Editor's note: This review was written in June 2010 about the 2010 Land Rover LR4. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2011, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Compared with its predecessor, the LR4 luxury SUV is much more appealing for shoppers who'd like to conquer rugged off-road trails and go for a night on the town — all in the same SUV. Land Rover's improvements also make the LR4 a legitimate competitor to SUVs like the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.
It's better because it features a dapper cabin — something that was sorely missing from the previous version, the LR3 — and a new V-8 engine that makes 75 more horsepower than the LR3's V-8, but with the same EPA-estimated gas mileage: a still-thirsty 12/17 mpg city/highway.
Land Rover's top-of-the-line Range Rover has excelled at being a multifaceted SUV for years, thanks to its on- and off-road performance, and the LR4 promises most of that versatility — for quite a bit less cash.
"LR4" is a new name for Land Rover, but if you're familiar with the brand's lineup, you'll instantly think of the outgoing LR3 when you see it. In profile, the two SUVs look nearly identical. The primary styling differences are in front and around back.
Changes to the front include new headlights and a new grille that bring the LR4's styling more in line with the rest of Land Rover's lineup. The rear gets new taillights. The styling is still distinctly Land Rover, with its upright, angular elements, which should satisfy the brand faithful. To see a side-by-side comparison with the 2009 LR3, click here.
The LR4's ride quality brought the Range Rover to mind. The standard height-adjustable air suspension is tuned for comfort, and it wasn't even ruffled by the rough roads you inevitably encounter in Chicago, where I spent the majority of my time driving the LR4. Even though the LR4 is a tall SUV, with 7.3 inches of ground clearance in the suspension's regular mode, it doesn't exhibit excessive body roll in corners, which is a confidence-booster for drivers.
The LR4's curb weight is a hefty 5,703 pounds, but it feels swift for a big SUV. Credit the new 375-hp, 5.0-liter V-8, which is standard. The engine features direct-injection technology and pulls strongly when accelerating at midrange speeds. There's power to spare on the highway — though not as much as you might expect from a 375-hp V-8.
In a luxury SUV, how the engine delivers its power is just as important as how much power it has, and the LR4's V-8 is smooth and refined. It works with a six-speed automatic transmission that knocks off smooth shifts, though it can be a bit hesitant to kick down at highway speeds when more power is needed.
One thing shoppers will immediately like about the LR4 when they get behind the wheel is the great forward views afforded by its elevated seating position. You sit a lot higher than most vehicles on the road, and that gives you a good view of what's happening in front of you. The windshield and side windows are also big, putting the higher stance to good use as far as visibility is concerned.
The suspension tuning feels firmer when you take the LR4 up to highway speeds. Up there, bumps and cracks in the road that were easily damped at lower speeds become more noticeable.
Overall, the interior is very quiet. Not many outside noises make it into the cabin, and those that do are muted enough that they're not distracting. Well done, Land Rover.
There's no question the old LR3's interior was one of its weak spots. Its center control panel had a swath of unremarkable plastic and black buttons that looked out of place on a luxury SUV — especially one with a starting price around $46,000. The new LR4's interior, by comparison, is worlds better, giving the SUV a design worthy of its starting price of about $47,000.
The most apparent change is the replacement of the downmarket control panel with one that features a new layout, new controls and — thankfully — less plastic. The center console and instruments are new, too, and they continue the greater emphasis on luxury that's evident in the LR4. It's another way this SUV moves closer to the top-dog Range Rover.
Land Rover says the front bucket seats now have longer cushions. They offer decent thigh support, but they're not particularly large overall. I do like Land Rover's adjustable armrests that are attached to the inside of the front seats, though. They're not something you see every day — even in the luxury segment — but they significantly enhance driver and passenger comfort.
Backseat passengers are less coddled. For a large SUV, the LR4's second row isn't all that roomy, nor is it very comfortable for adults. There's not much legroom, and the seat cushions are short. The seat isn't adjustable, either.
Conversely, our test car's optional third row was surprisingly comfortable for adults when you consider it can also fold into the floor. There's decent legroom, which would make it tolerable for shorter trips, and headroom isn't bad, either. The twin bucket seats back there are a little small, but they do a decent job accommodating adults and would have no trouble carrying children — the people most likely to end up in this seat.
Cargo & Towing
When all three rows of seats are upright and ready for use, there's just 9.9 cubic feet of cargo room. Luggage space expands considerably when you fold the third row, moving up to 42.1 cubic feet.
Like the LR3 before it, the LR4 has a unique, asymmetrical liftgate/tailgate that gives the rear of the SUV a distinct appearance. However, the design makes it more difficult to load cargo or fold the third row; the lowered tailgate keeps you from reaching in as far you could with a traditional, full liftgate.
When properly equipped, the LR4's maximum towing capacity for a braked trailer is a stout 7,716 pounds. It drops considerably for a trailer without brakes, going down to 1,653 pounds.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, and side curtain airbags. For a full list of safety features, check out the Standard Equipment & Specs page.
LR4 in the Market
The SUV craze that has gripped America for the past 15 years is ebbing, but for Land Rover, real off-road capability is as much a part of its brand as track-ready performance is for Porsche. While other luxury brands are de-emphasizing off-road capability in their SUVs and crossovers, it's too ingrained in the Land Rover image for the British brand to try anything like that.
In the new LR4, Land Rover focused on the aspects of the SUV that needed improvement, like the cabin and acceleration performance, while retaining that signature go-anywhere capability — which promises to become increasingly unique in this class.
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