None of the Freelander’s rivals, however, can touch it for showroom appeal. Because yes, although the interior is less than brilliantly packaged – and build wasn’t perfect on the earliest cars we tried – its interior design and most of the cabin feel is excellent. This car feels like a proper Land Rover.
Ergonomically, the driving position is fairly sound. The driving position is commanding – the seats will be a little too high for smaller drivers – and visibility out is excellent. This may be an SUV, but the large glass area and flat sides mean that threading it down narrow streets or into tight parking spaces is no harder than in many saloon cars.
The Freelander’s inline-six, or i6 in Land Rover-speak, petrol engine is a 3.2-litre unit developed mostly by Volvo, but tweaked by Land Rover for this application. Resistance to dust, mud and water ingress has been improved, as has oil supply to help the engine cope with the greater tilt angles that some Land Rover owners will subject it to.
It’s powerful and relatively torquey, but to get the best out of this engine, you have to rev it hard. The six-speed automatic gearbox – though smooth – and general nature of SUV driving, means that the turbodiesel’s the preferred choice, unless you must have an auto.
The rest of the Freelander driving experience is also impressive, but not perfect. It’s quiet at speed, but responds too rapidly to steering movements just off straight-ahead, which makes it tiresome on the motorway. The damping, meanwhile, is set to keep body movements in check on demanding roads, so it rarely settles into a cosseting cruise, except on the smoothest of road surfaces.
On the upside, it’s surprisingly impressive in cornering. There’s some initial roll but it settles into a curve very well, and proves very resistant to understeer. And of course it’s peerless off-road among its SUV rivals.
Should I buy one?
Certainly, this has the most showroom appeal of any small 4x4. It’s good looking both outside and in, and in isolation is roomy enough and drives well. But compare its characteristics more closely against its rivals’ and you’ll find that some are roomier, more relaxed on the motorway or more engaging on twisty roads. But none has the Freelander’s breadth of ability. Nor its subjective appeal.