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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Land Rover LR4

With its luxury utility vehicle brand expanding in several directions, the Land Rover LR4 remains the most practical, capacious, and capable vehicle in the lineup. The mid-size sport utility has seven seats--although the last two require some compromises--and offers serious off-road ability, while maintaining top-notch comfort and a luxurious interior. The upscale families who will consider it will likely also look at competitors that include the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes-Benz M Class, and perhaps the high-end Volkswagen Touareg.

Introduced in 2010, the LR4 is a thoroughly upgraded version of the LR3, which itself replaced the previous Land Rover Discovery. It's still called the Discovery in some overseas markets, in fact. Compared to the LR3 before it, the LR4 looks a little better detailed inside and outside. While it's by no means clumsy on the pavement, it truly shines on off-road trails, meaning that it's not as cushy or comfy in around-town suburban uses that will never dirty its wheels. That said, it's strong on the boulevard or the highway

The LR4's exterior look is tall and tough. You might call it conservative, as it's the most 'classic' in appearance of the current Land Rover lineup. The upright, safari-chic look harks straight back to original Land Rovers of the 1950s, but details like like the headlamps and taillamps, along with the blacked-out A-pillar, give it a contemporary edge. Inside, there's rich wood trim, a leather-trimmed dash, and details like soft premium leather with contrast stitching—all things that outdo the previous LR3. Instrument panel controls also make more sense and feel less cobbled/cluttered than those in the LR3.

The 375-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine--shared with Jaguar, albeit in a different state of tune--is impressive, and it can rocket this nearly 6,000-pound SUV to 60 mph in roughly 7.5 seconds. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, the full-time four-wheel drive system does quite well with wet or snow-covered highways, and the fully independent suspension deals well with pockmarked streets. Since the driving position is so high, the LR4 can feel a little tipsy and cornering ability is fair, the LR4 never feels unsettled in ordinary driving.

The LR4 has three rows of seating, but the third row is for kids only. Outward visibility is good, thanks to the high seating position, and the second row is quite comfortable, positioned slightly higher in a 'stadium' layout. Both the second and third rows can be folded flat to open up to 90 cubic feet of cargo space. Safety features—just as the layout itself—are family-friendly, with side-curtain bags that protect the rearmost occupants; parking sensors and a rear camera system aid visibility in the driveway or parking lot.

Off-roading is the LR4's forte. It draws from years of systems that blend traditional mechanical components with electronic controls—in a system called Terrain Response, which includes a rotating knob on the console for different surfaces like sand or snow. Other electronic aids, and an adaptive suspension, make the LR4 hard to fluster even in precarious situations that would rattle other utility vehicles or be impassible to some crossovers.

As a luxury vehicle, the LR4 includes things like a dual-zone climate control system, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. HSE models add a heated steering wheel, a nav system, park distance control, power heated mirrors, and upgraded audio, while a cooler box, HID headlamps, and adaptive front lighting are available.

Over the past few model years, there have been relatively few updates to the LR4. The LR4 gained Hill Start Assist, Gradient Acceleration Control, and an improved version of Terrain Response (all useful off-road aids) in the 2011 model year; in 2012, Land Rover updated the LR4's navigation system to include real-time traffic and voice controls. Changes for the 2013 model year have been mostly cosmetic ones:  a set of five new exterior colors, two new interior themes, a new Black Design package with exterior gloss black accents, and an Extended Leather package with Windsor leather and twin-stitch seams were added.

With a new version of the Range Rover Sport just launched in early 2013, a new edition of the Land Rover LR4--which shares its underpinnings--is expected to be introduced next year, for the 2015 model year.

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