The Land Rover LR3 was introduced as an all-new model for 2005 to replace the old Discovery. A new V6 model has been added to the lineup for 2006, lowering the price of entry. The LR3 in an impressive achievement. While other mid-luxury SUVs are surrendering off-road capabilities, the LR3 combines responsive on-road performance with anywhere off-road capability in a comfortable, safe and secure vehicle.
The LR3 offers the competence of the Range Rover and some of its luxurious feel. Underway, it feels composed and secure, with little noise and vibration transmitted into the cabin. It incorporates the latest in electronic systems, which select the best combination of traction, power, gearing, and braking to suit any type of terrain and surface, to put serious off-road trekking within the reach of most enthusiasts. By twisting a knob to Snow, Sand, Mud and Ruts, or any one of 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 4.4-liter V8, a modified Jaguar engine, develops 300 horsepower and delivers strong throttle response, with 315 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a six-speed automatic, smoother and more responsive than a traditional four-speed, and permanent four-wheel drive. The 4.0-liter V6 engine introduced for 2006 produces 216 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The brakes are excellent.
The LR3 has a spacious, airy cabin with comfortable seats and intuitive controls. 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.
The Land Rover LR3, introduced as an all-new product for 2005, replaces the Discovery. In fact, this vehicle continues to carry the Discovery name in other parts of the world. Land Rover says it's using the new alphanumeric nomenclature in the U.S. to better focus marketing efforts on the Land Rover brand. 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.
The LR3 is considerably longer than the old Discovery. Its wheelbase is 13.6 inches longer. The new length is equal to that of the Ford Explorer and significantly improves highway stability, especially while towing. The added length gives the LR3 more grace and style than the Discovery.
Overall, the LR3 presents a contemporary design but one that still conveys a sense of functionality. Land Rover styling has always been distinctive, generally driven by real world, functional requirements. The LR3 is no exception, carrying over most of the practical touches from the previous Discovery, but with sensible improvements.
Most distinctive is the use of the stepped roof line, a recognized brand element preserved from the old Discovery. The stepped roof offers a distinct visual profile, but also creates headroom for rear-seat passengers to compensate for the high floor required to clear the center differential.
Another example of distinctive Land Rover design 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, and reduced load lift height, while preserving a sheltered fold-out tailgate surface for true tail-gating at a campsite or stadium parking lot. Also noticeable is the use of a functional air intake vent on just one side because that was all that was needed.
The Land Rover LR3 is a comfortable vehicle. Seating comfort was notably improved over the old Discovery. Driver and front passenger get 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 adults.
The large windows, longer wheelbase, and two overhead sunroofs, create a spacious, airy interior. The low beltline, with window sills well below shoulder level, not only helps lower the center of gravity, but also improves forward and downward vision, an important advantage when driving through rugged terrain or traversing narrow tracks, especially those with exposures to seemingly bottomless ravines. 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 new interior design gives up nothing to other SUVs in practical flexibility, which is welcome departure from past Land Rovers. The second-row seats fold down into the footwell, leaving a perfectly flat surface. Many SUVs do not offer the benefit of flat cargo areas. The third-row seats, if so equipped, can also fold flat, creating a six-foot load floor. Each rear seat folds independently, leaving numerous options for seating and cargo.
As with every previous Land Rover, practicality in the outback is reflected in functional interior appointments. For the variety of stuff carried on a camping trip, there are four glove boxes, readily accessible stash zones and numerous drink holders. Flip-down grab handles are located at all four doors, and comfortable, solid grab points built into the front-seat headrests give occupants something to hold on to when the driver is exploring the LR3's impressive tilt, climb, and descent limits.
Driving the Land Rover LR3 down flooded forest trails, curving mountain roads and high-speed freeways has revealed a class-leading combination of capability, utility, luxury and style. The LR3 handles the toughest of off-road obstacles brilliantly, yet is comfortable on rush-hour freeways.
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.
The LR3 is truly a new generation of vehicle for Land Rover: For the first time it uses a combination monocoque/frame with a system of bracing that supplies sufficient rigidity to support a long-travel suspension. This setup replaces the traditional Land Rover body-on-ladder frame structure. This new approach accounts for much of the LR3's lighter weight, crisper handling, and solid feel.
The LR3 is pleasantly cushy on the highway and large roads, soaking up bumps and potholes with minimal jarring. Its suspension provides more on-road comfort than was the case with the previous Discovery. Granted, the LR3 doesn't feel as taut as a BMW X5, but it's more comfortable than the X5 on dirt roads.
The LR3 will reliably hold a given line through a tight corner, but the air suspension allows some body travel. On corners, the body rolls (leans) slightly, but the grip of the tires is readily apparent, creating a slightly disconcerting feeling of hanging out over the edge of the road. Nevertheless, 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 longer we drove, the more confident we became of the LR3's capabilities at speed.
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 like 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. 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. What the driver will experience is better control in serious stopping and handling situations.
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 offers strong throttle response, a departure from older Land Rovers. The 4.4-liter 300-horsepower 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 V8-equipped LR3 moves out smartly at part throttle, and has passing power in reserve. Land Rover says the V8 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8 seconds, which is respectable performance.
For owners who don't need heavy-duty grunt, the new V6, with 216 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, is enough for nearly all applications.
With its lengthened wheelbase, the LR3 can now be considered a serious tow vehicle for a ho
The Land Rover LR3 offers brilliant off-road capability with on-road comfort. The addition of the V6 model lowers the cost of entry. The LR3 may be the best vehicle for anybody who needs a comfortable daily driver that really can go anywhere any four-wheel vehicle might go.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Stewart is based in Southern California.
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