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Expert Reviews 1 of 13
By Joe Wiesenfelder
September 27, 2007
The all-new 2008 Land Rover LR2 occupies a unique niche among compact SUVs. This class has more premium and luxury models than ever, but the LR2 is the only one designed for real offroad use. Competitors like the Acura RDX and BMW X3 have gone the sport-wagon route, designed strictly for onroad performance and occasional light off-pavement and foul-weather driving. One could argue that offroad ability in vehicles like this is an idea rightly approaching extinction, but Land Rover is an offroad brand that wants all its models to be capable scalers/mudders/waders. The company has managed that in the LR2 while still keeping it remarkably refined and livable in regular driving. It even has some advantages the sport SUVs lack, but its gas mileage is disappointing given the LR2's modest power.
I tested the LR2 SE. A second, higher trim level, the HSE, debuts Nov. 1. Exterior & Styling Compared to the RDX and X3, the Land Rover has the more traditional SUV look commonly found in larger models — and some cheaper ones like the Ford Escape. Though it's a bit more rounded, it shares styling elements with the larger LR3 and Range Rover and is definitely more distinctive and handsome than most SUVs.
The SE's bumpers are body-colored, but their lower segments and the side sills are clad in scuff-resistant dark-gray plastic. Typically a low-rent cue, the black door handles and side mirrors have a look of relative quality. The HSE has titanium-colored door handles and completely body-colored bumpers and rocker panels, but the black side mirrors remain. It upgrades the SE's 18-inch aluminum wheels to 19 inches.
A vent adorns each front fender; since its debut in 2005, the larger LR3 has had one on the passenger side only, but since then the auto industry has gone vent happy and it's rapidly becoming a cliché, if it isn't already.
Exterior Dimensions (ft.)
Land Rover LR2
The LR2 has the added benefit of shorter bumper-to-bumper length and a tighter turning circle, which makes it better suited for parking. It is, in fact, one of Cars.com's Ten Best Urban Cars. Standard Park Distance Control sonar sensors in the rear bumper are an advantage here, too, and we wonder why the front sensors that are included overseas were left off versions here. The Inside The LR2's interior design is modern and appealing, with materials quality that definitely sets it above more modestly priced compact SUVs. The standard leather driver's seat was comfortable in terms of cushioning and an adjustable inboard armrest, but there were a couple of awkward things: First, it sits atop a raised platform that protrudes forward when the seat is all the way back. It's roughly 3 inches higher than the floor and juts 6.5 inches forward of the seat when it's all the way back, leaving the seat tracks in full view — and poised to scrape your shoes. I guess everyone sits differently, but I constantly felt that ledge where my feet wanted to be.
What made it worse was the seat's six-way power adjustments, which include up/down for the rear of the seat cushion but not for the front. It felt like more thigh support would have helped, but it just wasn't there. New seat controls are among the few functional changes in the HSE trim level, but unfortunately they just add lumbar support to the driver's seat and a height adjustment to the passenger's. The adjustment most needed is nowhere to be seen.
The layout is ergonomic overall, but the slot that the transmitter fob must be slid into to start the car is hard to see, find and reach behind the steering wheel. Cabin storage is in limited supply. The door pockets are generous in size, but there's no covered center storage console in the SE, and the glove compartment isn't as large as its sizeable door suggests. The HSE adds a center console box with a sliding cover.
By the numbers, the LR2 has considerably more front and rear headroom than the Acura and BMW. It also edges out the Acura with 41.9 inches of front legroom — though I experienced no footwell ledge in the RDX. With 36.4 inches of backseat legroom, the LR2 lands between the two competitors. At 6 feet tall, my knees pushed into the driver's seat's soft backrest. There was also another platform back there that put my feet farther forward than they wanted to be, though the driver's seat was in its rearmost position. A generous driver might share some legroom. Though the backseat has three seat belts, the center floor hump is about ankle high and the front center console encroaches on foot room. (I swear I'm not a foot fetishist; this is just a strange car and, sadly, I have clown feet.)
The standard panoramic moonroof gives the cabin a larger feel, with a fixed skylight over the backseat and a tilt/slide pane for the front. Both have retractable sunshades, which have their pros and cons ... but mostly cons. The pro is that the screen-type mesh keeps upper-hair turbulence at bay when the moonroof is open, but it doesn't screen much else, including sunlight and noise. A solid, opaque shade would do both.
For what it's worth, the cabin was otherwise admirably quiet, even on an interstate trip at high speeds — hardly a foregone conclusion for a model of this type and shape. Ride & Handling The ride quality is comfortable even on long hauls. Though solid rear axles have some offroad advantages, Land Rover has been moving away from them, and the LR2 has a four-wheel-independent suspension. The ride is firm, but it's softer than its sport-oriented German and Japanese competitors. Like those SUVs, the LR2 is unibody, or car-based, built on a platform borrowed from fellow Ford division Volvo. Among other positives, this construction gives it a rigidity you never seem to get in truck-based models, even the most modern ones.
Though it's slightly wider, the LR2 is also taller and rides higher than the RDX and X3, and it's not meant for taking corners as quickly. This isn't a sports car or a sport wagon. Going & Stopping The 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine (also borrowed from Volvo) drives all four wheels through a new six-speed automatic transmission with a clutchless manual mode. Land Rover says it's good for 0-60 mph sprints of 8.4 seconds. I found it adequate, though there was occasional kickdown lag and gear hunting. After acclimating to the car, I noticed it less. It's possible that the learning aspect of the transmission took time to adjust to my driving style, but I'm always dubious of this rationalization.
The all-wheel drive sends most of the torque to the front wheels during normal driving, which is intended to maximize efficiency. When slippage calls for it, almost all of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels. A standard electronic stability system with four-wheel traction control should ensure that a single wheel with traction could keep the LR2 moving. The LR2 doesn't have a dual-range transfer case and the additional low gear that usually defines a true offroad vehicle, but Land Rover claims it's up to the task — and our friends at MotorWeek confirmed it on and off the trail.
The LR2 has a simpler version of the Terrain Response knob found in its larger siblings. With pictograms depicting modes for General Driving, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand, the knob automatically optimizes the traction control, AWD, transmission behavior and accelerator sensitivity for the given condition — something drivers of other vehicles would have to do manually, if they could at all. It couldn't be simpler to use, though the Grass/Gravel/Snow mode is the only one most drivers would need, if that.
The EPA-estimated gas mileage of 16/23 mpg (city/highway) is disappointing mainly because the LR2 is less powerful and pokier than the Acura and BMW. Usually the payoff for lower performance is greater efficiency, not less. The RDX is rated at 17/22 mpg and the X3 at 17/24 mpg. (While the RDX's highway number is lower, its mixed-driving rating is 19 mpg, where the LR2's is 18 mpg.) Land Rover recommends premium gas.
My interstate trip proved the EPA's new mileage estimation method much more accurate than the old version. Outbound, I handed the driving duty to my close friend, Pepe Zapato-Pesado, who consistently drove 10-15 mph above the posted speed limits of 55, 65 and 70 mph. The trip computer said we'd gotten 19.6 mpg, and my own calculations said 20 mpg. On the return trip, I, being more conscientious than Pepe, drove the speed limit or, at most, 5 mph above. I calculated 22 mpg for the whole run, but for sustained periods the trip computer showed me getting 25.6 mpg on the highway. Had the entire trip been on interstates, I suspect we would have gotten a higher number. It may be hard to believe, but lowering highway speed — especially with a six-speed transmission — can save you several mpg. The faster you go, the more fuel you burn — disproportionately so. Safety The LR2 has not yet been crash tested by our preferred source, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but its feature complement is impressive. In addition to the required airbags, the LR2 has side-impact ones for the front seats, curtains to protect front and rear occupants in a side collision and a knee airbag that both protects the legs and prevents the driver from sliding under the lap belt.
Antilock brakes and a stability system are standard, as is Roll Stability control, which has spread throughout the Ford family of brands but is still the only system that detects an actual tip event and attempts to prevent a rollover. Conventional stability systems only prevent conditions that may lead to rollovers, or they attempt to intuit what the RSC sensor actually measures.
The optional Lighting Package includes adaptive xenon headlights, which aim in the direction of a turn. My test car had them, and I loved them. Cargo & Towing The LR2's cargo hatch is a good height, with an intermediate step cut into the bumper. The smaller exterior dimensions only cost the LR2 a few cubic feet of cargo volume behind the backseat compared to the RDX and X3. With their backseats folded flat, the LR2 again is a couple cubic feet shy of the RDX, but about 12 cu. ft. smaller than the X3.
Cargo Volume (cu. ft.)
Land Rover LR2
The 60/40-split rear seats fold in two steps: The seat cushion must be flipped forward before the backrest will lower. One-step folding is preferred, but if this is what it takes to make the cargo floor flat, so be it. At least the head restraints nest into the backrest so they don't have to be removed before folding.
With its unibody design and front-wheel-drive bias, the LR2 is like other compacts, limited to a maximum 3,500-pound trailer weight. LR2 in the Market With a list price of $34,700 (including destination charge), the LR2 is close to a grand more expensive than the RDX but $4,000 less than the X3. Options are few and grouped into three logical packages, one combining cold-climate features, another including lighting upgrades and seat-position memory (OK, mostly logical), and one that corrals stereo upgrades, a navigation system and other electronic goodies. A model loaded with these packages, plus $400 Narvik Black paint (the only stand-alone option), tops out at $40,350.
The LR2 technically replaces the Freelander compact, a model last sold in 2005 that would have been a smash hit had it been introduced here when it debuted overseas in 1997. At that time, the Toyota RAV4 — a comparative tin can — stole headlines as the first small, car-based SUV. By the time the Freelander came to the U.S. in 2002, there were many other, better options in its class. Though it's a far better model, the LR2 has no momentum to build off of, and modest sales have already prompted some incentives. (At the time of this writing, special financing is offered; click on the Rebates, Payments, Prices button in the upper-left corner of this page to check for current deals.)
The LR2's niche might be an esoteric one — offroad-capable compact luxury SUV that looks like a real SUV — but there aren't many niches left, and this seems a good one when you consider that the RDX and X3 are the only other current models that could be considered compact-luxury SUVs, and the upcoming 2008 Infiniti EX will emulate those sport wagons, not the LR2. I like the Land Rover overall, but I wonder if I'd adjust to the strange seats over time. Everyone's different, and even though we at Cars.com try to shine a light on the major pros and cons of each model, we do meet people who have purchased a car they later deem uncomfortable. These are always very, very unhappy people.