Land Rover LR3 makes the case for a go anywhere attitude

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

“Take it off road.”

Very extraordinary!

Even with the most adept of off-road vehicles, journalists are seldom urged to take them off road outside a controlled environment, meaning without a professional off-road driver in the passenger seat.

We never get too deep in the back country on our own for fear of encountering a problem that is beyond our limited expertise to solve. For that reason, our serious off-road driving is limited to organized events and off-road courses that have been mapped out by experts.

We always want to return a test vehicle in the same condition in which it was delivered. So it was a bit surprising when it was suggested we take the 2005 Land Rover LR3 off road to discover its many attributes.

Land Rover is proud of its new “entry-level” vehicle, the replacement for the long running and seriously outdated Discovery.

Virtually everything in the LR3 is new, including the name (at least in this market; elsewhere the name remains Discovery). Land Rover, evidently felt that in North America the Discovery name had negative connotations, enough to put it on the shelf.

The LR3, which comes in two trim levels starting at $45,000 and $50,000, has an off-road prowess befitting the name Land Rover. We don’t make that statement because of first-hand experience.

We didn’t follow the urging of Land Rover. We kept the LR3 firmly planted on the pavement. But listening to journalists who have experienced the LR3 over rocks and through streams, we can safely say it will hold its own against any production sport utility vehicle in the world including the Hummer 2 and the Range Rover.
Motor Trend named it “Sport Utility of the Year” for 2005. Motor Trend said, “In simple terms, Land Rover has made serious off-roading as easy as point and click.” But while the LR3 is light years ahead of the old Discovery with the same mountain goat abilities, how does it match up against the competition including the Volvo XC90, Volkswagen Touareg, Lexus GX470, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX and Mercedes M-Class for on-road use, particularly considering its 50 grand price tag?

That’s the big question because 95 percent of LR3 owners will keep it on the pavement, the same pavement we kept it on for seven days and several hundred miles.

A company with a long-running off-road reputation such as Land Rover must walk a fine line in building vehicles that live up to their off-road notoriety while providing refined ride and handling for their primary chores in the suburbs.

With the LR3, Land Rover has done a good job in walking that line. It handles better, possesses considerably more performance and is loaded with more amenities than the vehicle it replaces. And it competes favorably with all the above.

The new engine is an all-aluminum 4.4-liter V-8 borrowed from Jaguar. It pumps out 300 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque channeled through a 6-speed automatic transmission.

You might think that kind of power would translate into exceptional performance. But the LR3 is hampered by a rather mammoth curb weight of 5,686 pounds.
Still it manages all the neighborhood chores in acceptable fashion. Measured, that means 0 to 60 in 8.7 seconds and a quarter mile in 16.4 seconds at 84 miles per hour.

Braking is particularly impressive for a nearly three-ton vehicle with the ability to come down from 60 in an eye-opening 124 feet.

Even suburbanites will benefit from the LR3’s unique Terrain Response four-wheel drive system. The system has five settings controlled by a knob on the center console. You can pick from five choices; general (for everyday use), snow-grass-gravel, mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl. For each setting Terrain Response adjusts such components as throttle response, traction control, electronic stability control and ABS for the conditions.

Independent adjustable air suspension not only gives the LR3 a pleasant ride, but aids in off-road maneuvers with the ability to elevate the body for 9.5 inches of ground clearance.

The old Discovery felt tippy, and we got some of that same feeling in the LR3. But Land Rover we are told has developed something called “active roll mitigation” programmed into the air suspension to keep the truck safely upright under normal driving conditions.

In addition to the safety built into the aforementioned systems, the LR3 comes with adaptive headlights that can adjust up or down to counter the effects of hard braking, hill-decent control, side-impact and head curtain airbags, an electronic parking brake and rear-park distance control.

As you might expect from a Land Rover product, the interior is elegant and well appointed in wood and English leather.

Such amenities as a voice-controlled 14-speaker 550-watt Harman/Kardon audio system make life worth living. The system offers a rich, rewarding sound.

The myriad of buttons and knobs takes some getting used to, but for the most part the LR3 is driver friendly.

The front seats offer excellent support and the interior is hushed.

Like about every other manufacturer, Land Rover has ordained its mid-sized vehicle fit for seven passengers. But like nearly every other mid-sized vehicle, the third row is a place for stowing away the kids who are nimble enough to venture into the far flung rear of the LR3.

Storage is a different story. Fortunately the back seats fold flat offering 55 cubic feet of storage space. Fold the second down, and space increases to 90 cubic feet.

Our test vehicle, a top-level HSE model, carried a sticker price of $53,870. That included several options including rear-seat climate control and a cold climate package.

Some of the cost of the LR3 does go into its sophisticated off-road hardware. So the real question must be asked, do you want to pay for some really neat stuff you will never use?
Most buyers in this segment think that’s just fine – you see they like to know it’s there, that capability, in case they may need it. It’s what makes affluence what it is.

Just know if you decide on the LR3 you will have the best of both on-road and off-road worlds.