Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, India's largest automaker, insists that his company is stressing "quality over quantity." That's good, because quantity has certainly suffered since his company bought Land Rover and Jaguar from Ford last March.
In September, Tata stopped providing monthly sales figures for the two premium brands, but there's no question sales are down: Automotive News suggests Land Rover sales have dropped 64 percent this year, compared with 2007.
That's understandable for vehicles such as the Range Rover, which starts at more than $77,000 and is EPA-rated at a grim 12 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway.
But it's too bad the drop in sales is also affecting the LR2, Land Rover's smallest, cheapest model and my favorite product in the Rover lineup. The LR2 HSE, the upper-level model, starts at $35,375 -- a bargain, really, for what you get -- and the EPA rating is a not-terrible 15 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway.
The LR2 was new for 2008, replacing the entry-level Freelander with a much more solid, substantial vehicle. Like all Rovers, the LR2 is an absolute mountain goat off-road, but like all Rovers, few owners will ever actually venture off the pavement. That's a shame: With its comparatively compact size, the LR2 is perfect for exploring trails in the Ocala National Forest, with sure-footed, full-time all-wheel-drive, plenty of ground clearance and meaty P235/55-R19 tires that work equally well on and off the road.
Power comes from a 3.2-liter, 230-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine, mated to a Japanese-built six-speed automatic transmission. Sure, a V-8 would be nice, but there's nothing wrong with the performance of the six-cylinder, especially since it's very well matched to the transmission. In low-range gearing for off-road work, there's plenty of muscle. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
There are lots of standard features on the LR2, including seven airbags, stability control, brake assist and most every safety feature available. Inside, there's leather upholstery, a 320-watt Alpine sound system. The rear seat is fine for two adults, a little tight for three. That seat folds down if you need the extra cargo space.
The test LR2 HSE still had several options, including a cold-weather package, and enhanced lighting package that added adaptive xenon headlights, and the HST package, which is mostly cosmetic trim add-ons.
A $3,500 "Technology Package" got us a DVD-based navigation system, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth, rear-seat audio controls and an upgraded Dolby sound system. With shipping, the total price was an even $44,000, but really, I could live happily without any of the options, which would have made for a sticker price of just more than $36,000.
On the road, the LR2's ride is excellent for its size, on par with, say, the Volkswagen Touareg. Handling is better than you'd expect. Acceleration won't win many drag races, but it's more than adequate.
Finally, Land Rover got its entry-level model right, just in time for the Great SUV Bust of 2008. It's a shame because this is a very nice, very capable vehicle.
Steven Cole Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5699.