Car reviews - Land Rover - Freelander - ES V6 5-dr wagon
Land Rover models
Engine performance, general refinement, ergonomics, ABS brakes
Room for improvement
Price, cargo space, quality glitches
9 Aug 2001
By TERRY MARTIN
WITH Freelander sales steadily declining in recent years, Land Rover has revamped and repositioned its small four-wheel drive to stand - in price at least - head and shoulders above the intensifying scrimmage underneath.
It's an unorthodox way to grow the business, pushing the price up considerably to the $40,000 mark for the base five-door and restricting a manual transmission to the small-volume diesel model.
But the Brits have brought us the Freelander many have longed for: a soft-roader with a petrol engine that can now shift its considerable bulk without straining under the weight of it all.
The previous MGF 1.8-litre engine has been dumped in favour of a Rover 75 2.5-litre V6 mated to a new five-speed automatic with Steptronic sequential manual shift.
There's a flood of additional equipment to justify the price hike and a sizeable mechanical upgrade that, if nothing else, helps remove some of our lingering doubts about the quality of manufacture - at least it did, until a rubber seal peeled off at the base of the front windscreen and a rattle developed in the front passenger's door.
All petrol Freelanders now offer as standard the V6 and auto, plus power steering, cruise control, driver's seat lumbar adjustment, remote locking, CD stereo, electric windows (including the rear), traction control, twin airbags, ABS brakes and the noisiest air-conditioning system you're ever likely to encounter.
The ultra-expensive, top-spec ES brings an uprated stereo with a six-CD changer mounted under the front passenger seat, leather upholstery, heated front pews, illuminated vanity mirrors and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Little has changed with the stylish "Little Landie" on the outside, save for the extended front bumper and grille altered to accommodate the V6.
The interior has undergone a basic revamp, retaining the chunky plastic theme but notably improving switchgear placement as a result of the new centre console with transmission.
The electric side window switches are now located between the front seats, leaving less significant switchgear like the rear window button at the hard-to-reach position behind the gearshift.
Indeed, the only significant ergonomic blot remaining from behind the wheel is the decidedly small speedo.
As ever, there are loads of removable rubber trays around the driver's domain and clever storage spots top to tail.
While the leather front seats are comfortable, the high seating position does not adjust for height and taller drivers will find their vision curtailed by the headlining. The small amount of fore/aft travel on the front seats doesn't help here, either.
Not unlike the Discovery, a narrow door opening is provided for rear passenger entry/egress, although once inside adults will find the graduated roof provides excellent headroom and the front seats allow lots of room for big Blundstones.
Like most offerings in this segment, fitting three across the rear is asking for trouble but the seats themselves are comfortable and equipped with a headrest and three-point seatbelt at each position.
Split 60/40, the rear bench can also fold and tumble neatly to liberate cargo space and provide a huge barrier behind the front seats. Freelander needs such versatility because its luggage area is tiny distance from tailgate to seatback (when upright) is just 685mm.
Developing 130kW at 6500rpm and 247Nm at 4000rpm, the V6 is smooth and refined and does a resolute job shifting the 1597kg unladen mass.
Yet for all the engine's willingness, and the transmission's adeptness, Freelander is still not particularly quick and asks to be worked hard if the benefits are to be fully realised.
Fuel economy suffers in the process, and the asking for premium unleaded is a constant source of pain at every fuel stop.
More important for some will be the knowledge that tackling steep inclines need not now require going at the grade with a banzai approach - or going home. There's plenty of low-down grunt to take things easy.
Freelander is still not as capable off-road as, say, the Suzuki Grand Vitara - the latter's dual-range transfer case (far superior to hill descent control), ladder frame chassis, suspension design, better ground clearance and the like make sure of that - but it remains more competent off the beaten track than others of its ilk. And far better on the road than the likes of Vitara.
Revisions to the all-independent suspension now helps provide a supple, comfortable and controlled ride, while the ES clings to dirt and tar alike extremely well thanks in part to the 16-inch wheel/tyre combination and full-time four-wheel drive.
Steering kickback is the primary source of annoyance while driving on the bitumen and a precursor to a fair amount of rattle through the steering rack over dirt-road corrugations.
Dust sealing is excellent, though, as is the general level of refinement and performance of the ABS brakes on all surfaces.
No question, the Freelander V6 is a big improvement. But at this price, it should be outstanding.
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