You're looking at a sport/utility that'll change the way you think about the compromises between on-road refinement and off-road ability. You're looking at a sport/utility that combines snap-click functionality with ice-cool 21st-century designer chic: Imagine a Leatherman tool by Bang & Olufsen. You're looking at the Land Rover LR3, our 2005 Sport/Utility of the Year. Did we say Land Rover? Uh-huh. It's going to change the way you think about that as well.
Interior: Seats seven with ease, including six-footers in the third row. Rear seats fold t
Let's start with the visuals. Forget traditional SUV cliches such as bolt-on cladding, fake runningboards, and monster-truck grilles--the chiseled shape and sheer surfaces are a nod to Land Rover's utilitarian past, yet executed with such care and flair that the LR3 looks like it's driven straight off the designer's CAD screen. Which it pretty much has: "Look at an early sketch of the LR3, and the design hasn't changed," says Land Rover design director Geoff Upex. The bookend creases front and rear and the asymmetric detailing--the air-intake vent on the right-hand side and the dipping window line on the split tailgate--are clever and confident styling touches.
There's function behind the form, however. There's only one intake vent because that's all that's required. It's always handy to have a tailgate (rated to 650 pounds) on which to eat a sandwich, access the roof rack, or use as a work surface. But the LR3 tailgate's asymmetric shape means it's also easier to lift items over it when it's up and easier to lean into the cargo area to retrieve stowed items when it's down.
Similar thoughtfulness extends to the LR3's interior accommodations and packaging. The materials are rugged in their function yet premium to the touch. Beautifully stitched, perforated leather contrasts textured, black rubber and metallic-toned plastic accents. Rational ergonomics dominate the layout of the LR3's controls, rejecting unnecessarily complex plasma-screen multisystems that sometimes require several layers of menus to adjust something as simple as the air-conditioner's fan speed. In the LR3, a button is a button and a knob is a knob, and they work in ways people are comfortable with. End of learning curve.
The seven-seat interior is comfortable and useful, boasting no fewer than 30 combinations of passengers and stuff. Five seats fold flat for up to 90.3 cubic feet of cargo capability, yet each position can accommodate a 95th-percentile adult (six feet two inches and 215 pounds), even in the third-row. The 113.6-inch wheelbase means the rear door apertures are much wider and more generous than the slit-like openings of the Discovery.