Back in 1989, with the Range Rover growing in popularity, Land Rover felt the opportunity was right to introduce a junior version in the mid-priced off-roader field. Dubbed the Land Rover Discovery, it helped define a vehicle segment that has arguably become the hottest of them all, the mid-priced family SUV. In North America, the Discovery (renamed LR3 for 2005), continues to stand apart from an ever growing number of soft-road pretenders, by virtue of it’s all-around capability and numerous patented and award winning features.
|1. With such a long list of improvements made to the LR3 for 2010, Land Rover decided to rebadge it as the all-new LR4.
2. A new 5.0L V8 makes 75 more horsepower than the old 4.4L unit for a total of 375-hp and 375 ft-lbs of torque.
3. Models start at $47,250.
4. Third row seating is optional, as is a five-camera system.
5. The Terrain Response System gains a new sand option for a total of five different modes.
Not one to rest on its laurels, Land Rover has decided to update the truck for 2010; significantly enough that it’s also been given a new name – LR4. On the outside, it looks very similar to the LR3, but at the front adopts more the look of a baby Range Rover. The grille is a prime example. Where once black dominated, it is now gray, almost silver with a prominent mesh texture. The headlights have also been revamped, but the glow rings around the lenses are a bit gimmicky (why does it seem that luxury car makers think side markers that look like the front of a Reno casino are cool?). Another change is the once black bumpers and fender flares are now body colored, giving this rig a more sophisticated look. At the back the tail lamps have been tweaked and now use clear circular lenses.
As you climb inside, you’re greeted by the customary Land Rover driving position – high posture and plenty of visibility. But as you look around, the cabin has a more fluid feel to it. Key is the center stack. Where once a plethora of confusing chicklet buttons dominated, it’s now a touch screen with rotary HVAC controls. The knob that activates the Terrain Response system has also been moved forward on the console, making it an easier reach.
In North America, LR4s come loaded to the gills, with power folding mirrors, remote start; a premium entertainment system with MP3, USB and iPod docking, plus an automatic unlock feature and High Beam assist, auto dipping headlights. The seats themselves have also been redesigned and offer better comfort and lumbar support, both front and second row.
NEW 5.0L V8 ENGINE DELIVERS BIG IMPROVEMENT IN POWER
But the biggest changes of all are those under the skin. In the U.S. and Canada, the LR4 just comes with a single powertrain option, a 5.0-liter dual overhead cam V8 and a six-speed automatic transmission. The 5.0-liter is an outgrowth of the old 4.4 Jaguar sourced V8, but features variable valve timing on all four cams, a new direct injection fuel system and specific calibration. Output is a strong 375 horsepower (which almost matches the old Range Rover Sport Supercharged engine) and an equal amount of torque.
In motion, there’s no mistaking the LR4’s gutsy character. The V8 is strong and smooth, with plenty of power on reserve. It’s also got quite a nice rumble to it. The ZF transmission features a manual shift feature that allows the driver to change gear on their own, plus even in drive mode, the transmission is able to adapt to a particular driving style, by altering the shift pattern. In either mode, the shifts are quite sporty, yet fluid – more sports car like than the old rig. Perhaps what’s quite amazing is despite all this grandstanding – the Rover can dash to 60 mph in well under 8-seconds too – is that the new engine meets the EPA’s Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle Tier 2 standards. Fuel economy figures hadn’t been officially released at the time of our test, but 12 to 18 miles per gallon city/highway is about what you can expect.
Past Discoveries and the LR3, for that matter, often felt like they would topple over when going around corners at speed. The LR4 incorporates new gas charged shocks, new suspension bushings and roll bars. Also the steering has been re-geared for a sportier feel. Throw in a larger footprint (19-inch wheels and 255 tires) and it has better stability and greater response. It turns faster and improved grip means that although you still get a little of that top-heavy sensation, it’s much less than before. Where previous Landies of this ilk generally behaved like cruisers on the black stuff, this one is actually quite sporty by comparison. The brakes have also been upgraded with bigger 14.2-inch front discs. Honk on the pedal from 60 mph or so and the anchors deliver a strong punch, especially considering the LR4’s near 6,000 lb curb weight.
IN ITS ELEMENT
Sport on-road manners are nice, but where the LR4 and much of its so-called competitors part ways, is when you take it off the tarmac and into the boondocks. During our evaluation, we found a slippery, rocky and generally down right muddy trail with plenty of rocks and tree stumps to contend with.
The LR4 features an improved Terrain Response system, that includes five different modes – tarmac, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, sand and finally rocks. It also features hill descent control and a gradient release feature, that moderates the throttle input when you’re crawling in the back woods and controls brake pedal pressure when going down hills, allowing you to concentrate a lot more on simply steering the vehicle and looking out for the next major obstacle ahead.
The larger V8 is perfect for this kind of work and with 375 ft-lbs of torque it will pull the Landie through just about anything and up almost any incline. An updated traction control system, although good on the black stuff, really comes into it’s own here, especially when you’re traversing slippery rocks or have to drive through big, muddy ruts. The electronically locking differentials are among the best in any type of off-road vehicle and a Thin Film Transistor screen, mounted between the speedometer and tach actually shows you where and when they’re working while off-road. The sand feature on the T-R system uses special throttle input to ensure the wheels are moving just enough that you’ve got traction on soft ground. Yes, you have to try pretty hard to get properly stuck in the LR4.
Shifting back to tarmac from serious rock crawling, requires engaging the parking brake and shifting the trans into neutral, but the transition is fairly seamless, all things considered. Another aspect of the LR4 worth mentioning is it’s towing capacity, which rivals (and in some cases surpasses) full-on half-ton pickups, which still dwarf it in stature. A new Trailer Stability Assist also makes towing a lot less stressful when contending with high winds, undulating pavement or dozy drivers on the freeway.
Although there are plenty of entry-level SUVs that are newer basic designs, very few, if any of them, can match the LR4 in terms of sheer capability. Whether it’s a night on the town or rock crawling through the Sonora Desert, the Landie is the perfect compliment for your own personal adventure. Base price is $47,250, but start adding options, including the HSE premium package and it’s easy to push the sticker on a new LR4 well into the mid 50s. Still that puts it smack dab inline with vehicles like the Lexus GX460, Lincoln MKT and Mercedes’ entry level ML-class, none of which can match it, either in terms of capability, or pedigree.