Steven Cole Smith
January 9, 2011
When Land Rover redesigned the mid-level LR4 SUV for 2010, many of my colleagues proclaimed that it was a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the model it replaces, the LR3.
I was not among them. Not because the LR4 isn't a very good vehicle, because it is -- but the LR3 was a solid, functional SUV, too, and though its styling may have been a little dowdy inside and out compared with the LR4, the LR3 got the job done. Years ago, one carried me over a 16,420-foot mountain road in Argentina -- the highest drivable mountain pass in the Western Hemisphere -- without missing a beat, so I've always thought favorably of the LR3.
Here's the problem: The LR3 and the LR4 remind me of a gourmet chef who works at the Pancake Parlor. Sure, the pancakes are great, but you know the cook is capable of so much more.
The vast majority of Land Rovers and their more deluxe siblings, Range Rovers, lead a pampered life in the hands of owners who have no idea what their vehicles are capable of. Case in point: The 2011 LR4's specifications list a "maximum wading depth" of 27.56 inches. That means it can "wade" through standing water that is 27.56 inches deep -- a level just under the headlights, almost to the top of the tires and nearly halfway up the tops of the doors -- without suffering mechanical failure or interior leakage. Try that with your Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator. (Or, better yet, please don't.)
Yes, Rover products are typically upscale, but much of the price is due to overbuilding them. The huge, thick rubber molding around the doors, for instance, is one reason you can drive an LR4 into more than 2 feet of water, and molding like that adds to the price, but probably few buyers have even noticed it.
The three LR4 models -- the base, the HSE and the HSE Lux -- are all four-wheel-drive and have the same engine and transmission. The differences between the $47,650 LR4, the $51,950 HSE and the $56,800 HSE Lux are the level of premium features.
On the road, the LR4 has a very smooth, surprisingly quiet ride. Though it's heavy at 5,617 pounds and fairly tall, it does not feel tipsy on winding roads, something that could not always be said for older Rover SUVs. There is a full roster of safety features, too, including all-terrain electronic stability control -- some other stability control systems on SUVs don't really work off-road -- plus six airbags.
Off the road, well, this is a Land Rover. Standard equipment includes a "terrain response system," with settings for snow, mud, sand, slow rock-crawling and general driving conditions. The test vehicle's air suspension raises and lowers the LR4 to the proper height per conditions.
The LR4's face-lift does indeed make it look more like a member of the Range Rover family than the sensible-shoes LR3 ever did, and this engine and transmission bolster the LR4 package to where it may create a problem for the company: Just as the Porsche Cayman is such a nice car that it's difficult to justify the extra expense for the top-of-the-line Porsche 911, I'm not sure why I'd bypass the LR4 for the top-of-the-line Range Rover, which starts at $79,685.
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