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LR3 combines luxury with off-road capability

April 29, 2005|by DAN LYONS/Motor Matters

Off-road or off Broadway, it's all the same to Land Rover. The British-built line of upscale SUVs has a tradition of versatility. Recently, Land Rover rolled out a new model with the same commitment to dual-duty driving. The new LR3 slots between the top-shelf Range Rover and the entry luxury Freelander. Offered in SE and HSE trim levels, LR3 prices start at $44,995.

Hard core off-road capability has always been a part of the package with Land Rover. LR3 fills the bill, and the numbers tell the story: angles of approach/breakover/departure are as much as 37/27.9/29.6 degrees respectively, with minimum ground clearance of 9.5 inches. You can scale a pitch as steep as 45 degrees and wade through water as deep as 27.6 inches.

This is more off-road mastery than all but a very few will ever ask for. It's a challenge to make an SUV that can toe the mark like this. Equally daunting is making all that capability real-world simple. Land Rover's solution is an innovative control system called Terrain Response. From a center console knob, drivers select one of five positions that correspond with road conditions. One setting takes care of everyday driving and another is your choice for slippery areas: snow, gravel, grass.

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In addition, there are three off-road modes, suitable for mud, sand or rock crawling. Twist the knob, and the LR3 automatically dials in the optimum settings for all of the onboard electronics and traction controls. Ride height, engine response, transmission settings, traction control, even hill descent control, all one and done. It's off-road made easy.

Equally important is the LR3's in-town, tooling around feel. Since most SUVs spend far more time on pavement than off (a ratio that rises in proportion to the purchase price). To be successful, LR3 has to coddle its customers. The first tool that Land Rover applies to the task is size. LR3 is big, and the dimensions pay dividends in terms of interior room. Up front, LR3 has a handsome, well appointed front cabin that would serve well in any luxury sedan. Storage spots abound, visibility is good and comfort levels are high.

The second row fares no worse than the first. The raised "stadium seating" makes for an unobstructed view forward, and a fixed, Alpine window overhead lends an open feel. The upside of the optional, third-row seating is true, adult-sized room. The downside is that there's little space in back for storage (cargo capacity measures just 9.9 cubic feet). However, when you're not in maximum passenger mode, the third-row seat folds flush with the load floor and the tailgate. So set, the capacity is boosted to a very healthy 42.1-44.5 cubic feet, expandable to as much as 90.3 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded. The LR3 can tow up 7,716 pounds. Access to the cargo area is by means of a two-piece tailgate. The curved cut of the glass increases rear visibility, but a one-piece design would be more convenient, especially when you've got your arms full.

Lift the bonnet on the LR3 and you'll find a Jaguar-based V-8 engine. This engine has been adapted to meet Land Rover's requirements with more low-end torque (315 lbs.-ft. at 4,000 rpm) and greater resistance to dust and moisture. The oil and water pumps have been re-engineered to maintain function, even at extreme angles of operation. The engine is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, and two-speed transfer case, with lockable center differential. It's a fine, fast combination. There's plenty of low-end power on hand for the dirty work off-road.

On road, the LR3 does 0-to-60 mph in about 8 seconds flat - that's hustling, for a 5,400-pound truck. Gas mileage is estimated at a wallet-sapping 14 mpg city and 18 highway. The LR3's road ride is exemplary; a comfortable touring machine to be sure. Handling caveats are as with all large SUVs: the driver must make allowances for the higher center of gravity and longer stopping distances required by its size.

All of the above is wrapped in a design that's undeniably modern, but arguably underdressed for its clientele. Regardless of where you stand on the styling, though, there's no debating the impressive versatility of the LR3. It bridges the divide between on and off-road with surprising ease: equally at home whether mucking through the mud or cruising to the theater.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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