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The Land Rover LR3 is an entirely new mid-size premium SUV, and the most advanced Land Rover product to date. It is differentiated from other Land Rover products by highly responsive on-road performance, seven-passenger seating, and advanced electronic systems.
The LR3 is engineered with deference to the Land Rover tradition of broad capability and gifted reconciliation of opposing engineering requirements. It is intended to supply comfort, safety, and secure driving capability on any kind of road, paved or otherwise, in any kind of weather.
After driving the LR3 on busy freeways, down winding country roads and over flooded forest trails, we found Land Rover succeeded in its goals. The LR3 has a spacious, airy cabin with comfortable seats and intuitive controls. Underway, it feels composed and secure, with little noise and vibration transmitted into the cabin. It can seat up to seven passengers with the optional third row, and the seats fold flat into the floor individually, making this a versatile utility vehicle.
Its new 4.4-liter V8, a modified Jaguar engine, develops 300 horsepower and delivers strong throttle response. It's paired with a six-speed automatic, smoother and more responsive than a traditional four-speed. The brakes are excellent, but most interesting is the Terrain Response system: By twisting a knob to Snow, Sand, Mud and Ruts, or any one five different settings that cover every imaginable type of driving condition, you can optimize the settings for the LR3's mind-boggling array of electronic controls and traction aids. In short, the LR3 can go just about anywhere on the planet. And it does it in style.
The LR3 replaces the Discovery. It actually continues to carry the Discovery name in other parts of the world; Land Rover says the alphanumeric nomenclature was used in the U.S. so the company could better focus its marketing efforts on the Land Rover brand name. No matter what you call it, this vehicle is a huge improvement over the Discovery Series II. The LR3 is the first vehicle totally developed by Land Rover following its purchase by Ford Motor Company in 2000 and a $1.4 billion overhaul of the Solihull manufacturing facility in the UK.
LR3 is available in SE ($44,330) and HSE ($49,330) trim levels. The SE comes well-equipped with leather, sunroof, a 300-watt Harman Kardon stereo, automatic climate control, power everything, and a long list of the latest safety features.
The HSE includes as standard equipment an On/Off-Road Navigation system with voice-activation, plus the Lighting Package (bi-Xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, Homelink Rear Park Distance control, automatic headlights, and front fog lights). These systems are available as options on the SE for $2650 and $1050 respectively.
The SE and HSE can each be further optioned with a number of specialized packages. Rear Seat Package ($1250) includes second-and third-row fold flat seats, third-row side curtain airbag, third-row map lights and accessory power outlet, rear luggage net, and additional front cup holder. Rear Climate Control package ($950) includes second-row A/C and heating controls, two vents at second-row headliner, two vents at third-row C-pillar and one outlet at the third-row lower level. The Convenience Package ($175) includes second-row fold-flat seats, rear luggage net and additional front cup holder.
Cold Climate Package ($1,050) includes heated front windshield, heated front and second-row seats, and heated windshield washer jets. Tow Package ($500) includes a Class III receiver hitch and remote-control rear height adjuster. Heavy-Duty Package ($625) includes a locking rear differential and a full-size spare alloy wheel.
Land Rover styling has always been distinctive, generally driven by real world, functional requirements. The LR3 is no exception.
An example is the asymmetric rear tailgate, which operates as an easy-open clamshell for the top half, and a standard tailgate for the bottom half. The result is exceptional ease of access, reduced load lift height, while preserving a sheltered fold-out tailgate surface as a picnic and working area at a campsite or stadium parking lot on game day.
Also noticeable is the use of a functional air intake vent on just one side because that was all that was needed. Then there is the use of the stepped roof line, a recognized brand element preserved from the current Discovery. The stepped roof offers a very distinct visual profile, but also creates headroom for passengers.
In essence, the LR3 presents a contemporary design, inspired by a balance of form and function, executed in aluminum, magnesium, Boron steel and glass.
Seating comfort is not an issue for drivers or passengers. Both driver and front passenger have power-adjustable seats with adjustable armrests, and the second-row seats have generous headroom and legroom. Even the third-row seats can be considered habitable for adult passengers.
The interior is spacious and airy, thanks to large windows, a wheelbase 14 inches longer than the current Discovery, and two overhead sunroofs. The instrument panel is clean, modern, and in keeping with the geometric exterior design. Controls are good sized, tactile, and significantly more intuitively arrayed than Land Rovers of the past.
The interior seating arrangements are versatile. The second-row seats fold down into the foot well, leaving a perfectly flat surface. The third-row seats, if so equipped, can also fold flat, creating a six-foot load floor. Each rear seat folds independently, leaving numerous seating/cargo options.
The cabin is thoughtfully endowed with four glove boxes, readily accessible stash zones and numerous drink holders. Flip-down grab handles are located at all four doors. These are clearly intended to be used, as they are substantial and fit the hand comfortably. Four other grab points are built in as part of the front seat headrests, meaning that there is always something comfortable to hang on to or pull in on. We found these especially useful when negotiating dirt roads and uneven surfaces.
Our test drive took us through rush-hour highways, over bridges, along winding two-lane country roads and across several miles of flooded, muddy, rock-strewn forest trail. As the hours and miles rolled on, comfy seating and a quiet environment kept fatigue to a minimum.
Driving on paved surfaces, the immediate sensation is of security, composure and protected personal space. The driver is seated high above the average car, and insulated from outside noises, vibrations or intrusions. The thick steering wheel is notably solid and progressive, transmitting very little road vibration. Land Rovers of the past have always relied on a heavy ladder frame. The LR3 uses a combination monocoque/frame with a system of bracing that supplies sufficient rigidity to support a long-travel suspension. It is the basis for the LR3's lighter weight, crisper handling, and solid feel.
The suspension, biased toward on-road comfort, is pleasantly cushy on the highway and large roads, soaking up bumps and potholes with minimal jarring. On two-lane mountain roads, the chassis might not feel as taut as, say, a BMW X5. The LR3 will reliably hold a given line through a tight corner, but shows some body roll when pushed. The 60-series tires on our HSE, on 19-inch wheels, seemed to supply more grip through corners than the air springs encourage. However, it would be incorrect to suggest that the LR3 is vague or lumbering. With rack-and-pinion steering, independent double-wishbone suspension at all four corners, stiff wheels, wide tires and the latest in electronic stability control, the LR3 is easy to drive at speed with confidence on demanding roads.
Braking is remarkable, both in terms of overall feel and sheer stopping power. The pedal is progressive, with no vibration coming through, and it always feels that there is more stopping power readily at hand. The brakes themselves are large 13.3-inch discs (13.8-inch discs at the rear) with four-channel ABS, and the anti-lock brake system also works off-road. Enhancing the hardware is an array of electronic systems, such as Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assist, Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Active Roll Mitigation (ARM). Essentially, all of these systems track driver input at the wheel, throttle, brake pedal and compare it to what is happening at each wheel. When a tire loses grip or an emergency braking situation is sensed, one or more of these systems react to improve the vehicle's operating position. In many cases, these adjustments will be transparent to the driver.
Two brake-based systems, Hill Descent Control (HDC) and all terrain Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) work to enhance driver control in difficult terrain. The Hill Descent Control system, used to restrict downhill speeds on steep terrain, is adjustable through the steering wheel cruise control buttons.
The LR3 is the first Land Rover to offer strong throttle response. The 4.4-liter V8 is a stroked version of Jaguar's 4.2, adapted to the LR3's particular requirements. The increased stroke length enhances torque, so that the V8 delivers 315 pound-feet at 4000 rpm. Combined with the electronic six-speed transmission, the LR3 moves out smartly at part throttle, and has passing power in reserve. Land Rover says the LR3 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8 seconds.
The ZF six-speed automatic transmission offers a manual mode that allows the driver to hold on to a gear when desired, as when climbing a hill or pulling a load. In addition, the engine is protected from the special demands of off-highway use by enhanced dust- and water-proofing, with a revised air intake to enable the LR3 to move through up to 27 inches of water.
Drivers can select optimum performance for trail conditions via the LR3's Terrain Response System, which has separate logic for use in wet grass/gravel/snow, mud or ruts, sand, or rock crawling. In fact, only when used as a recreational tool is the LR3 full
The LR3 is the most advanced Land Rover yet developed. It is engineered for versatility and dual-purpose use, without sacrificing credible capability in any arena. The LR3 is not for everybody, but it may be the best vehicle for anybody who needs a comfortable daily driver that really can go anywhere.
Land Rover vehicles are available from 164 dealers around the country, including 96 Land Rover Centres. These specialized dealerships offer off-road driving courses, expert guidance as to equipment and training, driving skill development, and adventure experiences around the world. Land Rover spokesmen claim the LR3 accumulated field testing amounting to thousands of hours and over a million miles worldwide to achieve proof of concept.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Stewart is based in Southern California.