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Land Rover Freelander V6/Td4

Land Rover

Review

##frev6.jpg --Right##A NEW six-cylinder engine will be driving Freelander into parts of the globe Land Rover has previously failed to conquer in significant numbers.

America is one of them. Japan is another, but with new owner Ford providing the pushing power and ploughing millions into plant improvements and new product and making the most of its Premier Automotive Group synergies, the best 4x4 by far will be required to prove the slogan in a much wider world which includes some virgin territory in the Middle and Far East.

Freelander, launched with 1.8i petrol and 2.0-litre direct injection diesel engines in 1997, is already Europe's best selling four-wheel-drive passenger vehicle and in its first two years helped raise Land Rover unit sales by 28%.

Ford isn't expecting Freelander to become the world's best-selling off-roader - No 4 would be good - but it does expect more than steady growth once the V6 has been driven in those markets where minimum demand before purchase is six cylinders under the bonnet. Over here, though, while the 1.8i entry petrol should to remain the retail best seller, fleets are more likely to get excited about the new BMW-sourced common rail unit.

Not only is the Td4 more economical than the V6, and therefore emits far fewer grammes of tax-attracting carbon dioxide, but it is also a less expensive version to buy. Furthermore, after having spent two days dodging Beaujolais grape harvesters in their granolithic setting, the Td4 is the driving pick of the Freelanders, on and off track.

The only problem Land Rover may encounter with the Td4 is demand for the engine - from its own customers and from BMW's car customers. But, first the long-awaited V6, the ex-Rover project into which BMW poured considerable money and energy.

The 2.5-litre quad cam develops 177bhp at 6,250rpm and 177lb-ft of torque at 4,000rpm, in both cases 50% more powerful than the 1.8i. The Freelander gets a chunkier front end to accommodate the larger engine.

The all-aluminium units meets EU III emissions, although it won't impress the tax man. Its CO2 output of 298g/km is more than 30 grammes heavier than the limit laid down for the benefit-in-kind top band, which means that from word go of the new company car tax scheme from April 2002, it will cost its driver 35% of price new multiplied by the relevant personal income tax percentage.

If the V6 had been specified with a five-speed manual gearbox as an option against its JATCO-derived five-speed automatic, it may have stood a reasonable chance of being in the lower BIK bands for a year or even two. Td4 owners get the choice (look at the fact file to see what difference that can make to average fuel consumption and CO2) but according to Land Rover, there's no call for a manual V6.

The translation of that is there is unlikely to be much demand for a manual in the big new markets the Solihull brand is hoping to penetrate.

That said, the V6 - which comes in GS and ES trim, the latter with leather and other executive lifestyle trappings - is good to drive on and off road.

It pulls strongly over the rough stuff (exhaust and other normally dangly bits survived a succession of expensive-sounding graunches in vineyards 400 metres above sea level), and acquits itself with confidence down steep inclines thanks to Freelander's unique 'feet off' Hill Descent Control which does the braking for the driver.

It's a brilliant system once you've got used to the idea of a technical box of tricks taking over everything except steering, but I wasn't surprised when my co-driver recanted a common car park tale: he had been discussing the merits and demerits of his Freelander short-termer with a genuine Freelander owner. She asked him what the yellow button on the gearstick was for.

Obviously the V6 is the quickest of the bunch and, with the exception of some high speed wind noise around the heated door mirrors, it makes a quiet and comfortable cruiser. Steptronic tip shift is useful to hold the revs during cross-country work, and for coaxing some spirited performance out of the two-tonner.

Freelander has always been one of the better examples of a dual surface vehicle, being easy to drive on and off the black stuff. Revisions brought in for the V6 include larger diameter suspension struts, improved damping geometry and bushing, more responsive power steering, and these have made Land Rover's compact 4x4 even more car-like without losing its off-road capability.

ABS is now standard on all models, as are electronic brake distribution, electronic traction control and Hill Descent Control. Cruising around town in the V6 costs 16.5mpg, extra urban 29.1mpg and combined 22.7 - not so comfortable for those casting jaundiced eyes at UK petrol prices.

The better bet from a fleet perspective is, therefore, the Td4, drafted in to replace the 2.0Di which did a workmanlike job for Freelander but with workmanlike refinement. It, too, has the benefit of extra technology and a ticket to the executive class with ES leather seat facings, heated front seats, powerfold door mirrors, electric sunroof, CD autochanger and remote steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

The softback three-door version, by the way, takes an expert about seven minutes to convert (we timed one of Land Rover's guys). It's a reasonably easy job, although you have to make sure the glass roof panels are stowed the right way up or seconds of valuable sunshine could be lost.

Manual and diesel have always seemed to be the best off-road combination, and that was the case with the Td4 and its Getrag box. The JATCO auto removes a lot wristwork and left footwork, but somehow true manual control seems more confidence-building in terrain where the driver is very aware that ground clearance is a relatively shallow 168mm under the front axle. We didn't get to test its wading depth of 400mm, but were assured that because the air intake had been shifted high on the right side of the vehicle, Freelander swims as well as the best in its compact class.

Land Rover will obviously use its PAG properties to produce a new diesel engine for the next generation of Freelanders, but in the meantime it has the use of something of which BMW can be proud.

The Td4 is simply magnificent. Quiet, smooth, immensely gutsy, and economical for a car designed to drive across rough terrain rather than round it. Like Ford and Land Rover, an excellent working partnership.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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