The Land Rover LR3 in an impressive achievement. While other mid-luxury SUVs are surrendering off-road competence, the LR3 combines responsive on-road performance with go-anywhere off-road capability in a vehicle that is comfortable, safe and secure.
The LR3 offers the competence of the more expensive Range Rover and some of its luxurious feel. Underway, the LR3 feels stable and composed, with little noise and vibration transmitted into the cabin. The brakes are excellent, something that can't be said of its predecessor, the Discovery.
The LR3 incorporates the latest in electronics in a system called Terrain Response, which selects the best combination of traction, power, gearing, and braking to suit any type of terrain and surface, to put serious off-road trekking within the reach of most enthusiasts. Simply twisting a knob to Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, or Rock Crawl optimizes the settings for the LR3's mind-boggling array of electronic controls and traction aids. In short, the LR3 can go just about anywhere on the planet. And it does it in style.
The LR3 has a spacious, airy cabin with comfortable seats. It can seat up to seven passengers with the optional third row, and the seats fold flat into the floor individually, making this a versatile utility vehicle.
For 2008, all Land Rover LR3 models come with seven-passenger seating and a V8 engine. Five-passenger models and V6s are no longer available.
The V8 is sourced from Jaguar. It has variable cam phasing, develops 300 horsepower and delivers strong throttle response with 315 pound-feet of torque on tap. It comes with a six speed automatic.
The LR3 is a highly capable off-road vehicle. All models come with a two-speed transfer case, permanent four-wheel drive, Land Rover's Terrain Response off-road system and Hill Descent Control. The LR3 also comes with an automatic load-leveling rear suspension useful for towing, and an adjustable suspension with three height settings for regular driving, off-roading, and loading. A Class III hitch gives the LR3 a 7700-pound tow rating.
Land Rover LR3 SE ($48,525); HSE ($54,025)
The Land Rover LR3 looks stylish and functional. It looks at home on the African savannah, on rural roads around the country, and in upscale suburbia. The current model was re-named LR3 in the United States when it was redesigned for 2005 to better promote the Land Rover brand, but it's still called the Discovery around the world. Function drove much of the distinctive styling of the LR3.
The distinctive stepped roof line, a recognized brand element preserved from the previous-generation Discovery, creates headroom for rear-seat passengers while compensating for the high floor required to clear the center differential and to give the LR3 sufficient ground clearance in rugged terrain.
The asymmetric tailgate operates as an easy-open clamshell for the top half and a standard tailgate for the bottom half. The result is exceptional ease of access, and reduced load lift height, while preserving a sheltered fold-out tailgate surface for true tailgating at a campsite or stadium parking lot.
The air intake on the right of the engine bay can only be seen on one side because that was all that was needed. Land Rover did not add a phony intake on the other side merely add symmetry to the design. We like that.
The alpine windows along the rearward sides of the roof are not as noticeable as they were on the previous Discovery, but they're there, letting more light into the cabin and giving back-seat passengers a view of the Sequoias, mountains, or canyon walls towering above.
The LR3 is considerably larger than the previous Discovery. The 113.6-inch wheelbase is as long as that of a Ford Explorer, which provides room for three-row seating and better highway stability, particularly when towing.
The LR3 is built with what Land Rover calls integrated body-frame architecture, which combines hydroformed steel frame rails with a rigid monocoque body shell. Rubber mounts and dampers between the frame and body provide isolation from noise, vibration and harshness. Premium materials such as aluminum, magnesium, and high-tensile-strength alloy steel are used in key areas to save weight. Outer steel body panels are two-side galvanized to prevent corrosion. The two-piece tailgate is aluminum for ease of opening and closing. This approach accounts for much of the LR3's relatively light weight, crisp handling, and solid feel.
The Land Rover LR3 is a comfortable vehicle. The driver and front passenger get power-adjustable seats with adjustable armrests, and the second-row seats have generous headroom and legroom. Even the third-row seats can be considered habitable for adults.
The large windows, long wheelbase, and fixed overhead Alpine windows create a spacious, airy interior. The low beltline, with window sills well below shoulder level, not only helps lower the center of gravity, but also improves forward and downward vision, an important advantage when driving through rugged terrain or traversing narrow tracks, especially those with exposures to seemingly bottomless ravines.
The instrument panel is clean, modern, and in keeping with the geometric exterior design. Controls are good sized, tactile, and significantly more intuitively arrayed than Land Rovers of the past, though they still take some getting used to.
LR3's interior design gives up nothing to other SUVs in practical flexibility. The second-row seats fold down into the footwell, leaving a perfectly flat surface. Many SUVs do not offer the benefit of flat cargo areas. The third-row seats fold flat, creating a six-foot load floor. Each rear seat folds independently, leaving numerous options for seating and cargo.
Cubby storage is good. As with every previous Land Rover, practicality in the outback is reflected in functional interior appointments. For the variety of stuff carried on a camping trip, there are four glove boxes, readily accessible stash zones and numerous drink holders. Flip-down grab handles are located at all four doors, and comfortable, solid grab points built into the front-seat headrests give occupants something to hold on to when the driver is exploring the LR3's impressive tilt, climb, and descent limits.
Driving the Land Rover LR3 down flooded forest trails, curving mountain roads and high-speed freeways reveals a class-leading combination of capability, utility, luxury and style. The LR3 handles the toughest of off-road obstacles brilliantly, yet is comfortable on rush-hour freeways. Though far from best in class in terms of on-road handling dynamics, the LR3 is much better on paved roads and in daily driving than the previous-generation Discovery. Yet it gives up nothing in off-road capability.
Driving on paved surfaces, the immediate sensation is of composure and protected personal space. The driver is seated high above the average car, and insulated from outside noises, vibrations or intrusions. Steering is notably solid and progressive, and very little road vibration is transmitted through the thick steering wheel. The LR3 doesn't feel nearly as taut as a BMW X5, but it's more comfortable than the X5 on dirt roads.
The LR3 will reliably hold a given line through a tight corner, but the air suspension allows some body travel. In corners, the body leans, but the grip of the tires is readily apparent, creating a feeling of hanging out over the edge of the road. Nevertheless, with independent double-wishbone suspension at all four corners, stiff wheels, wide tires and the latest in electronic stability control, the longer we drove, the more confident we became of the LR3's capabilities at speed. It takes a set in corners and rewards smooth driving techniques. It's not as forgiving of poor driving technique as, say, a Lexus RX.
Braking is remarkable, both in terms of overall feel and sheer stopping power. The pedal is progressive, with no vibration coming through, and it always feels like there is more stopping power readily at hand. The brakes themselves are large 13.3-inch discs in front and 13.8-inch discs at the rear, with four-channel ABS. The anti-lock brake system is designed to work off road, as well.
An array of electronic systems help the driver to better control the vehicle in emergency stopping and handling situations. Among them: Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assist, Cornering Brake Control, and Active Roll Mitigation. Essentially, all of these systems track driver input at the steering wheel, throttle, and brake pedal and compare it to what is happening at each road wheel. When a tire loses grip or an emergency braking situation is sensed, one or more of these systems react to improve the vehicle's operating position. In many cases, these adjustments will be transparent to the driver.
Two brake-based systems, Hill Descent Control (HDC) and all-terrain Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) work to enhance driver control off road in rugged terrain. The Hill Descent Control system, used to restrict downhill speeds on steep, slippery grades, is adjustable through the steering wheel cruise control buttons. It works amazingly well.
The LR3 offers strong throttle response, a departure from older Land Rovers. The 4.4-liter V8, rated at 300 horsepower, is a stroked version of Jaguar's 4.2-liter, adapted to the LR3's particular requirements. The increased stroke length enhances torque, so that the V8 delivers 315 pound-feet at 4000 rpm. Combined with the electronic six-speed transmission, the V8-equipped LR3 moves out smartly at part throttle, and has passing power in reserve. Land Rover says the V8 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8 seconds, which is respectable performance.
The LR3 can be considered a serious tow vehicle for a horse trailer, heavy boat, or full-size camper.
The engine is protected from the special demands of off-highway via special attention to dust-proofing and waterproofing, with an air intake to enable the LR3 to move through up to 27 inches of water. The engine is designed to operate at severe side angles without oil starvation. 'The ZF six-speed automatic transmission offers a manual mode that allows the driver to hold on
The Land Rover LR3 offers brilliant off-road capability with on-road comfort. It may be the best vehicle for anybody who needs a comfortable daily driver that can go anywhere any four-wheel vehicle might go.
John Stewart reported on the LR3 from Canada, with NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell contributing from Argentina.