Land Rover Freelander TD4

The hopelessly unreliable Freelander is half car, half walrus, says Michael Booth

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit Keen walkers

Price £21,000-£34,000
Performance 113mph, 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds
Combined fuel consumption 37.7mpg Further information 0800 110 110

Computer says "No" or, at least, the automotive equivalent: " Transmission fault". How many Land Rover owners have sat and stared in impotent fury at that message, I wonder? The man from Land Rover Assistance arrives quickly but spends a fretful hour trying to get his computer to talk to the new Land Rover Freelander TD4 that is sitting, bonnet up, like a dozing crocodile, in a service station on the M20. He is still there when my alternative ride arrives and, guiltily, I leave.

"Sorry about that," the man from the Land Rover press office phones to tell me later that day. "It's a software problem we have had with pre-production cars. It's sorted now." Well, that may be true, but they sent me a replacement and its electronic key fell apart in my hand as I tried to remove it from the slot in the dash (the Freelander has one of those pesky starter button set-ups). By this stage, personally, I wouldn't want a new Freelander if it came wrapped in a ribbon with a year's supply of fuel and a Sugababe in the boot.

There are some people who probably think I shouldn't be telling you all this. "This is the kind of unpatriotic rot that did for Rover!" they will harrumph to the passing ward sister, forgetting that company's woeful and greedy mismanagement, zero investment and outdated models. " Land Rover is a great British success story. Newspapers ought to be supporting it! Where am I?" and so on. Well, yes, Land Rover has been a success story in terms of sales over the last decade, but that success has come in spite of raging reliability problems. The original Freelander did an excellent job of tapping into the modern motorist's vanities and fears by offering the ride height and aristocratic estate-romping abilities of that poshies' favourite, the Range Rover, but at a cut price. Unfortunately, the price-cutting was obvious to anyone with a radar for shoddy materials and cack-handed construction, and became painfully evident to those who bought them and endured the recalls and breakdowns.

Though the price of the new car has increased, price cutting is still very much a part of Freelander DNA. So, we've had the breakdown and the dodgy key: let's look at the rest of the interior. That wood trim has got to go for starters. It is the most fake-looking wood to grace an automobile since the side panels they used to fit to Cortina estates. If, as I suspect, the price hike is intended to pitch the Freelander against the BMW X3, well, the men in Munich must be laughing. The X3 is better designed, better built and more spacious.

Shall we drive it? What's the point? We know it will accelerate like a walrus and roll like a Weeble round bends and it does, but I hadn't expected the steering to be so bad. I never thought a car's steering could be over-responsive, but this one's is and it exacerbates the Freelander's lack of poise. I am sure it is wonderful off-road, but who cares? The last time I drove a car off-road it was because I was in the Gobi Desert and had no choice. Why would anyone actively seek to drive a car off-road for fun? I can't think of anything more tedious than slowly crawling across a rocky field or ploughing up the heather on the side of a hill in Scotland. Why don't you just go for a nice walk?

Then again, I suppose if you buy a Freelander then that is most probably what you will end up doing.

It's a classic: Austin Champ

The best thing about the new Land Rover Freelander TD4 is its engine - a smooth, 2.2-litre turbo diesel created jointly with the French PSA group. But that is nothing compared to the engine that powered a distant forebear of the Freelander, the long-forgotten Austin Champ.

The Champ was designed as a British alternative to the Willy's Jeep and launched in 1952. Its unique selling point was an engine built by Rolls-Royce, a 2.9-litre, four-cylinder version of the one used to power Rolls' luxury road cars. Unfortunately, although it was powerful enough to propel the chunky four-wheel-drive machine to a respectable 104mph, it was far too complicated to repair when it broke down, and parts were expensive for army budgets.

The road-going version had a simpler, cheaper Austin A90 engine, but the army was the main market and had by then taken against the Champ, turning instead to the redoubtable Land Rover. Austin stopped making the Champ in 1955.

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