As MT editor-in-chief Angus MacKenzie once said in regard to the 2005 Land Rover LR3 (our 2005 Sport/Utility of the Year award winner), "Whether it's Rodeo Drive or the Rubicon Trail, there isn't a sport/utility in the world that will cover the terrain as quietly, confidently, or comfortably." While we didn't get the chance to tackle the Rubicon during our recent drive of the 2009 Land Rover LR3 HSE LUX, we can attest that the latest edition of Land Rover's midrange premium off-roader still lives up to all the hype when cruising Rodeo.
Grabbing our initial attention were new-for-2009 body-colored wheel arches and tailgate trimmings that give the LR3 a refreshed, almost Range Rover appeal. Its side indicators now sport clear lenses in true Euro-style, and its exterior door handles are finished in a new Tungsten livery, which again adds to a cleaner, more sophisticated profile. Larger, sportier 19-in. wheels and lower-profile 255/55 tires replace the LR3's standard 18-in. rolling stock. Further, the LUX's 19s are edition-specific Slotted Seven alloys.
Inside the neatly crafted cabin, the supportive black-leather swathed front captain's chairs elevate passengers to a strikingly clear view of the road ahead. Grand Black Lacquer wood (a no-cost option) with matching black leather covers the dash and console, adding a hint of chic-ness to the capable 4x4. Easily cleanable and rugged rubber floormats and storage-bin liners remind passengers they can still have fun in the mud should adventure duty ever call.
As you've probably surmised by now, the LUX in this LR3's name denotes luxury, so it gets all the top-shelf goods like a 14-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio system, hidden console refrigerator, bi-Xenon headlamps, and electronically adjustable steering column, seats, and mirrors. All this is in addition to the HSE's already standard DVD-based navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, parking sensors, and front/rear automatic climate control.
Cruising through "The Hills" of L.A., the LR3's reputation for providing a smooth ride was obvious after only a few hundred feet, thanks in large part to the tunable Electronic Air Suspension system. With independent self-leveling air springs at each corner, the LR3 unhesitatingly soaked up L.A.'s notorious jarring bumps and Grand Canyon-style potholes. Like earlier versions, the air-spring system allows the driver to adjust the suspension for on- and off-road conditions. Three modes -- access (lowers it for easier entry), and standard and off-road (both of which raise the body) -- are selectable via a center-console-mounted switch. If you happen to leave it in access when driving, the springs automatically rise to the standard level and also lower back down once the LR3 is parked.
Also assisting with ride comfort is what Land Rover calls its Integrated Body-frame construction, which consists of hydroformed-steel frame rails welded to the rigid monocoque body. In addition, rubber mounts and dampers are set between the body and frame, making the LR3 as seemingly smooth-riding as a Jaguar.
Although nicely packaged inside, the LR3 does somewhat hinder the front passengers' ability to access climate control, radio, and navigation buttons, given the high, pushed -back seating position. Several times during our weekend stint, trying to reach the A/C buttons proved a distraction. Much the same can be said about lowering the windows, whose switches are placed up near the sideview mirrors, rather than, say, by the door handles.
Those minor gripes aside, the LR3's capacious interior allowed us to seat five adults comfortably and their luggage (up to seven adults can be accommodated with the optional third row). Further, the trademark safari-tour truck-inspired triple sunroofs and theatre seating help maximize light and space, making the LR3's interior feel airy and open. Out back, the asymmetric split-tailgate makes for easy loading and unloading of cargo, while also allowing tailgaters or campers to grab a seat come mealtime.
When pushing the 5796-lb LR3 through mountain passes, its high center of gravity becomes apparent, though its sharp electronically assisted rack-and-pinion steering helps make it manageable. Power from the 300-hp 4.4L V-8 was linear, always on tap, and dutifully controlled via the ZF six-speed automatic. The gearbox's Sport Mode holds gears longer for more aggressive shifts, but as expected with this type of vehicle, it hardly added any extra sense of haste. Only while playing around with this most aggressive of the CommandShift's modes (Normal and Manual are also included) did its admittedly paltry 12/17-mpg city/highway EPA fuel ratings diminish further according to the vehicle's mpg readout. Highway speeds in any of the gearbox's settings arrive posthaste, thanks to the 315 lb-ft of torque and can at times be tricky to detect due to the LR3's undemanding ride.
Navigating the urban jungle where it'll most often roam, the LR3 HSE proved its mettle when seeking out a coveted mall parking spot or making a spur-of-the-moment U-turn. Its demeanor was more characteristic of a midsize sedan, not a large, three-row SUV. The numerous and large windows provided a consistent, unobstructed view all around and lessened the chance of an unwelcome meeting with a pesky shopping cart, curb, or fellow shopper.
Despite our not hitting the trails in the LR3, we did get to play around with its various off-road tidbits. Those looking to experience the truck's full potential on dirt, mud, sand, or rocks will welcome the two-speed transfer case and infinitely variable locking center differential.
Both work in conjunction with the LR3's electronic traction and stability systems to distribute power and torque as needed to all four wheels. Trailblazers will also take a liking to the Land Rover's Terrain Response system that adjusts throttle behavior, shift points, and differential settings depending on five presets -- General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl. Inside, the 7.0-in. screen displays elevation, GPS location, suspension articulation, and other pertinent off-road data.
As expected, a 2009 Land Rover LR3 HSE equipped with all the bells and whistles doesn't exactly come cheap. At a cool $55,500, there are plenty of other mid- and full-size SUVs.