Rivals to the new Land Rover LR2 compact SUV include the BMW X3 and Acura RDX, but they can't top the snob appeal of the Land Rover, which will be instantly recognized at every upscale country club parking lot.
The early 2008 LR2 replaces the Land Rover Freelander, which was popular in Europe but flopped in America. The $33,985 LR2 should do much better here because it has more power, room, luxury and versatility.
Potent Volvo Engine
Ford owns Land Rover and Volvo, so the LR2 has a 3.2-liter 230-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine from Volvo's S80 large premium sedan. The smooth aluminum engine is sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts, 24 valves and variable valve timing.
The compact engine is mounted transversely-or sideways-which seems like odd positioning for a Land Rover engine. But it has enough go-power to give the 4,255-pound LR2 strong acceleration for fast merges and passing on highways.
However, with all that weight, fuel economy is only an estimated 16 mpg in town and 23 on highways. And premium gasoline is recommended.
Tedious Push-Button Start
It's annoying to start and stop the engine. It has push-button starting, like some other new vehicles. But, before pushing the button to start the engine, one must put a foot on the brake and jam the key fob into a narrow, almost invisible dashboard slot near the steering wheel instead of just putting the fob anywhere in the vehicle-which is the case with other push-button-start vehicles.
To stop the engine, you must push the key fob farther into the slot to remove it-and then push the button again. (Land Rover says all this keeps the fob's battery charged.)
The only transmission offered is a responsive 6-speed automatic, but it perfectly suits the LR2. This is just too plush and prestigious a vehicle to have a manual gearbox for the American luxury vehicle crowd.
Rather Plain Styling
The styling is rather plain, but the LR2 has a nice planted stance. Land Rover and the larger Range Rover models always have been too boxy to win beauty contests.
But the LR2 is nicely sized and its clamshell hood, jeweled headlights, side air intakes and slotted grille give it a strong Land Rover identity.
Steering is quick, and the turning circle is tight. Handling is good for a rather tall SUV, with little noticeable body sway when zipping through curves. The fully independent suspension provides a pleasant ride, although there is mild pitching on some surfaces. Stops are made quickly. The brake pedal has the right amount of firmness, although some may feel it's touchy.
Sophisticated All-Wheel Drive
The LR2 has no low-range gearing usually needed for good off-road prowess. But it has a sophisticated all-wheel-drive setup and a Terrain Response system controlled by a console switch. The system alters powertrain and suspension calibrations to accommodate normal driving, grass, gavel, snow, mud, ruts and sand.
The all-wheel drive mainly works in front-wheel-drive mode with only a small amount of power shot to the rear wheels during most driving conditions-until more rear-wheel power is needed.
Anti-lock brakes, traction/anti-skid control with rollover sensors and hill-descent control are standard. So are many comfort, convenience and safety items, which include front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags with rollover deployment.
Among the few options is a $700 package containing heated front seats and a heated windshield. A $3,500 technology package has a navigation system, upscale sound system, satellite radio, rear radio controls and a wireless cell phone link.
Four tall adults fit comfortably, although knee room gets tight behind a tall driver who moves his seat back a lot. Front seats are supportive in turns, and there's a mixture of large and small climate and audio system controls that are fairly easy to use. All doors have roomy storage/bottle holder areas.
Bright sunlight makes it difficult to read the small gauge numbers, but the quiet interior looks upscale, befitting a Land Rover, with wood and leather trim and good detail assembly. Front cupholders are nicely positioned and lots of glass area, which includes a power sunroof and fixed rear glass panel, allow good visibility and an airy-feeling interior.
Narrow Rear Door Openings
It takes some extra effort to slide in and out, but occupants sit high. Outside door handles are large, but narrow door openings inhibit back-seat entry and exit.
The cargo opening is high, but there's only a moderate amount of cargo space for an SUV unless the rear seat backrests and bottoms are folded forward, which is easily done.
While it feels solidly built, the LR2 is too new to have a track record. And reliability has been an issue with some Land Rover and Range Rover models.