At a time when so many new models are compromised for the sake of cost savings, it's refreshing to see a vehicle debut that holds nothing back. Formerly known as the Discovery (and still the Discovery 3 for the rest of the world), the LR3 is the first Land Rover product fully developed under Ford ownership. Not surprisingly, with the recent success of the flagship Range Rover (they've almost doubled volume since the new generation came out), Land Rover is modeling the LR3 after its bigger brother; yet, in some ways, the LR3 is more impressive than the (much more expensive) Range Rover.

After a companywide search for a possible shared platform for the Discovery replacement, Land Rover smartly fought for its own frame. Knowing there could and should be other Land Rover versions based off the same platform (we're hoping for a new Defender and maybe a pickup variant), a completely new frame called the T5 was designed with strength and versatility in mind. The wheelbase of the vehicle is 14 inches longer, although much of that is hidden in the overall length, with shorter overhangs front and back. In fact, the overall length of the LR3 is increased only five inches over the one it replaces. The track width of the new vehicle is increased two inches, due in large part to the all-new four-wheel independent, electronic air suspension (similar to that of Range Rover).

The rear independent suspension is similar in strategy to the Ford Explorer rearend where the axle shafts pass right through a hole in the frame; however, because the LR3 requires more 4WD-friendly wheel travel, the porthole is larger and flanged, enabling the wheels to flex over a wider angle. And although there's less suspension flex when compared with the previous long-travel live-axle/coil-spring suspension of the Discovery, the airbag springs seem to allow the wheels to tuck deep into the fenderwells and stretch down to the ground exceptionally well. In fact, from full compression to full droop, wheel travel is 13 inches in back and more than 10 inches in front.

Similar to Range Rover, the LR3 driver can select a taller stance for challenging terrain, normal mode for typical on-highway driving, or a lower "access" mode to offer a shorter step-in/step-out height. In addition, the air suspension has a "cross-link" feature that'll push one wheel down for better traction if the opposite side is under extreme compression, simulating, to a certain extent, a live axle over rugged terrain. Most of the suspension technology benefits we've identified thus far have to do with off-road driving, but where the new vehicle far surpasses the previous generation is clearly in the pavement ride and handling categories. With grippy, street-biased 255/60R18 tires and a new power rack-and-pinion steering system, response and road-hugging ability are vastly improved (maybe the biggest improvement to the vehicle to date) with a huge portion of the characteristic body roll eliminated. Combined with a thick steering wheel, a wider track, and a lower overall center of gravity, the LR3 performs in a league with the Infiniti FX45 and BMW X5 in driving dynamics.

With all these advances, quite possibly the biggest change for Land Rover (and maybe the entire four-wheel-drive industry) is the development and integration of its all-new Terrain Response technology. Land Rover has taken a sophisticated, computer-controlled four-wheel-drive system and given it a twist--literally. With a control knob that allows the driver to adjust myriad computer-controlled variables on the vehicle (throttle response, traction-control sensitivity, differential control, transmission shift points, gear starts, and more) by selecting one of five separate terrain settings (general mode, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, sand, and rockcrawling), the setup will configure the vehicle's traction and four-wheel-drive system for you. Depending on the setting, it'll allow or limit more wheelspin, preload or lock open the differentials, utilize the cross-link air suspension, advise use of low-range, engage Hill Descent Control, or change the throttle sensitivity. However, before you get too depressed about how these systems seem to take all the fun out of playing in the backcountry, Land Rover has included an impressive feature on the navigation system that monitors and reports individual wheel traction, differential status (locked, preloaded, or unlocked), suspension height, front-wheel direction, and which mode the Terrain Response system is operating in. The graphics are tremendous, delivering information in real time, allowing you to see what's happening underneath the vehicle. This is a trend we like. The system allows the driver to concentrate more on the obstacles in front of and around the vehicle, rather than worrying about the switches and levers inside the cockpit. It's worth noting that, even with the system in the general mode and in low-range, the LR3 comfortably tackled rocky trails and deep sand as well as anything else we've driven.

One specific result in all this four-wheel-drive capability is that Land Rover is able to bias its factory tire choice for street performance (historically a Discovery weakness) to allow it to handle better on pavement. Not a bad idea since most of its life will likely be spent carving through neighborhoods and running down highways.

Another highlight of the LR3 is under the hood. Where the Range Rover benefited from the BMW partnership, inheriting the 4.4-liter, 282-horsepower V-8 (for just one more year) for underhood motivation, the LR3 benefits from Ford ownership, receiving the 300-horsepower (315 pound-feet at 4000 rpm), all-aluminum Jaguar-derived 4.4-liter V-8. The sport sedan's V-8 has been modified and strengthened to better match the demands of the heavier LR3. Mated to this powerful motor is an equally advanced six-speed automatic transmission (also modified for LR3 use) that offers Normal, Sport, and Command Shift modes, the last allowing the driver to take full manual control in high- and low-range.

Inside the all-new LR3 are many of the same refinements that made the current Range Rover a success. Materials, textures, and layout are vastly improved, with the most apparent upgrades in cabin seals and wind noise at speed. The center console has a relatively clean appearance and will take some time to get familiar with, the navigation system the clear highlight. There are plenty of small, medium, and large storage pods, boxes, and trays spread throughout the seating areas. In fact, as an option, the center storage box can heat or cool drinks and snacks. The seating configuration is also well-thought-out. Second row fold-flat seats are 35/30/35-split and offer an almost endless array of slide-forward, fold, flip-down, flop-forward options. And because of the extra storage capacity offered by the independent rear suspension, the third-row seat option folds and disappears into the rear deck (previous Discoverys had side-folding third-row seats that took up valuable cargo area).

Base priced at $45,000 and $50,000 fully loaded, the LR3 is aimed squarely at the BMW X5, Cadillac SRX (V-8), and Porsche Cayenne (V-6) luxury-SUV segment. Still, with fewer than 20,000 units sold in the U.S. last year (the Discovery's 10th year in the U.S.), the all-new LR3 should do well right out of the gate. Will the LR3 change all the SUV rules? Probably not, but it certainly will shake things up.

2005 Land Rover LR3
General
Location of final assembly Solihull, England
Body style Four-door SUV
EPA size class Light truck
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Dual front, full-side, full-head
Powertrain
Engine type 90-degree V-8, alum head & block
Bore x stroke, in 3.47 x 3.56
Displacement, ci/L 268.1/4.4
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Sequential multiport
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 300 @ 5000
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 315 @ 4000
Transmission type ZF HP26 6-speed auto
1st 4.17:1
2nd 2.34:1
3rd 1.52:1
4th 1.14:1
5th 0.87:1
6th 0.69:1
Reverse 3.40:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final-drive ratio 2.57:1
Rpm @ 60 mph 1900
Low-range ratio 2.93:1
Crawl ratio (1st gear x axle gears x low) 45.6:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 113.6
Length, in 190.9
Width, in 75.4
Height, in 74.1
Track, f/r, in 63.2/63.5
Headroom, f/m/r, in 40.4/42.4/40.1
Legroom, f/m/r, in 42.4/37.6/36.3
Shoulder room, f/m/r, in 59.2/59.4/42.8
Total cargo area volume, cu ft
3rd row up 9.9
3rd row down 44.5
2nd & 3rd row down 90.3
Max ground clearance, in 10.5
Approach/departure angle, deg 37.2/29.6
Breakover angle, in 27.6
Base curb weight, lb 5426
Payload capacity, lb 1700
GVWR, lb 7200
GCWR, lb 14,000
Towing capacity, lb 7716
Fuel capacity, gal 22.8
Chassis
Suspension, f/r IFS, double A-arm with long-travel airbags/IRS, double A-arm with long-travel airbags
Steering type Rack-and-pinion, power assist
Turns, lock to lock 3.30
Turning circle, ft 37.6
Brakes, f/r 13.3-in vented discs/13.8-in vented discs, 4WABS
Wheels 18x8.0-in aluminum alloy
Tires Goodyear Wrangler 255/60HR18 M&S radials
Load rating V
Performance
Acceleration, 0-60, sec 8.0
Fuel economy, city/hwy 14/18 (est)
Price
Base price $44,995
Price as tested $49,995
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