LR2 brings new life to Land Rover’s entry crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Land Rover products can function off road as well as anything on the planet.

We can say that with a modicum of authority because we experienced days of tough off-road terrain including places like Moab (Utah) in the Range Rover, the Sport and in the LR3 with a couple of days thrown in at one of Land Rover’s unique driving schools in Asheville, North Carolina.

But off-road capability only goes so far if a vehicle (even those with the vaunted Land Rover name) doesn’t cut it on hard pavement. That’s where a majority of driving is done even for the avid off-road enthusiast.

Handling, performance and gas mileage are key ingredients.

And that’s where the entry-level Land Rover Discovery suffered for more than a decade through its last year of production in 2004. It was slow and it guzzled gas, not a good combination.

The Freelander, another attempt to put the common man behind the wheel of a Land Rover beginning in 2002, wasn’t much of an improvement with an anemic 2.5-liter V-6 engine that carried poor EPA ratings.

A year after the Discovery was discontinued in the U.S the short-lived Freelander met its demise.

To fill some of the void, Land Rover introduced the more upscale, more expensive and more rewarding LR3 in 2004 as a 2005 model with a full complement of off-road equipment.

This spring Land Rover re-introduced an entry-level compact sport utility — Land Rover’s first crossover — at a starting price of $34,700 and they aptly call it the LR2.

The car-based 2008 LR2 competes against such vehicles as the BMW X3 and the Acura RDX. It’s definitely superior to the Discovery and Defender in those things that have made the Land Rover name synonymous with off-road luxury.

We learned during a drive on the Central Coast of California that it has excellent off-road capability despite its lack of a low-range gearbox because it comes with a plethora of Land Rover features such as Hill Descent Control, Gradient Release Control and the terrain response software that adjusts the engine and transmission to conditions such as snow, sand, mud or rocks.

Our experience with the systems came in the sand on the rolling dunes of Oceano (the Oceano Dunes area is a 1500 acre coastal sand dune and is the only state park in California where visitors may drive vehicles on the beach) near historical Pismo Beach and on the unpaved roads in the mountains east of the coastal plain. Both terrains proved well within the LR2 range and our guess is that it would prevail on most rated off-road trails.

But those controls mounted on the center console will be foreign objects to most people who will purchase an LR2. Cruising along local streets, making a statement in the neighborhood and transporting the kids to school will be the preeminent job of the LR2 – and what a shame it is.

Don’t get us wrong the LR2 will make a statement. It looks like a small Ranger Rover with all the requisite lines and the upright stance. A sharply raked windshield gives the smallest Land Rover a striking appearance. Even from a distance you can see it is family.

“We purposely kept strong Land Rover design cues such as the clamshell bonnet, stepped roof and the basic form,” said Land Rover design director Geoff Upex. “The overall look is new and contemporary. We kept a close design relationship with the LR3 and the Range Rover Sport, but interpreted the design language to suit the requirements of customers for a more compact SUV.”

Unlike the Discovery and the Defender, the LR2 has plenty of forward momentum available thanks to an all-new 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine making 230 horsepower and 234 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The new engine design allows for 80 percent of maximum torque from idle to the 6,500 rpm redline giving the truck a sense of urgency in all situations.

Land Rover says the LR2 can move from 0 to 60 in 8.4 seconds, a considerable feat considering the vehicle's 4,255 pound curb weight.

And this small Land Rover actually has some decent gas mileage ratings — 16-city and 23-highway — considering that this is a heavyweight SUV and the mpg ratings are based on the more stringent 2008 standards.

On the road, the LR2 drives more like a front-wheel drive sedan than a high-riding SUV staying composed in tight cornering and exhibiting a very good on-center feel. The Discovery looked like it could tip over with the slightest mistake and it felt that way, too. So we were pleasantly surprised to find no such malady in the LR2. It felt more planted than tippy. And it was downright comfortable.

The standard all-wheel drive system is biased toward the front wheels moving torque rearward as needed.

Inside, the LR2 has the requisite Land Rover look with leather seats and splashes of wood. The standard switchgear is generally user friendly. On the plus side, the climate control knobs are instructive and the audio system uses large knobs for volume and tuning. And it’s not bundled with the navigation system to Land Rover’s credit.

Redundant audio buttons and cruise control buttons are on the steering wheel making access easy. Window switches are conveniently mounted high up on the door.
Interior space is plentiful for four adults, and the massive sunroof can keep the passenger compartment airy if desired.

Cargo volume is average for the small luxury SUV class at 59 cubic feet with seats folded. For comparison, the Acura RDX has 60 cubic feet and BMW X3 has 71 cubic feet available.

The LR2 comes well equipped for the base price of $34,700 including destination. The aforementioned off-road equipment is standard as are 18-inch alloy wheels, a full power package, dual-zone climate control and a 320-watt nine-speaker Alpine audio system with six-disc in-dash changer.

Three option packages are available. Technology at $3,500 features DVD-based navigation, 440-watt Dolby ProLogic surround sound system with Sirius satellite radio, rear-seat audio controls and Bluetooth phone module. The lighting package for $1,050 brings B-Xenon headlamps, adaptive front lighting system and driver memory seat and mirrors. The cold weather package includes heated front seats, heated windshield washer jets and heat windshield for $700.

Our test vehicle had all the options bringing the bottom line to $39,950.

A new HSE version of the LR2 featuring body colored bumpers and side sills, a rear spoiler, titanium door handles and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels will make its way into dealerships this fall.

There are some attractive small luxury-oriented crossovers on the market. We particularly like the Acura RDX. But if you want the prestigious Land Rover look with potentially more off road prowess than the competition, the new English-built LR2 is worth serious consideration.


Base price, $34,700; as driven, $39,950

Engine: 3.2-liter inline 6

Horsepower: 230 @ 6,000 rpm 

Torque: 234 pound-feet @ 3,200 rpm 

Transmission: 6-speed automatic 

Seating: 2/3 

Drive: all-wheel 

Turning circle: 37.1 feet 

Wheelbase: 104.7 inches 

Length: 177.1 inches 

Curb weight: 4,255 pounds 

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 26.5 cubic feet 

Cargo capacity: 59 cubic feet 

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons

EPA ratings: 23 highway, 16 city 

0-60: 8.4 seconds (Land Rover)

Also consider: Acura RDX, BMW X3, Lincoln MKX 

The Good 

• Excellent driving dynamics 

• Energetic inline 6-cylinder engine 

• LR2 has many design elements of its upscale siblings 

The Bad

• Only time will tell if Land Rover quality issues carry over to the LR2 

The Ugly 

• Check back later