But, as so often happens, no sooner

does a new model start selling well, than the clamour from some customers for

more power begins. This need has finally been answered in the form of a V6 engine,

but the new top ranger is, initially at least, unfortunately only available

with an automatic gearbox.

The new engine is fitted into a mildly face lifted version of the previous

body, which now has clear front direction indicators, integrated with the headlamps.

The four-cylinder models have a revised front bumper design featuring an enlarged

lower air intake; the V6 has more strongly sculpted and extended front bumper

and grille mouldings, and a castellated profile to the lower body-colour section.

This model shares the Rover-designed all-alloy V6 engine with the Rover 75

saloon. Quoted maximum power is 130 kW at 6 250 r/min; torque maximum is claimed

to be 240 N.m at 4 000 r/min.

Out on the test strip, the 12,53-second time recorded for the zero to 100 km/h

sprint was significantly slower than the 11,1 seconds claimed by the manufacturer,

but this can be partly explained away by the fact that our measurements are

done with two occupants and some 30 kg of test equipment on board. But the two-way

average fifth gear maximum speed of 173 km/h was also lower than the claimed

180 km/h.

The wheelbase, track and interior dimensions are the same as for the smaller-engined

models, but the body is 65 mm longer, presumably to cope with the wider vee

engine. The extra length has affected the approach angles, which we found to

be 21 degrees, although the manufacturer claims the same angle (30,5 degrees)

for all models.

In addition, the test vehicle had a nudge bar and lamps that did not affect

the approach angle, but added even more mass to the front overhang. The result

of all this is a dramatic change in the ÒfeelÓ of the vehicle.

Smaller-engined Freelanders are responsive in most situations, despite the above-average

effort demanded by the heavy power steering. In contrast, this model seemed

sluggish, even ponderous. The unfortunate effect has been to compromise the

compact feel of the Freelander.

Another complaint is the size and height of the front seats. Our long-term

four-cylinder diesel FreelanderÕs front seats (April 2001 CAR) had smallish

bases that did not quite accommodate the average male bottom, but the cloth

material and lower mounting made them comfortable. The front chairs in the V6

are of a similar shape and size, but the leather upholstery is smooth and shiny,

and the bases are thicker. The result is that males of average height cannot

sit upright because their heads would hit the roof, and cannot slouch because

they would slide off the seat.

The only transmission available with the V6 is a five-speed Steptronic automatic,

which has three modes. In the normal auto mode it changes gear at the usual

preset speeds and throttle openings, but the control unit features adaptive

programming that enables it to recognise situations such as towing, downhill

overrun, steepness and high altitudes to select the optimum shift patterns for

each situation. When the lever is moved across to the Steptronic position, but

left unhindered, the shift maps change to a sportier setting, so that the gearbox

then holds on to the lower gears longer and changes down more readily, to aid

acceleration. Finally, if the gearlever is moved forwards or backwards in the

Steptronic mode, it will change up or down, like many modern automatics.

The drivetrain retains the hill descent control, traction control and viscous

coupling between front and rear wheels that has enhanced the performance of

the earlier models under off-road conditions. The braking system has been revised

and all models now have an improved four-channel ABS system that features larger

front discs, wider rear drums, an improved handbrake mechanism and electronic

brake distribution, which ensures optimum front/rear brake balance. Our ten-stop

100-to-zero emergency braking test showed that retardation is efficient and

consistent, with no stop taking more than 3,1 seconds.

The suspension, by MacPherson struts front and rear, lower arms and an anti-roll

bar in front, plus a trapezoidal link at the rear, has been one of the major

plus points of the Freelander, giving it the sort of ride comfort that very

few other off-road models can match. This set-up has now been strengthened with

larger-diameter struts and revised damping and geometry.

The power steering has new valving and runs at higher pressure, to improve

response, but we were not particularly impressed, most likely because of the

increased polar moment due to the extra overhang. The steering is a lot heavier

than that of, say, a Toyota RAV4, but it imparts more feel than many of its

competitors.

The two-door body style features a removable rear roof section, which can only

really be stored in situ or else in your garage, reducing its practicality.

The interior is outstanding in the way that it features light colours, cheerful

plastics and big windows to achieve a feeling of space and airiness that contrasts

favourably with the darker interiors of many other models. Its livability is

further enhanced by the many storage spaces that abound. There are lidded cubbies

on both sides of the dashboard, and large parcel-bins in the doors. Both doors

have substantial spring-loaded cup-holders.

The latest models have larger airbags, revised pre-tensioners, and new front

seatbelts with load limiters, while heating and ventilation has also been enhanced.

Instrumentation includes a rev-counter. Most people are aware that the Freelander

is not really a go-anywhere off-road vehicle, and the minimum ground clearance

of 186 mm hampers its ability to tackle rugged terrain. However, the traction

control helps to reduce wheelspin, and the hill-descent system eliminates the

need for a low-range transmission. On steep uphill sections the bigger engine

and the services of a torque converter are a great help, but they cannot take

the place of a low range transmission.

The viscous coupling in the transmission locks up when one of the sets of wheels

rotates faster than the other. The front and rear differentials have slightly

different ratios, giving just enough of a speed difference to take up any driveline

slack, but not enough to permit any worthwhile torque to reach the rear axle

if the front wheels are not spinning. However, the system becomes four-wheel

drive if the front wheels lose traction, with the electronic traction-control

also lending a hand.

The V6 Freelander does not cruise as silently as the bigger engine would suggest,

exhibiting a fair amount of transmission, road and wind noise. It grips the

road well, once youÕve come to terms with the steering response, aided

by the feeling of control afforded by the thick steering wheel, which is height-adjustable.

Original article from Car