Insiders at Land Rover have confirmed to Autocar that a design team is working on a car-based model. ‘We have to make a business case for a new model,’ said our source. ‘This is a relatively complicated process, as Land Rover has to prove that the investment by Ford over the past five years is paying off.’
Despite the hurdles that the Solihull-based company has to clear, the new car could be seen as a concept in the near future. And if the baby Land Rover does appear in the spotlights at a major motor show, we can be sure Ford has given the idea the green light. But the project would be a substantial development effort by Land Rover’s engineering team, making a launch unlikely before late 2007.
We understand the new vehicle will be based on the Ford Group’s C1 chassis, which underpins the Focus and the Volvo S40/V50. This offers both front- and four-wheel drive and a range of four-, five- and even six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines.
In 2002 Wolfgang Reitzle, then overall boss of Land Rover, revealed his idea of a smaller, cheaper model – nicknamed the Landy – to be positioned under the Freelander.The Landy would probably be marginally shorter than a Focus estate but have a much taller roofline. The project could be a new chapter in Land Rover design, marking a freshinterpretation of today’s distinctive look.
There’s a strong sense at Land Rover that in 12 months, when the new Freelander is rolling off the line, Land Rover and Ford will have triggered the Landy project. And by then, anti-4x4 sentiment could make the model a necessity.
Meanwhile, work continues on next year’s replacement for the Freelander. Mules have been spotted testing at the Nürburgring under the body of a current Freelander. Secrecy surrounds the looks, although Land Rover design-boss Geoff Upex has endowed it with an appearance similar to that of the Range Rover and Discovery. Unlike today’s model, only a five-door version will be available, and insiders say there won’t be a seven-seater despite bigger dimensions.
The new car is being developed as part of a broader new-car programme at parent company Ford. Other forthcoming cars in the programme include Ford’s Mondeo, the LMV and SAV people-carrier siblings, and Volvo’s S60, V70, S80, XC70 and XC50 – the latter two are sister models of the Freelander.
Using a reworked version of the C1 platform, the Freelander receives a stretched wheelbase and increased track widths. Although the car relies heavily on Ford components, Land Rover engineers have been given the freedom to upgrade many aspects of the mechanical package, particularly the 4x4 system, to ensure it delivers top-notch off-road performance. Among the changes are a thicker propshaft and reworked driveshafts with additional splines for extra strength. The Freelander also gets more wheel travel and an upgraded cooling system.
Land Rover is planning a wide range of petrol and diesels for the new Freelander – including a 233bhp 3.2 six-cylinder unit that’s deemed crucial to the new car’s sales prospects in the US. Other petrols include a 145bhp 2.0-litre four- and a 200bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit. Among the diesels will be 125bhp 1.8 and 140bhp 2.0 four-cylinder units, and a 185bhp 2.4 five-cylinder. All have been redesigned for off-road performance. Transmissions will include a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual for more powerful versions and a six-speed automatic.
The mighty Range Rover and Range Rover Sport aren’t being ignored either. Our spies spotted a development car powered by an all-new 3.6-litre V8 turbodiesel, to be built at Ford’s Dagenham plant. It’s thought that the engine will be good for around 250bhp and well over 400lb ft of torque.
Volume production should begin in November and around 35,000 engines should be made in a full year. It’s expected to be fitted to the Range Rover Sport later this year and the Range Rover in 2006. Ford is at the cutting edge of diesel engine design with this engine’s block, which is made from Compacted Graphite Iron (GGI). Industry experts say that as the massive fuel injection pressures found in modern diesel engines increase even further, CGI will also be used for cylinder heads instead of aluminium.
A Range Rover with hybrid power is also being planned to offset the criticisms of anti-4x4 campaigners, a top-level Land Rover source has revealed. The favoured option is a diesel/electric system, If it’s signed off soon the hybrid could be in the showrooms by 2009.