Update: This post reflected my feelings at the time, and I do still like a lot of things about my Freelander, but overall, this no longer applies. A more recent post can be found here.
I've been a very strong fan of Land Rovers for years, ever since I bought my first one in 2004. But, like most Land Rover fans, I looked upon the Freelander with disdain, for a variety of reasons. Most LR fans still dislike the Freelander, and their mockery is not without merit; it's arguably one of the most unreliable models ever produced by Land Rover, as I can attest to first-hand, and while it proved itself in the G4 Challenge, it definitely doesn't live up to the off-road standards of other Rovers.
And yet, not only do I now own a Freelander, but I'm every bit as attached to it as I was to my Discovery. So, what changed? Why do I love a vehicle I once hated?
A big part of the initial appeal was financial. In spring 2011, when I purchased it, I was in no position to buy a car, especially the like-new vehicles I truly wanted, but with my Crown Victoria showing signs of massive repairs on the horizon (five months later, it needed a new engine, so I sold it for scrap value to an enthusiast), I decided to do what I could to get one anyway. Having been through two high-mileage vehicles, with somewhat disastrous results, I wanted something as low-mileage as possible, more efficient than my Crown Victoria, and comfortable for my frequent highway trips. On top of that, I've always had a strong attraction to rare, unusual, and exotic cars, so if something fit that desire, it pretty much automatically went to the top of the list.
I looked at Land Rovers, of course, but all of the models in good shape and new enough to finance were considerably out of my price range. Except the Freelander. Initially, I only looked at them because I was bored and vaguely curious, but the more I looked, the more intrigued I became. They were kinda cute, looked comfortable, and I never saw them on the road anywhere. I did extensive research on them, learned about the numerous issues they're prone to, and discovered that, in the hands of a careful owner, they're no less reliable than any other Land Rover model. The only real difference is that, with the Freelander, small-scale neglect can lead to masssive catastrophes very quickly. So, that's a strike against them. But, I felt I could handle that responsibility, and when I had the opportunity, I purchased my 2003 Freelander SE3.
So, why am I so attached to it? One of the biggest reasons is the uniqueness. The Freelander was the best-selling 4WD in Europe for a year or two, and it sold a respectable volume in the United States, but there are relatively few of them still running. On top of that, the SE3 body style - 2-door half-convertible - was extremely rare, only about 2000 of them were ever sold. And, aside from the one sitting in my driveway, and a really bizarre instance where I found my Rover's twin on a local lot (in really awful shape, though), I haven't seen another one since about 2006. It's about as unusual as you can get without getting into hand-built exotics, and with the roof open, it's quite the head-turner.
Additionally, it's one of the most comfortable vehicles I've ever owned. The suspension gives a perfect, smooth ride, and even though it's somewhat underpowered, it glides effortlessly at almost any speed I want. Combined with the many luxury features, and things I've added, it's pretty comparable to a similar-age BMW 3-series in driver and passenger comfort. And, it's practical, well-suited to be a daily-driver.
The best part, though, is the rich character inherent to all Land Rovers (until Ford started meddling in the design process). This is difficult to really explain, but even though the Freelander is the forgotten step-child of the Land Rover family, it still feels very distinctly like a Land Rover, which sets it apart from other vehicles in a special way. It's quirky and weird in a British way, of course, but beyond that, it's pretty hard to sit in it and not notice that there's something special about it. Until very recently, Land Rover has always produced some of the most distinctive vehicles on the road, and while they definitely don't earn points for the Freelander's engine design, it definitely looks and feels like a proud member of the Rover family in every other way.
So, I do understand why the Freelander draws so much negativity from the Land Rover enthusiast community. But, I'm quite fond of mine, and I hope to keep it running for years to come.