been rather a long time since I took up residency at the head of AROnline’s top table and, since then, I’ve been looking for a new project to keep me amused in between the long hours editing Classic Car Weekly and Modern Classics. In between offers of cheap Rover 75s, and high-mileage 600s, I’ve been trying to secure something different, something I’ve not owned before, and it’s been slightly more difficult than I had first anticipated.

Being honest, having a Citroen C6 as my main daily runner makes the task of being on the fleet a little bit of a thankless job. After all, that looks like no other car on the road, drives wonderfully, and cost me a tenth of the money it should do given how good it is – French presidents swear by no other vehicle. There is an Audi 90 knocking about in my fleet, which I’ve yet to commit to, so what I wanted from my AROnlinemobile was the ability to fit into my life, and not really overlap with my other cars. Plus, I have a dog, and she gets muddy.

So, this Freelander does actually fit in rather well. I wasn’t actually looking for one, it kind of found me, one day in the office. My colleague, Calum Brown, web producer for Classic Cars For Sale and a serial Land Rover nut, mentioned to me that he had a Freelander for sale. It didn’t really register – consciously – for a while, no doubt buried in the maelstrom of my daily grapple keeping the Audi running and fretting that my Citroen is going to break a turbo.

Freelander (2)

However, when it did click, I asked if I could have a look at the Freelander. Before I knew it, I’d knocked up a deal, and pretty much concurrently with waving goodbye to my MINI, I’d acquired a new Land Rover. Well, I say it’s a Land Rover, but this car has Rover Group-era DNA coursing through its veins and, from the moment you get in, you’re in a world of brittle plastics and angular mouldings that mark this out as a kissing cousin of the Rover 200/400 and 800.

I’ve literally just run a cloth over it, and established that it’s a BMW M47-powered TD4, with 93,000 miles on the clock, and a full service history – but, in truth, it feels like it’s led a hard life, rattling and clonking over anything resembling a normally pitted UK road. But it pulls well, stops in a straight line, and feels like it is going to be a great project – that is, there is going to be a lot to do. We’ve already ascertained that Mike Humble doesn’t like them very much – as he explained in this popular essay, it’s a hotbed of unreliability.

I’ve already started poking and prodding – there will be an update soon – but, overall, I like this car, and feel instantly at home in it. I will keep you posted about how it goes, and report on how the many fixes it’s undoubtedly going to need, in these pages. That I am so warm to it already, of course, wouldn’t be a big surprise given my ownership history. It’s nice to be back!

Freelander (3)

Keith Adams


  1. Not a great fan of the Freelander, Until recently I ran a vehicle auction, and we used to get alot of freelanders in the block. Everyone with issues, the most common being the IRD / or transfer box to me you going wrong, which results in the prop shaft being removed. next time you see a freelander, if you get chance pop your head under and you will get better odds on Jermy Corbyn being the next PM than finding a Prop Still in place on a Freelander.

    Have to say, I think this is a bad buy for you Kieth

    • Yes the Viscous couplings do eventually give up but it’s not the end of the world – they can be removed to leave a perfectly serviceable front wheel drive vehicle, and a recon unit is relatively cheap at around £400.

      The Freeby comes in for a lot of stick but it’s easily countered by the number of very high mileage and early examples still around.

      It’s ironic that a vehicle can be damned for unreliability because it’s repairable. Whereas cars that typically get scrapped at the first sign of trouble due to being uneconomic to repair get an undeserved reputation for reliability.

  2. I bought a 3-door 2002 Freelander TD4 auto’ as a temporary car following a change of circumstances. That was 3 years ago, I still have it as my main car. The Freelander’s comfort and ability to soak up the road imperfections here in the Cambridgeshire fen makes it a most pleasurable conveyance. Reliability has been fine, except for the requirement of a replacement fuel pump, a BMW part. The Freelander does everything so well; towing, off-road for my work photographing farm machinery (this one is still 4-WD), motorway driving or in the city with its auto’ transmission. And in the summer you can lower the rear window for a refreshing through-draft and open the twin sun roofs. I cannot think of another car with all these benefits that I could replace it with!

  3. Not a reliable car, but a massively important one. R3 and HH-R might get the headlines from the mid 90s, but Freelander was just as significant, and in retrospect really hit the sweet spot, with compact SUVs being a massive part of the market now.

    The dividing line between Rover and Land-Rover from some enthusiasts always slightly puzzles me, especially with something like this which owes much more to the Maestro than the Defender!

  4. Y reg? It’s getting on a bit but at least it hasn’t got one of those OE body kits… If it wasn’t for the unreliable transmissions I wouldn’t mind a diesel Freelander 3 door van, especially since I had a big involvement in their original manufacture…

    • When John Shuttleworth sang about his Ambassador Y reg in 1996, it was a 14 year old car, and looked like a motor from a different era.

      This Freelander Y reg is a 14 year old car, yet still looks incredibly modern.

      • Disagree, outside and inside looks very late 90s, which is what it is. The dashboard in particular is dated compared to the 2001 Ford Mondeo even.

  5. Excellent choice Keith.

    I had a Freelander 1 (facelifted model) with the M47 engine for over 6 years. Very reliable, good comfort, can go almost anywhere, very practical, good motorway cruiser and good around town.

    Despite what all the know-all might tell you, the IRD/VC never caused me any problems – Land Rover sorted out that issue and the later ones go on and on forever. If you’re does go, a replacement (as opposed to a 2WD conversion) will be super reliable.

    • Leslie its not being a know it all, im glad that yours has been trouble free. I can only state my experience of auctioning them and years in a landrover and before that rover workshop, they do go a lot but like you stated the later facelift ones seem to be better. Towards the end of the model run the freelander did look a hansom 4×4.

      Funny thing is I drove a freelander 1 which had been de-prop from one site to another just the other day at work and it does make a lot difference in 2wd mode.

  6. this is a Lancashire car Keith – who was the supplying dealer?

    When our three daughters were younger we took seven hols. on the trot in the Cotswolds (Ford near Winchcombe) and days out were marvellous; clocked a japanese spec P38A near Toddington one morning in mid 95, an S reg Rover 75 driving out of Stow in summer of ’98 and a Freelander on factory plates near stratford months before its launch – I was struck back then by the weird looking rear fog light which in retrospect was a touch of genius.

  7. I didn’t realize until now, but the dashboard design of the Freelander actualy looks a bit like that of the Rover SD1.

  8. I really like these. Especially as a 3 door with the removable roof section. Ideal winter beater.

    The looks have aged really well.

    Given the age and condition, and your description of it “clonking and rattling”, I assume this was **really** cheap. As in barely above scrap value cheap.

  9. I like these and nearly bought one new back in 2000. It looks so good even now. I bought a secondhand MGF instead.

    Maybe I like the Freelander because I have a manibular prognathism and the car looks like it has one.

    Just such a shame that it had to be bedevilled with the usual heritage issues. Back in 1997 Rover built everything from Mini to the P38A Range Rover, taking in such delights as the MGF, Discovery and R3 on the way.

    A bit of an uneven range, but how Rover managed to plug so many niches on minimal investment I don’t know (most of its ’97 models having been signed off before BMW took over.)

    Freelander One was once Europe’s best-selling 4×4, but perhaps the most interesting thing about Land Rover as a brand is that it is strong enough to sail through nonsense like the Freelander’s biblical unreliability without being seriously affected in any way.

    Shame they didn’t plumb in the T and not the K-series. Shame they didn’t go ahead with the two-wheel-drive Rover Oden given the Qashqai’s success…

    My brother-in-law had two – an L-series five door and a BMW diesel engined five-door. I don’t recall him having serious problems with either.

    I would still like one, though, and live in hope that one day JLR will build an entry-level model that I might be able to afford.

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