2011 Land Rover LR4
Despite its enduring reputation as a quasi-military, go-anywhere boondocks basher with few creature comforts, Great Britain’s Land Rover is widely regarded as a luxury sport utility vehicle in the United States.
Rather than an image of a Humvee-like hunk of wheeled metal traversing trackless terrain, Americans are more likely to conjure a vision of an imposing black Range Rover silently gliding up to a Hollywood movie premier.
The company does little to alter that view. However, it does take pains to preserve the historic reputation of all Land Rover models, no matter how expensive and luxurious, as exceedingly competent off road. Never mind that many owners would never risk scratching their conveyances, although in truth there are some dedicated aficionados who actually do charge around in the wilderness.Currently, the Big Daddy of the Land Rover lineup is the LR4, a seven-passenger luxury SUV that weighs in at close to three tons, cossets its passengers in a leather-lined passenger pod with every convenience and yet delivers legendary Land Rover capabilities.
It competes against such formidable machines as the Mercedes-Benz GL, Lincoln Navigator, GMC Yukon, Acura MDX, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX and Audi Q7. But it’s safe to say that none of them focuses as much on off-road prowess as does the LR4.
Along with its Jaguar sibling, Land Rover is now owned by Tata of India, a company whose main claim to fame is that it produces the lowest-priced, no-frills car in the world. Fortunately for Land Rover and Jaguar buyers, the company has largely left the two brands to their own devices.
With the LR4, the happy result is a vehicle that is surprisingly sprightly for one of such heft and bulk. It offers a good steering feel and relatively quick and competent handling on corners as well as solid straight-ahead tracking. Where you expect it to heel over in a tight, fast turn, it takes a confident set and tracks on through. In the parlance of the vehicle business, it drives smaller than it is.
On level roads, the LR4 is a quiet cruiser. The 375-horsepower V8 engine is muted and the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, even under hard acceleration. But it delivers dismal city/highway fuel economy numbers of 12/17 miles to the gallon.
The LR4 is designed as an off-road vehicle as well. So forget ride quality unless you’re on a pool-table smooth surface. Rough roads deliver sharp jolts to the passenger pod and there’s some pitch and roll on undulating surfaces.
The adjustable air suspension system uses inflatable bags at all four wheels. With the touch of a button, it raises the LR4 more than two inches to increase off-road clearance. It also can lower the body about two inches to make it easier for your elderly grand-aunt to get in and out. The lower ride height also helps in low-ceiling indoor parking garages.
For negotiating off-pavement territory, Land Rover installs its terrain response system. Combined with the air suspension, it manages the engine and transmission, along with the stability and traction control, to provide the best combination for general driving, grass and gravel, snow and mud, sand and rock crawling. There’s also a hill descent control to keep the LR4 from running away while creeping down steep grades.
With all the seats up, there’s 10 cubic feet of cargo space out back, accessed through a combination tailgate and hatch. Folding the second row gets you 42 cubic feet and there’s 90 cubic feet of space with both back rows folded. With the seats folded, the cargo area has a flat floor.Surprisingly, two adults can sit in reasonable comfort in the third row. But getting back there requires both strength and agility. To raise the third row seats you have crawl up into the cargo area because you can’t reach the lever no matter whether the tailgate is down or up—unless you have ape-like arms.
Even with its Indian ownership, the LR4 still betrays its British heritage with a few quirks. The information display for the satellite radio defaults to channel one every time it is turned off and on. There are center armrests up front that are not needed because of the center console, and they must be raised to fasten the seatbelt. The sunroof shade provides hardly any shade because it’s made of a fishnet-like material. Shades should be opaque.
The LR4’s interior displays an array of quality materials and decent fit and finish. Wood trim has a rubbed finish like that of a quality gunstock so it actually looks like wood instead of some of the highly polished trim on other vehicles.
Competitively priced at $48,500, the test LR4 had the basic $4,250 HSE package and other options that brought the price up to $56,950. Unaccountably, it did not include memory settings for the power driver’s seat or passive keyless locking. To get that, you have to move up to the $9,165 luxury HSE package.