It's easy to underestimate the Land Rover LR4, but not in the way you might think. After all, the LR3 was Motor Trend's overwhelming choice for Sport/Utility of the Year for 2005, and all that basic goodness--the impressive on-road refinement, the preternatural off-road ability, the remarkably efficient packaging--is still there. It's just that, well, the LR4 looks so much like its predecessor you can't help but wonder whether the new moniker has more to do with hype than hardware. It doesn't.

The LR4 is new, in a very Land Rover sort of way. Like the Series I Land Rover's gradual evolution through Series II, Series III, and into Defender over the past 60-odd years, sheetmetal changes have played second fiddle to significant mechanical and electronic upgrades. The LR4 has a new 5.0-liter V-8 under that familiar hood that boasts 25 percent more power and 19 percent more torque. Changes to the suspension knuckles have lowered the roll center, and there's a stiffer anti-roll bar up front and larger front disc brakes. Improvements to the acclaimed Terrain Response System include a new Sand mode launch control, more responsive traction control and anti-lock braking in Rock Crawl mode, and something called Gradient Release Control that releases the brakes more gradually as the vehicle starts down a steep grade.

And you notice the changes the moment you wheel the new LR4 into traffic. The 375-horsepower V-8's mid-range punch, combined with a more aggressive torque converter lockup protocol that also helps the LR4 maintain the same 12 city/17 highway-mpg EPA numbers as the LR3, helps deliver much crisper rolling acceleration response in surge-and-stop urban traffic. The big Landie feels more alive in the cut and thrust of fast-moving freeway traffic, with just a caress of your right foot needed to keep it running with the pack. The test gear confirms those first impressions: The LR4 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, a healthy 1.8 faster than our quickest run in the LR3, and runs the quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 91.2 mph, compared with the LR3's 16.4 at 84.0.

On winding blacktop, the LR4 steers noticeably better too, and feels less tippy-toe on rapid changes of direction than does the LR3. Whereas the original LR3's electronic nannies intervened at the merest hint of shenanigans, contributing to a meager 0.50g average on Motor Trend's figure-eight test, the LR4's more controlled and composed chassis--and more sophisticated stability control tuning--raised that number to 0.60 g. Ride quality is first rate; subjectively it's the best in the business, rivaling that of the LR4's more upscale Range Rover sibling. The suspension's ability to deal with the road acne that normally excites juddery feedback from the heavy wheels and tires of many SUVs is outstanding, while body control over larger heaves and hollows is remarkable. Engine, wind, and road noise levels are commendably low, regardless of surface.

The LR4 is like an LR3 that's been lovingly dipped in chocolate. There's a subtle, yet palpable, improvement in smoothness and refinement throughout its breathtakingly broad dynamic repertoire (don't forget this is one of the few modern SUVs that will still actually take you seriously off-road). And that improvement in dynamic refinement has been matched by obvious improvements in all the touchy, feely stuff too.

With bumpers and fender flares now finished in gloss body-color paint instead of matte black plastic, the LR's bodywork has moved from high-art functional to tastefully upscale. The mesh grille is a little gaudy though, especially in the context of the LR4's deceptively simple lines and delightfully sheer surfaces. The addition of a vent on the left front fender also seems just a little showy--the LR3's single, functional, right-side vent subtly echoed the unique asymmetrical tailgate and rear window graphic and cleverly reinforced the idea this vehicle had been designed, not styled.

While the LR3's interior had a functional, techie ambience, with lots of silver-painted plastic and sensible nonslip surfaces in the storage areas, the LR4's cabin looks like it's been cribbed from a Range Rover. The blocky silver center stack has been replaced by a more integrated trim-color piece that features completely redesigned HVAC and audio controls. The Terrain Response System controller is now situated ahead of the shifter. There are acres of expensive-looking wood and lots of luscious leather. It looks too good to take anywhere near a Wal-Mart parking lot, much less a gnarly backwoods trail.

But heading for a gnarly backwoods trail--or a sandy desert track, a rocky mountain pass, or a muddy river crossing--is exactly what you can do with the Land Rover LR4.

In an era when more modern SUVs are little more than jacked-up station wagons or four-door hatchbacks with delusions of ruggedness designed to lure consumers who hate the idea of buying a station wagon or a four-door hatchback, the Land Rover LR4 is the real deal. Point it off-road, dial in the appropriate menu on the Terrain Response Control, and the LR4 will take you farther, more comfortably, than almost any other SUV on the planet. Off-roading is what the Land Rover guys do; it's in their DNA.

And despite its new glamourpuss threads, the LR4 is still one of the most practical SUVs in the business. The third-row seating package is second only to that of the Mercedes-Benz GL and shames those of many larger SUVs (Exhibit A: the GMT900s) in terms of leg- and headroom for adults. And with the third row folded flat, the rear load space is positively cavernous.

The downside? It ain't exactly cheap. Our tester, which came with the $750 Heavy Duty Package (basically a full-size spare and locking rear diff) and the $5910 7 Seat HSE Plus Package, which adds sat/nav, hard drive, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius satellite radio, the third-row seating (with curtain airbags), and sundry other electronic doodads and "convenience" items, listed for $54,760. Authenticity has its price.


2010 Land Rover LR4
GENERAL
Location of final assembly Solihull, England
Body style 4-door SUV
EPA size class Special purpose
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Front, side, f/m/r curtain
POWERTRAIN
Engine type 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke 3.64 x 3.66 in
Displacement 305.1 ci/5.0L
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl, VCT
SAE horsepower 375 hp @ 6500 rpm
SAE torque 375 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission type ZF HP28 6-speed automatic
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 3.54:1
Final drive ratio 2.44:1
Indicated rpm @ 60 mph 1750 rpm
Low-range ratio 2.93:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 43.3:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Wheelbase 113.6 in
Length 190.1 in
Width 75.4 in
Height 74.1 in
Track, f/r 63.2/63.5 in
Headroom, f/m/r 40.4/42.4/40.1 in
Legroom, f/m/r 42.4/37.6/36.3 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 59.0/59.2/42.8 in
Cargo vol, behind 1st/2nd/3rd row 90.3/42.1/9.9 cu ft
Ground clearance 7.3-9.4 in
Approach/departure angle 32.2-37.2/26.7-29.6 deg
Curb weight 5744 lb
Weight distribution 49/51%
Max payload capacity 1325 lb
GVWR 7143 lb
GCWR 14,000 lb
Max towing capacity 7716 lb
Fuel capacity 22.8 gal
CHASSIS
Construction Unibody
Suspension, f/r Independent, control arms, air springs/independent, control arms, air springs
Steering type Rack-and-pinion
Ratio 16.4:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.3
Turning circle 37.6 ft
Brakes, f/r 14.2-in vented disc/13.8-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 19-in cast aluminum alloy
Tires 255/55R19 Continental 4x4 Contact M+S
Load/speed rating 111/V
PERFORMANCE
Acceleration
0-30 2.2 sec
0-40 3.6
0-50 5.2
0-60 6.9
0-70 9.2
0-80 11.9
0-90 14.9
0-100 18.2
Quarter mile 15.3 sec @ 91.2 mph
Braking, 60-0 118 ft
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 12/17 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.40 lb/mile
PRICE
Base price $48,100
Price as tested $54,760

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