The roots of the Freelander project went back to the days of British Aerospace’s ownership of the Rover Group. Market research conducted by Land Rover in 1988/ 89 convinced the company bosses that there was a developing market for smaller off road vehicles that would spend much of their time on tarmac. However, under BAe Rover’s product development budget was extremely limited, forcing the company to seek a partner to develop the small off roader. The most obvious choice was Rover’s partner company Honda. Surprisingly, Honda declined to take part in the project after being shown mock ups of the car. Odd then, that Honda’s almost identical CR-V off roader should also appear in 1997. Rover Group decided to go ahead with the model codenamed CB40 solo, by using as many existing Rover Components as possible. Its though that the floor pan was loosely based on the old Austin Masetro fitted with the unique suspension and a new four wheel drive system. The engines (1.8 liter four cylinder and 2.7 liter V6) and transmission were adapted from the Rover 200/ 400 and 800 series road cars. When BMW bought Rover Group in 1994, they did not get closely involved in the project, letting it go ahead under British control. After a prolonged and troubled gestation, the Freelander was launched in 1997 in both five door and three door convertible forms.
The Freelander quickly became the best selling vehicle in its class, with buyers drawn in by its slick styling and upmarket badge, until then the preserve of expensive models such as the Range Rover and Discovery. The Freelander also has genuine off road ability. Probably the best version was the BMW engined TD4 diesel. Despite suffering quality problems over its lifetime, the Freelander remained a best seller.