We like the new gauges, switchgear, and secondary radio/cruise controls mounted on the wheel, but with the exception of stalk-mounted functions, nearly every switch/knob/button requires a significant reach while underway. The standard-issue 240-watt AM/FM/6-disc in-dash CD Harman Kardon audio system is the interior's most redeeming feature, offering crisp highs and thunderous lows that made teens take notice during petrol fill-ups.

Thanks to minimal tilt front seats, the rear bench is only for those with a slender body or preferably gymnasts. With the removable aft roof in place, the back seat is somewhat claustrophobic and boomy. That's easily remedied by removing the roof, but it's not an easy feat: Release the four couplings, lift the roof about an inch (another quarter-inch and you'll hit the full-length roof rails), and slide it underneath said roof rails (watch those fingers). Two people can take off the 70-lb crown, but we found it easier with three people juggling corners as the top came off.

One area where Land Rover has retained its farm truck roots is with the 2.5-liter/174-horsepower V-6 - it's as noisy as a worn John Deere. Coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission with the "CommandShift" manumatic mode and full-time all-wheel-drive, cog spacing is rather tight, enabling brisk take-offs, but requiring quicker shifting under moderate or aggressive acceleration. Our timed runs netted a 0-60-mph sprint in 10.8 seconds, and the quarter-mile dash in 17.8 seconds @ 77.4 mph. During our trials we found that, as the tach swings north, the DOHC powerplant becomes easily winded in the mid-to-upper range, and noisy in the process. At 60 mph in high gear, the V-6 turns a moderate 2500 rpm, and at "normal" highway speeds, turning 3500 rpm makes for a buzzy cabin.

Our testing staff was impressed with the Freelander's front-disc/rear-drum-ABS-assisted brakes that pulled a nose-standing 60-mph to zip in 122 feet. There's moderate pedal travel, and initial feel is a bit mushy, but the ABS is quite refined with minimal pedal pulse.

The four-wheel independent MacPherson strut suspension with coil springs is set up for off-roading in mind, with 7.1 inches of travel front, and 9.4 inches rear. The soft suspension tuning provides a compliant ride on-road and easily quells the rough stuff in the dirt. The downside is a rather wallowy performance on curvy roads and potential excitement if you have to change lanes quickly. After our emergency lane change exercise, Senior Road Test Editor Chris Walton penned, "Only one other SUV spooked me as much as the Freelander does - the Jeep Wrangler. But where the Jeep just slides on its off-road tires, the Freelander digs in and lifts one (or more) wheels off the ground."