The dichotomy between brochure boasting and everyday reality has always been Land Rover's Achilles' heel. Its vehicles could wade through two feet of water without a hiccup, but delivering comfort and practicality on trips through the 'burbs was an obstacle.
Its previous midsize offering, the Land Rover Discovery, was a perfect example. It limped through life with a underpowered V8, poor ergonomics and wobbly handling. Sure, it could conquer the Congo, but in the midst of carpool duty that capability offered.
The 2005 Land Rover LR3 replaces the Discovery, and redefines Land Rover's approach to the U.S. market. This time around the engineers paid as much attention to the cupholders and cruise control switches as they did ground clearance. It's a concept the Japanese have honed to perfection, but for Land Rover it's a work in progress.
More Room, More Comfort
A packed Los Angeles freeway is hardly the African bush, but there, among the desperate housewives, we got familiar with the LR3's insides. Land Rover's bid to satisfy American buyers is obvious. Wide seats offer plenty of room to sprawl out. A couple hours into the trip and we hadn't thought twice about them.
With traffic barely moving, we inspected the details of the LR3's interior. Unlike most SUVs in the $45K range, the Land Rover LR3 favors utility over luxury, which we could chalk up to Land Rover's heritage if we were feeling generous.
For $45 grand we want more than the LR3's mix of two-tone plastics and average-quality leather. It doesn't need polished planks of maple adorning its dashboard, but it should convey the upscale look and feel offered by its competitors.
Overall comfort is high, however, and ergonomics are now on par with other trucks in the class. Too bad the LR3's list of standard luxuries, while long, isn't long enough. Every Land Rover LR3 comes with leather seating, dual-zone climate control and a full array of front, side and side curtain airbags, but for $45K seat heaters and automatic headlights should also be on that list.
That said we're thankful for the numerous big, sturdy cupholders, and the industrial-strength rubber floor mats are distinctly Land Rover.
Hardware Fit for a Land Rover
With an all-new platform and a standard air spring suspension, the Land Rover LR3 erases the Discovery's clumsy feel. The LR3 picks its way over the road instead of crashing over it. Overall the LR3 delivers the kind of taut, refined ride you would expect in a high-end luxury SUV.
Unlike the Land Rover Discovery, which pitched and tipped with every turn of the wheel, the LR3 is planted and stable thanks to the adaptability of its independent suspension design. The 5,400 pounds of dead weight holding it down doesn't hurt either.
The steering is heavier and has better road feel than the Lexus GX 470 or the Volkswagen Touareg, which makes the Rover LR3 a more involved, more masculine drive. A tight turning circle and more power assist keep it nimble in parking lots.
Despite the SUV's heft, the four-wheel disc brakes never feel overwhelmed and stop this big heavy beast from 60 mph in a very short 117 feet. That's sports car braking performance, which comes in handy when you make use of the LR3's 300-hp all-aluminum V8.
The engine is a slightly larger version of the 4.2-liter V8 found in Jaguar's upper crust sedans. For truck duty, the 4.4-liter V8 got a revised intake system and rerouted oil galleys to keep it breathing and well lubricated when you're crawling over a stalled Toyota Corolla. Power is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission and a full-time four-wheel-drive system.
Although an Olympian leap forward compared to the Discovery, the power numbers are typical for the class, with similar stats listed for the Lexus GX 470 (270/320) and Volkswagen Touareg V8 (310/302).
The LR3's obesity makes that V8 work for a living. The LR3 posted a best 0-to-60 time of 8.9 seconds, nearly a full second behind the much lighter (4,740 pounds) GX 470. And that's without the extra 35 horsepower the Lexus picked up for '05.
But the LR3 isn't the lumbering troop carrier its acceleration times suggest. Stabbing the pedal brings a swell of power that'll dump your latte in your lap, and the six-speed delivers seamless transitions. Pack it up with a full load of passengers and it starts to suck wind, but unless you plan on towing a trailer or offer the NY Jets a ride home, the LR3's drivetrain has enough guts.
Still Good at Getting Dirty
As nice as this truck is to drive to the dry cleaners, it's still a Land Rover. That means it's packed with the latest in off-road hardware and technology.
Off-road purists might wince at the Rover LR3's fully independent suspension design, but it detracts little from its performance in the rough stuff. There are double wishbones front and rear damped by interconnected air springs that can mimic the movements of traditional solid axle setups. Combined with a locking center differential, an optional electronic rear locker and the LR3's new Terrain Response system, this truck has the ability to climb boulders in a single bound.
Controlled by a single dial on the console, the system has five modes (one street, one snow and three off-road) that automatically adjust everything from ride height to throttle response to the traction control system. The most obvious change the system makes to the truck is the shift in throttle response. Choose the Sand setting and it quickens. Turn the knob to Rock Crawl and it mellows out perfectly.
More subtle changes can be felt through the traction and hill descent control systems, but the constant adjustments are mostly invisible to the driver. Coupled with the grippy 18-inch all-terrain rubber, the Land Rover LR3 makes plunking through mud holes and rock beds easy, even for the first timer.
This is the vehicle to have when Armageddon arrives. And we don't mean the DVD.
Practicality Becomes a Priority
This time around Land Rover doesn't force you to cash in capability for comfort.
Entry is easy thanks to large, lightweight doors with big handles and a ride height that can be lowered with the push of a button. The slightly larger size of the LR3 over the Discovery allows for plenty of knee, head- and legroom in the second row, but unlike the captain's chairs up front the bench feels as flat as it is.
A fold-down DVD screen and rear-seat climate controls are on the options list, while all LR3s get a unique roof that places a separate sunroof over each of the three rows of seats. Only the one up front can be opened, but the two panels in back add natural light and an impression of space.
As third-row seats go, the LR3's, which is optional, is one of the best. It ups passenger capacity to seven and allows normal human beings to sit upright without having their knees for lunch.
The second- and third-row seats also fold completely flat. It's a well-engineered system. The five seats (three in the second row, 50/50 in the third row) fold easily and individually for numerous combinations of passenger and cargo space. Lay them all down and cargo capacity is just over 87 cubic feet, well ahead of the GX 470 (78) and the Touareg (71).
The only hiccup is the inability to fold the third-row seats from behind, a drawback that leaves you with Miata-like cargo room if you don't plan ahead. Keep the back row folded, however, and you get over 42 cubic feet of space to fill.
The 60/40-split tailgate offers a low liftover even if you only swing open the top portion. Fold the lower 40 down and the liftover drops another 6 inches while setting the suspension to its "access" height gets even lower still.
No Room for Whining
In the end, Land Rover LR3 left us little to gripe about. As disappointing as the interior is in some regards, the fact that questionable materials and boring gauges are the worst things we could come up with says a lot.
Unlike the Discovery, the 2005 Land Rover LR3 is a well-thought-out balance of performance, functionality and all-terrain capability. Land Rover finally has a midsize SUV that can compete directly with the world's best and it didn't give up any personality in the process.
System Score: 7.0
Components: The base model LR3 comes standard with a nine-speaker, 300-watt Harman Kardon audio system. The speaker setup consists of a tweeter/full-range speaker combo in each of the doors along with a subwoofer in the cargo area. The head unit incorporates an in-dash six-disc CD changer and is MP3 capable. The layout is easy enough to grasp, but deficiencies like no discernable load button and the lack of a tuning knob make it frustrating to use.
Performance: It may boast a big name and have plenty of power, but the performance of this system is only slightly above average. Well-positioned tweeters up front deliver crisp highs and clear vocals while the ample power keeps distortion to a minimum. In fact, the system's ability to play clearly at high volume levels was its most impressive feature. It loses favor, however, when it comes to delivering the kind of full, deep bass you need to fill out the bottom end. We also noticed the disappearance of backing vocals and secondary instruments that come through clearly on more well-rounded systems — notably Harman's own Logic7 setup. That system is only available on the top-of-the-line HSE, so if you want serious sound in your LR3 you're going to have to buck up big time.
Best Feature: Clean power that never gets too far ahead of the speakers.
Worst Feature: Poor control setup.
Conclusion: A decent system for most, but anyone with an ear for serious sound will find it average at best. — Ed Hellwig
Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
When the current Range Rover debuted in 2003, it finally broke a long-held (and not particularly desirable) image for the company. Sure, the image of a go-anywhere off-road machine was cool, but the poor handling, harsh ride, confusing ergonomics and questionable reliability that went with it kept all but the Land Rover faithful at bay. But the 2003 Range Rover changed things by offering BMW-like ride and handling characteristics along with traditional Land Rover off-road capability. Because BMW engineered the Range Rover before selling the brand to Ford, that's not surprising. What is surprising is how the new LR3 improves upon the outgoing Discovery as much as, or more than, the current Range Rover outclasses the previous version.
Everything from ride quality to interior design to off-road prowess is up to the standards established by the current Range Rover, with particular attention paid to interior space utilization and premium amenities. For instance, passengers in each of the three rows of seats can gaze out at the sky, though only the first row's glass roof is a fully functional sunroof that opens. Seating for the second and third rows, if not truly coddling, is certainly functional for full-size adults on an extended drive. Throw in the solid audio system and whisper-quiet cabin at highway speeds (impressive for a vehicle with the aerodynamics of a brick) and it's clear Land Rover understood the role of luxury in a modern SUV wearing a premium nameplate. And yes, it can still go off-road. The Terrain Response system can be set to deal with just about any driving conditions possible on Planet Earth. The LR3 marks two home runs in a row for Land Rover, which leaves one obvious question: When is that Freelander redesign coming?
Senior Content Editor Erin Riches says:
Driving a Land Rover is all well and good if you've got money and want to show a different side of yourself to your colleagues — the side of you that relishes the spectacle of maneuvering a safari vehicle between urban high-rises. Until 2005, that was basically all there was to Land Rover ownership, save for the tiny percentage of owners who actually know what an OHV trail is and where to find them. The arrival of the LR3 is likely to result in at least a few purchases that are based not on whim alone but on whim plus practical considerations. Why the change? Five individually folding rear seats, separated in two rows, with ample headroom and legroom for all involved. With accommodations like these, you're all set for a Monday of carpool duty or a Saturday of running errands with the kids. Best of all, of course, you haven't sacrificed that rugged safari image to get this kind of flexibility.
It certainly doesn't hurt that, like the current Range Rover, the LR3 is pretty easy to drive on pavement. From the wheel, there's definitely a sensation of driving a tall, boxy vehicle — a real SUV — and the newest Rover doesn't feel as nimble as, say, the Toyota 4Runner. It does, however, instill confidence in the driver when going around turns, and it rides so smoothly that you soon forget all about its all-terrain capability. And for most LR3 owners, forgetting is fine. We could get all high and mighty and suggest that they would really be better off in minivans, but as in the past, that's not the point of owning a Land Rover.