- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

Freelander, available in Europe since 1997, was re-engineered and introduced to the North American marketplace last year as a bold new product that contrasts sharply with other SUVs.

The Freelander became the smallest Land Rover for the North American market to emerge since 1994.

The first offering was configured as a five-door model, available in three trim levels: the base S model, upscale SE model and top-of-the-line HSE model. Now there is a new open air (or not) model called the Freelander SE3.

All models are powered by a 2.5-liter DOHC, 24-valve, 174-horsepower V-6 engine mated to a Jatco ComandShift five-speed sport automatic transmission with a manual shifting option.

Also standard for all models is a permanent all-wheel-drive system, which includes a center Viscous Coupling Unit, Land Rover’s innovative Hill Descent Control and four-channel, all-terrain Anti-lock Braking System.

Torque is rated at 177 foot-pounds. S models will ride on 16-inch wheels and tires, while SE, SE3 and HSE models will feature 17-inch wheels and tires distinctive to each.

The Freelander SE3 is unique to the rest of the lineup in that it is a three-door model(two front doors and rear swinging door, hinged on the right).

Other features exclusive to the SE3 include a removable rear hardtop and removable two-piece clear roof panels providing rear occupants the pleasure of open-air motoring. The SE3 sports a bold grille with a large grille guard or “roo-bar.” The greenhouse is expansive with an upswept roof profile a la Discovery, and seating for five with front buckets and a 60/40 split rear bench.

The rear door, though hinged on the wrong side for the U.S. market, is light weight and features a frameless remote power window. The full-size spare is mounted on the rear door for easy accessibility.

The taillamp design seems to have been borrowed from Defender. Freelander utilizes innovative, dent-resistant polycarbonate front fenders, capable of taking hits without showing damage.

Freelander exhibits a remarkable agility and stability on the road and displays an impressive capability for off-road treks — approach and departure angles seem an adequate 30.5 degrees and 33.9 degrees respectively, as does the 22-degree ramp breakover angle. The front suspension ground clearance at 7.3 inches can be boosted somewhat via alternative wheel and tire combinations.

The Freelander SE3 is a premium small SUV, which will put traditional Land Rover capability within reach of an entirely new market segment, while delivering European performance qualities — all this while adding increased flexibility and functionality.

The removable hardtop requires some effort and tools and a recommended team of two for dispatch. The removal and replacement is viewed as a seasonal operation. A folding soft convertible top is available as an option for $1,200.

The test Freelander SE3 sported a Borrego Yellow exterior with black trim waterproof seat covers. The base price was set at $26,370, with the total coming to $27,095. which included destination and delivery charges.

The Land Rover Freelander SE3 is loaded with a lengthy list of standard features, and though it won’t outperform the Land Rover Discovery Series II off-road, for the money, it will be hard to beat.

Ingress and egress require some caution for taller individuals, because of the low exterior roof line, but once inside, there’s plenty of headroom.

Acceleration from the V-6 is more than adequate, with the automatic transmission making gear changes with more than a fair amount of finesse. The Spot mode delivers crisper shifts, or one may opt to change gears manually. The ride quality is quite comfortable for a small, short-wheelbase SUV.

Let’s keep in mind here that, though the Freelander is no Range Rover, it is still deserving of Land Rover status (on a budget).

The SE3 is more in keeping with the family spirit of adventure than the rest of the Freelander stable, thanks to its open-air transformability.

There are lots of nice, easy maintenance touches that contribute to the Freelander’s functionality, versatility and convenience — if you’re in the market for a small and extremely capable yet affordable SUV, you owe yourself a look at the Freelander SE3.

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