Built on an all-new platform, Land Rover's latest model debuted at the 2004 New York International Auto Show and replaced the Discovery in the fall of 2004. Seating up to seven occupants, the LR3 premium sport utility vehicle uses a Jaguar-derived 300-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8 engine that's been altered to handle severe offroad driving conditions. The engine delivers more low-end torque than Jaguar's version, and it has slightly more displacement.
The LR3 is "awash with clever technology," said Matthew Taylor, Land Rover managing director, during the SUV's debut. New Terrain Response technology has five terrain settings for on-road to extreme offroad conditions.
Optional adaptive headlights turn to illuminate road curves better. A height-adjustable air-spring suspension is standard. A low Access setting permits easier entry and exit.
Two trim levels are available: SE and step-up HSE. European versions can be equipped with a common-rail diesel engine in place of gasoline power. Outside North America, the new model is called the Discovery 3.
Upright and angular, the LR3 has rectangular rear quarter windows and uses a monocoque structure that connects with a hydroformed steel chassis. Though modern in overall appearance, the LR3 "had to be recognized instantly as a Land Rover," Taylor said. Short overhangs and a large greenhouse are among the familiar touches, along with a front fascia and a split tailgate that echo the larger Range Rover's. A power sunroof and separate rear glass roof panels are installed.
Seating for five occupants is standard. Rear occupants enjoy stadium-style seating, and Land Rover claims the optional third-row seat is big enough for 95th-percentile adults. The second- and third-row seats fold flat. A DVD-based navigation system is available.
A rotary switch selects from five Terrain Response settings. One is for normal driving, a second for slippery conditions, and the remaining three are offroad settings for mud, sand and rock crawling. Once a mode is selected, the system makes adjustments to the vehicle's electronic and powertrain systems.
Under the Hood
Enlarged from a Jaguar engine, the 4.4-liter V-8 develops 300 hp and drives a six-speed-automatic transmission. Permanent four-wheel drive is standard.
Antilock brakes and an electronic parking brake are installed. Side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags for the first and second rows are standard. Separate side curtains are included with the optional third-row seat.
It takes a while to get accustomed to its controls and idiosyncrasies, but the LR3 represents a significant step beyond its predecessor, the Discovery. In addition to an impressive selection of offroad features, this squared-off SUV boasts a beautifully refined powertrain that shifts gears smoothly and has no shortage of power. The manual-shift mode shouldn't be necessary in ordinary driving.
The seats are comfortable and supportive despite firm cushioning. Many of the bewildering controls will never be used in everyday driving, but Access Mode is helpful in easing entry and exit. The taut suspension yields a firm ride and is pleasant on the highway and acceptable on urban pavement. Parking the LR3 could be easier, but this SUV maneuvers adeptly with satisfying steering feel. Little correction is needed to stay on course, but the LR3 does demand close attention.
Other than a head restraint that impedes the over-right-shoulder view, visibility is good. Backseat headroom and foot room are ample, but the LR3 has modest legroom. Reaching past the lower cargo door to grab luggage isn't too easy, and folding down the third-row seats becomes a chore because of the long reach. The LR3 is an excellent touring machine that brings its impressive heritage up to date.