In work, the Freelander's practicality is undoubted: most of its miles have been covered plying Britain's motorways laden with photographic gear. Here, refinement and surprising handling competence make it an unexpectedly relaxed cruiser - particularly considering the knobbly all-terrain tyres - while the driving position, which is more akin to a car's than a 4x4's, is a boon on a long run.
It's on the motorway, too, that the Freelander's Achilles' heel is at its most disguised: the 1.8-litre K-series engine develops just 118bhp, which isn't enough to make the car totally enjoyable. Though it's economical with a combined consumption figure of 27.6mpg, A-road driving can be a laboured affair with much gearchanging and anticipation needed in even the simplest overtaking manoeuvres. What price a Freelander fitted with Rover's acclaimed 2.5-litre KV6 from the 800?
But the payoff for its relatively modest output and performance are running costs which match those of many premium upper-medium cars - and that's despite the reputation 4x4s have regarding high cost of ownership. A total pence per mile figure of 28.65p over three years/60,000 miles (FNN Running costs figures) beats the Audi A4 1.8 SE Avant's 29.42p largely on account of better than average depreciation figures: a CAP Monitor RV of 50% of original cost new (ú9,925) is among the best of any car.
With Land Rover's generous 10,000-mile service interval, we've yet to experience the service of our local dealer, Marshall of Peterborough, but a previous problem with another Freelander - where the alternator bracket broke - revealed a courteous and quick service. That car had already covered more than 12,000 miles in less than three months, the subject of another magazine's round-Britain tour, so it's understandable that this unusual workload might cause some unreliability. Even so, it didn't stop us reaching our destination and was easily cured with a new bracket under warranty.
Our top-of-the-range 1.8 XEi comes as standard with Land Rover's novel Hill Descent Control: this features ABS and traction control, both of which work together to provide controlled ascent or descent of low-friction slopes. It's fine in theory, but the ABS part of the package should be available separately on the lower spec 1.8i and 2.0Di models at a more modest price than the ú900-odd HDC costs. Considering many drivers won't even use HDC in on-road driving (which will account for the vast majority of Freelander mileage) it seems absurd you can't order ABS on its own. But it's a small gripe on a car that's made a big impression here. Freelander's rugged appeal and youthful image is what everyone wants to be seen with.