Editor's note: This review was written in March 2012 about the 2012 Land Rover LR4. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
If the idea of luxury in an off-road vehicle puzzles, the Land Rover LR4 will confound. Mingling mud and premium leather is core to Land Rover's identity, and the five- or seven-seat LR4 aims to toe the line between off-road excellence and on-road luxury. It's got the hardware for the former, but how well does it master the latter?
Though the 2012 Land Rover LR4 is a powerful, capable people-mover with a posh cabin, there are competitors that offer a more refined and comfortable on-road experience.
Buried within this fortress of posh leather and walnut wood trim is a highly capable terrain master. Chances are, though, that most LR4s are destined to spend much more time in heated garages than on trails. As there's not a lot of mud to slog through or rock craters to crawl out of near my downtown condo, this review focuses on the LR4's on-road abilities.
Model year 2012 marks the LR4's third year on the market since upgrades precipitated a name change from LR3 to LR4 for 2010. For 2012, changes to the midsize SUV are minor, including upgrades to the stereo, navigation system and rear-seat entertainment system. Major competitors include the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. (See these models compared here.)
Technically, the LR4 comes in a single trim level, but two large option packages — HSE and HSE Lux — serve a similar purpose as multiple trims. My test vehicle had both packages and several stand-alone options, including goodies like a backup camera with front and rear sonar park-assist warnings, a navigation system with voice recognition, second-row climate controls, keyless access and start, power-folding mirrors, high-definition radio, power tilt/telescoping and heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated windshield, 17-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, cooled box in the center console, and driver-seat memory.
On the Road
Despite its off-road pedigree, the LR4 has fairly composed road manners around town and on the highway. I noticed a little float and wander at highway speeds, though not as much as you might expect from this tall, trucklike SUV. It did, however, lose some composure over larger potholes and railroad tracks. My test vehicle rode on 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels; 20s are available. The ride was on the firm side, but never uncomfortable. The Q7 and M-Class both have a more compliant ride.
When let loose from a stop, the LR4's 375-horsepower, direct-injection, 5.0-liter V-8 feels expectedly potent, but where it really shines is in midrange power. An alert, smooth, six-speed automatic transmission furnishes reserves of power for highway passing and merging. Actually, it feels pretty lithe for something this heavy — almost 6,000 pounds. Maximum towing capacity is 7,716 pounds.
Power comes at a price, however: The LR4 requires premium gas and is EPA rated at 12/17 mpg city/highway. During my 100-mile test of about 60 percent city driving, I averaged just 13.5 mpg.
Though I'm familiar with Land Rover's Terrain Response off-road system, the LR4's array of cryptically labeled buttons can puzzle the uninitiated. What do they mean? Basically, that the SUV can be tuned to go just about anywhere and through anything. The system is standard on the LR4 and uses a console switch that enables the driver to alter calibrations for things like wheelspin, suspension tuning and powertrain response to accommodate normal driving, slippery pavement, mud, sand and low-speed off-roading.
Hill descent control is also standard. It automatically modulates the brakes to guide the SUV down steep descents without the driver's braking input. It basically requires the push of a button and a leap of faith that the car will be safely guided down the hill.
Looks Big, Drives Small
Land Rover's lineup is really a study in opposites. I can't help but compare the LR4 with the newest Land Rover on the block: the compact Range Rover Evoque. For every one of the Evoque's fluid, dynamic curves, the LR4 answers back with severe straight lines and blocky right angles.
When I first saw the LR4's hulking, looming profile in the parking garage, I figured I'd need a shoehorn to get it outside. At first glance, its imposing size and predictably tall ride height were a bit off-putting, but it drives smaller than it feels.
Though the LR4 is 190 inches long, its tight turning circle makes it feel more maneuverable than expected. At 37.6 feet, the turning diameter is smaller than most of its competitors', including the Audi Q7 (39.4 feet) and Mercedes-Benz M-Class (38.8 feet). This helped immensely during garage and parallel-parking maneuvers. Also helpful was the good rear visibility, which gets even better when the large third-row head restraints are folded. Nice, big side mirrors aid visibility, too, as does the tall ride height and the SUV's panoramic forward view.
Lastly, the power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, coupled with the seat's adjustable armrests, provide a comfortable driving position and confidence when navigating small spaces.
Pretty on the Inside
The cabin is vast, and it feels as big inside as it looks outside; front-seat headroom and legroom abound. The seats are large and supportive, and a little firm. Three — yes, three — sunroofs contribute to the interior's expansive, airy feel. The one over the front seats opens and has a sunshade; the other two are fixed but also have sunshades.
As with other SUVs this price, the interior is all about luxury. Though there's plastic, it's the highly padded variety. Rich wood trim warms up the otherwise austere black cabin. Bright metal trim around the gauges and vents also classes things up.
I was unimpressed with the navigation system. The small touch-screen and outdated graphics felt out of place in the otherwise opulent cabin, and there's a delayed response when you touch the screen. It couldn't find the two addresses I inputted, including my home address. I'm sure it exists.
Both option packages add a two-passenger third-row seat. The second-row seat's headroom is plentiful, but legroom is tight for taller passengers, and the seats don't slide or recline. They do fold and tumble in a 60/40 split, but getting them folded requires a bit of arm muscle and leaves the under-seat hardware exposed, partially blocking the path to the third row. That makes ingress tricky, especially if you're carrying something.
Things get worse in the third row. Though the space is OK for a smallish adult, it's incredibly uncomfortable due largely to the flat, hard seats. Getting them to fold down is even harder, requiring a three-step process.
On a positive note, doing so yields a totally flat cargo floor, but it's one of the most complicated third rows I've ever tested, if not the most complicated.
The surprises continue behind the third-row seat, where cargo volume is just 9.9 cubic feet — pretty sparse for such a large vehicle. Luggage space expands considerably when you fold the third row, increasing to 42.1 cubic feet. Getting luggage in can also be tricky, thanks to the LR4's two-level hatch. The liftgate first opens upward, then a button releases the tailgate. It's awkward to load and access packages while leaning over the tailgate. Annoyingly, a remote or power-opening option isn't available.
The LR4 hasn't been crash-tested. Because of the brand's low sales volume, Land Rovers are seldom tested.
Standard safety features include frontal and side-impact airbags for the front seats, and side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats. As is required of all 2012 models, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system are standard. For a full list of safety features, check out the Standard Equipment & Specs page.
One convenient feature that's not offered, however, is a blind spot warning system.
One bright spot is the position of the Latch anchors for child-safety seats. The metal brackets in the second row seats are visible, allowing for easy installation of my convertible child seat. The love affair ends there, however. After getting the rear-facing seat in, I realized that my front passenger's legroom was hugely compromised. Because the second row doesn't slide or recline, the child seat took up so much space the front seat had to be moved far forward to accommodate it. Again, not something I expected in a vehicle this large. Neither did my husband, whose knees were practically in the glove box. Click here to read our full Car Seat Check.
LR4 in the Market
The 2012 Land Rover LR4 starts at $48,900, but with major options it can easily top $60,000. However, there are a lot of strong vehicles available in this class for that kind of money, narrowing the LR4's appeal.
That said, the LR4 is an incredibly powerful, capable off-road crawler that offers its occupants a high level of luxury amenities and road isolation. Like most niche vehicles, the LR4 will strike the right note with a specific audience: well-heeled outdoor enthusiasts — or people who want to give that impression. Off-roaders in the mood to be coddled should put the LR4 on their shopping list. Families looking for a comfortable three-row SUV should keep searching.
For similar coin, competitive vehicles from Audi and Mercedes-Benz offer a more compliant and composed ride: The Q7 starts around $46,250 and the M-Class at $48,990. The LR4's confounding third row and abominable fuel economy make it one of the least competitive three-row SUVs available to families. If you're drawn to the brand's pedigree, heritage and iconic styling, take a look; just don't expect a comfortable family cruiser.