In an automotive landscape increasingly populated by the 'poser' crossover, with upright bodywork and elevated suspensions concealing little more than sedan or minivan mechanicals, the Brits at Land Rover continue to stand out - and up - with a vehicular lineup fully in tune with the brand's DNA. And while their future product intros will undoubtedly speak to brand expansion (the Range Rover Evoque - coming to the Colonies this fall - is an attempt by the product team to embrace the 'cute ute' phenomenon), the core of Land Rover/Range Rover offerings remains committed to the company's 'breadth of capability' mantra. And for those with adventurous aspirations, but lacking a Queen's Ransom to back them up, Land Rover's LR4 provides you with a get-out-of-town card at a more attainable price point.
The recipe remains simple enough, the basics of which go back to Land Rover's origins in postwar Great Britain. Upright architecture, generous greenhouse and short overhangs provide an entry point to off-road - or no-road - travel, while a modern V8 propels you, a sophisticated suspension keeps you in contact with whatever surface you find yourself on, and creature comforts to coddle you along the way.
With the introduction of the 2005 LR3, Land Rover had its first contemporary SUV with three conventional rows of seats. And in the land of more this (children) and that (purchases at the mall), seating flexibility was all the American market needed to move beyond the LR3's predecessor, the Discovery, and what the Discovery had come to represent: spotty reliability and truck-like dynamics. Beyond its third row, the LR3 was more comfortably appointed, with prodigious power and the promise of greater refinement and reliability. The LR4 builds on those basic strengths with even more features, a Jaguar-sourced drivetrain and greater creature comfort.
An Inside That Takes You Outside
When shopping for a sport utility, consumers would ideally place an equal emphasis on 'sport' and 'utility'; thankfully, the design team at Land Rover has. Within its modest exterior dimensions - relative to the enormous Tahoe, Suburban or Escalade - the LR4 offers a huge expanse of interior room and storage. Fold both rows of rear seats and you have some 90 cubic feet of load volume. And if you allow for 2nd row passengers, you're still able to load some 44 cubic feet of 'stuff' behind that 2nd row. The space is shaped by a stepped roofline, which rises immediately behind the front seat, as well as 2nd and 3rd row seats that fold completely flat. There is enough vertical height in the rear to stow bicycles (with the front wheels removed), and enough legroom in the third row to accommodate moderately sized adults.
Of course, all of this is comfortably appointed, with two grades of leather, walnut or (optional) black lacquer trim, and an instrument panel that even older folks with marginal eyesight can read. And the view of the road, whether in the front seat or 3rd row, is commanding, which nicely augments the cut-and-thrust aptitude of the steering and throttle. Finally, Land Rover is sufficiently savvy to offer waterproof seat covers, rubber mats and cargo organizers through its accessory department. The home market, after all, is muddy - and mucky - Britain.
Upstanding in Their Field
From its farm-based roots in postwar England, all Land Rovers - to date - have been the vehicular equivalent of the 'stiff upper lip.' And although an effort has been made to create an SUV less like a barn door and more - if you will - like a small door, you can't deny the LR4's upright profile. You're greeted by a grill whose uppermost regions exceed the height of most grown children. And with its stepped roof you'll want to consider carefully the underground garage. At a typical - albeit adjustable - ride height the LR4 is just over six feet tall, but will seem higher. The effect is underscored by relatively massive 19-inch rubber, which fully fills the wheel wells with Continental's 4X4 Contact tread.
Once you've become accustomed to the proportions, you'll fall in love with them. You can make eye contact - should you want to - with truckers, while sports cars and hatchbacks are like so many gnats buzzing beneath you. Despite its innate functionality, the sheetmetal contains a certain sexiness - kinda' like the adventure athlete covered in his or her own sweat and mud. One notable feature - especially for the weekend warriors - is the tailgate. We found its size and height perfect for that shoe change at the trailhead, or resting on after the ride.
All the King's Horses
Land Rover has come a long way since its first V8, a clever adaptation of the aluminum block/pushrod mill used by GM in the '60s. Under BMW ownership Rover moved to that company's powertrains, and now that it is again aligned with Jaguar - and both are owned by India-based Tata Motors - the Land Rover is using a Jag-sourced V8 for its motive force. Although the base 5.0 liter is shared with its sexier sibling, the Range Rover Sport, the LR4 comes only in normally aspirated, 375 horsepower form (the Sport is available with an optional supercharger). And on this you'll have to trust us - 375 horsepower is all you'll ever need, supplemented by the very real feel of 375 lb-ft of torque at just 3,500 rpm.
That smooth, flexible power is transmitted through a six-speed automatic transmission to a permanent four-wheel drive system. For those counting, 0-60 arrives in roughly seven seconds, this in a full-boat SUV with a curb weight of just under 6,000 pounds. If you want to go to jail, you can get there at a cruising speed of roughly 120 miles per hour.
What impresses beyond the numeric gratification is the ease with which the LR4 goes about its daily business. While some might guess the LR4 (and its Disco/LR3 predecessors) to be a bit ungainly, the LR4 gives full credence to Land Rover's duality in design and engineering. The powertrain, rigid body/chassis structure and supple suspension keep it 'just right' on road, while adjustable height and Land Rover's Terrain Response (which allows for specific tuning to a variety of off-road or inclement conditions) keep things tidy when venturing off the beaten path. It's a marvel of modern engineering, and would seem to be the direction virtually all genuine SUVs will take in the not-too-distant future. And to those combining sport, utility and recreation, the LR4 can tow up to 7,700 pounds; in short, you can bring all the King's horses and all the King's men.
Buying vs. Leaving
If you believe Land Rover's hype, you can take it with you. Of course, you'll start at the Land Rover Centre, where the walls are decorated with an adventure-oriented motif. If there exists a showroom in these United States that more clearly states its automotive mission - beyond the Buy Here/Pay Here emporiums - we don't know of it. These people breathe, eat and sleep Land Rovers, and their enthusiasm can prove contagious.
To that end, don't let your guard down. Any Land Rover or Range Rover product represents a sizable investment, and once that investment is made it has nowhere to go but down. And for the fuel efficient, keep in mind that the Land Rover V8 isn't. The government says 12 City/17 Highway, so figure roughly 1,000 gallons per year to travel the typical 15,000 miles.
Available in three guises - Base, HSE and HSE Lux - the differentiation boils down to comfort and convenience. At just under $50,000, the standard LR4 is projected to have the best resale value, but all three do well, and all three are projected to do better than the Mercedes GL (at the upper end) or Jeep Grand Cherokee, whose window sticker tops out where the LR4 begins.
There is, of course, any number of ways to invest upwards of $50,000 in dual-purpose transport. But no manufacturer combines on-road comfort with off-road capability in quite the same way as Land Rover. Jeep's Grand Cherokee took a huge step to narrow the gap with its recent redesign, but that gap persists in both expectation and execution. And while Land Rover has made improvements in quality control and ratings, perception often lags reality, and once out of warranty (4 years/50,000 miles), reality - for the entire import luxury segment - can get expensive.