Land Rover LR4 — Brings peace of mind

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Most LR4 owners have no desire to take their high-dollar vehicle off road, but they know that if they ever need to reliably slog through mud, rock climb, or ford rivers, it is parked, ready and waiting, in the driveway. It's peace of mind. An insurance policy, if you will.

What the LR4 brings to the hard-pavement majority is neighborhood status. It proclaims that the owners have the wherewithal to drive a Land Rover as their primary vehicle for shopping and school transportation; it will spend life as a high-priced luxury station wagon. It's a shame that in most families the LR4's tremendous off-road capability will never be realized.

The hard truth is that the LR4 doesn't make as much sense on road as several competitors with vehicles featuring better gas mileage and a lower purchase price. Perhaps the LR4 should be left to those hard-core trail blazers who will, indeed, purchase it for its off-road capability, knowing full well its considerable prowess in leaving hard, dry land.

For these people the LR4 offers a sense of excitement, knowing that there's not a dirt road in America — no matter how muddy and rut-filled — that can stop the Land Rover.

The LR4 slots into the Land Rover hierarchy ahead of the smaller LR2 and behind the Range Rover Sport and the flagship Range Rover in price. The LR4 is comfortably mid-sized stretching out 190 inches and with an available three-row seating configuration. It is considerably larger than the LR2, about the same size as the sporty and more expensive Range Rover Sport and about10 inches shorter than the higher-priced and larger Range Rover.

The LR4 that replaced the performance-challenged LR3 in the Land Rover lineup in 2010 comes with a stout V-8 engine in addition to all the off-road goodies available to mankind. It now operates with a 5.0-liters putting out 375-horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which is capable of pulling the nearly three-ton vehicle from 0-to-60 in about 7.5 seconds. And it is proficient in merging and passing exemplified by a good quarter mile time of 15.6 seconds at 90 mph.

The LR4 also has one of the most sophisticated four-wheel drive systems in the business. Using a rotary knob, the driver can select one of five settings — general, grass/gravel/snow, sand, mud and ruts, and rock crawl — that optimize performance from throttle response to the differentials for nearly every conceivable foul on-road and off-road condition. The LR4 also comes with an electronically controlled air suspension that adapts to any terrain.

Like all Land Rover products, the LR4 offers a commanding driving position with good sight lines. Land Rover vehicles impart the feeling of sitting above the fray.

As you might expect, out on the twists and turns of mountain grades and back roads the LR4 is not as proficient in the handling department as several of its peers; while not a road-carver by any stretch of the imagination, it does acquit itself quite well in the daily family routines.

Another downside to this rather tasty luxury SUV package is anemic gas mileage. The LR4 is one of the most inefficient vehicles sold in 2011 with an EPA rating of 12 city/17 highway with a combined 14 mpg — and that's on premium gas.

While there is little change in the exterior styling from the LR3, the LR4 interior has been completely reworked into a more luxury look, a departure from the rather spartan appearance of the previous model. The dashboard is clean and stylish with rich materials and a touch of classy wood accents.

The more routine switchgear is well placed and intuitive. While the climate controls are relatively easy to use, we found the audio controls embedded into the navigation system a bit balky. As with many other high-end vehicles, we wish for separate audio controls. Getting our music and talk would be much simpler.

Space for four passengers is good, and the fold-flat second-row seats — as well as the available third row — create a large 90 cubic feet of storage space. If you need a third row seat, be advised that in the LR4 it should be reserved for children.

The standard $48,500 price brings all the off road features and a wealth of standard equipment including 19-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, dual-zone climate control, a powered front sunroof and a fixed rear sunroof, and a nine-speaker audio system.

There are options to tempt the buyer, and our test car included the $9,165 seven-seat luxury package. The package has a long list of features including a hard-drive navigation system, an upgraded Harmon/Kardon 480-watt audio system, and such cold weather niceties as heated front and rear seats and heated steering wheel.

The bottom line of our test vehicle was $57,665.

If you want the true Land Rover experience and the cache it brings it will take a bit of study to adequately discern of the off-road controls that sit in front of the shift knob, but it will be a worthwhile study.

Our recommendation to the new buyer is to at least discover what the LR4 can do off road. So we strongly urge all new owners to take advantage of a Land Rover driving school (visit for details), spend a few hours (and some bucks) under the watchful eye of an expert instructor who will nurse you through muddy, rocky terrain. It will be a day of fun, we guarantee it.

And then if that unlikely time comes when the suburban driveway LR4 is forced into heavy duty use, you will at the very least have some experience to draw upon.

Base price: $48,500; as driven, $57,665
Engine: 5.0-liter V-8
Horsepower: 375 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 375 foot-pounds @ 3,500 rpm
Drive: 4-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 113.6 inches
Length: 190.1 inches
Curb weight: 5,617 pounds
Turning circle: 37.6 feet
Towing capacity: 7,716 pounds
Luggage capacity: 42.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 90 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 22.8 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 17 mpg highway, 12 mpg city
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Audi Q7, Acura MDX, BMW X5

The Good:
• Class-leading off-road capability
• Powerful V-8 engine
• Stylish interior
• Command seating position

The Bad:
• Unimpressive on-road handling

The Ugly:
• Gas mileage — what gas mileage?