Land Rover has always been the automotive equivalent to that crazy person we all dated a few years back. They were bad for us, our more sensible friends told us. They emptied our wallets, were completely impractical and always running with a screw or two loose.
If J.D. Power and Associates did relationship durability studies, these liaisons would end up at the bottom of the list.
But empirical data doesn't have an emotional equivalent and despite the facts, we couldn't give that person up. Well, not until we discovered the rabbit stew boiling over.
The 2010 Land Rover LR4 may not be the most practical vehicle around, it costs a big chunk of change, and it sets up residence at the bottom of J.D. Power lists, but it still rewards our guilty pleasures. Its sumptuous interior, its incredible capabilities and its all-new powerful engine release more endorphins than a pound of chocolate.
And it's great to just look at.
Some of the rough edges and hard lines from its predecessor, the LR3, have been smoothed out, as if designers took a rolling pin to the clay model.
Crisp clear LED headlights and tail lamps add a sparkle to this vehicle's eye. (The headlights include the optional high beam assist that will switch the high beams on and off as a vehicle approaches.) The asymmetrical rear door adds a modern look to this SUV. Love it or hate it, the LR4 carries on the Land Rover tradition of iconic good looks that are true to the brand.
Overall, the LR4 is striking and regal. It may cost nearly $50,000 but it looks like a million bucks.
Power, torque gusto
To improve the LR4's aerodynamics, Land Rover added a smoother bumper, a chin spoiler and front wheel deflectors. The changes are not so noticeable at first glance, but take them away, and you will sense a loss. The whole is greater than the sum of its zinc-coated steel and aluminum panels.
The same is true when testing the new 5-liter V-8 under the iconic clam shell hood. Land Rover/Jaguar engineers have created an incredible amalgamation of aluminum, steel, iron and just a touch of graphite.
The V-8 replaces the stalwart 4.4-liter V-8 with more power, torque and gusto. Generating 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque, this direct injection V-8 purrs until you hit the accelerator and make it roar. There are a lot of high-tech features in this engine, including a new variable camshaft timing that allows the engine to operate with a smaller oil pump.
Despite the LR4 weighing 5,833 pounds, the engine can make this SUV blast off: Land Rover notes the LR4 has a 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds. It's the kind of power that takes your breath away; nothing this big should move so fast.
All of that weight and the powerful engine do a take a toll on its fuel economy. According to the EPA, the LR4 gets 12 miles per gallon in the city and 17 mpg on the highway -- and you're burning premium fuel every mile.
New suspension hardware
You also may find yourself gasping just a little when the LR4 flails around. Sudden acceleration seems to surprise the four-corner adjustable electronic air suspension and it takes a moment to collect itself. The air suspension, which allows you to actually raise the vehicle's body, does provide a smooth ride. At times it felt a little too soft, however. But if you set the suspension to the lowest ride height, the LR4 feels much more stable.
Land Rover changed out a lot of the suspension hardware on the LR4, providing bigger and stronger parts. Land Rover also added some improvements to its Terrain Response system.
With the click of a wheel mounted on the center console, the LR4 can adjust to any surface. The five settings include general driving, grass and gravel, sand, mud and ruts and rock crawl. If you're driving on sand, for example, the LR4 knows not to allow too much wheel spin because the vehicle could dig itself into a hole, but some wheel spin may be necessary to start up.
All of this, as well Land Rover's fantastic four-wheel drive system, means the LR4 will never be challenged by its owners. It can climb like a mountain goat and haul like a water buffalo -- with a max towing rating of 7,716 pounds.
Inside, the LR4 is comfortable and elegant -- a big improvement over the LR3. The extremely comfortable leather seats include optional electric bolster controls. They provide a great riding position for any type of driving.
The center console is better organized, but still very busy with knobs and buttons. Land Rover tilted it slightly toward the driver to make it more comfortable and accessible.
Land Rover also upgraded the navigation system to work faster and added a USB jack to support a personal music device and allow you to operate it through the 5-inch touch screen in the center stack. The new radio includes HD radio -- though like many of the new systems, some stations would bounce in and out of HD in annoying fashion.
While big and bulky, the LR4 includes five external cameras to provide a 360-degree view while you're parking. It's a handy feature no driver should be without.
The biggest problem you'll have with the LR4 is what to tell your neighbors.
The environment, gas prices and public ridicule have relegated many beloved SUVs into hiding. You'll have to bear that scowling look from a passerby, or that snarky comment from a friend's friend. In America, strangers' opinions matter, and lots of strangers have proclaimed the SUV is dead.
The LR4 will only make it harder for some people to turn away from the SUV.
The LR4 is a fun, elegant vehicle that looks as good as it performs, and despite some of its misgivings, remains one of the best SUVs around.
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2010 Land Rover LR4
Type: Five-passenger SUV
New Car Blue Book Value: $46,657*
Engine: 5-liter direct injection V-8
Power: 375 horsepower; 375 pound-feet torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
EPA gas mileage: 12 mpg city / 17 mpg highway
* New Car Blue Book® is the price the LR4 is selling for this week according to Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
Exterior: Good. Fresh and clean looking. Headlights and taillights pop with confidence and asymmetrical lift gate adds character.
Interior: Excellent. Luxurious and tough, with lots of useful high-tech features.
High ride provides great lines of sight.
Performance: Good. Great engine, good on road manners and excellent off-road capabilities.
Pros: Elegant and well appointed, the LR4 is fun to drive and great to look at.
Cons: Poor gas mileage and soft suspension.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor