Please answer the following question as honestly as possible. I require a sport/utility vehicle because:

(A) I chase gazelle across the Gobi Desert (well, I do some camping in locales without electrical outlets).
(B) A huge and rugged vehicle is essential for visiting the farmer's market, picking up fresh organic greens, and chauffeuring Dacoda to her pottery class.

If you answered "B," close this magazine immediately, shred it, place the tatters in your compost heap, and buy a Honda Civic. If you answered "A," however, read on. Gathered here are three industrial-grade sport/utes. And, yea, we're going stalk through the valley of death.

Until the arrival of Jeep's redesigned Grand Cherokee (just months away at the time of this test), the three grit-tamers gathered here represent the best of their luxurious breed. Land Rover's LR4 is new for 2010, a thorough revise of the maker's LR3 (our 2005 Sport/Utility of the Year). Improvements include a revised suspension, enhanced Terrain Response system, and a gorgeous cabin, but the big news lies under the hood: a new Jaguar-sourced, direct-injection, DOHC, 5.0-liter V-8 making 375 horsepower-a 25-percent increase over the outgoing 4.4-liter mill. Another SUOTY winner (for 2007) is the unibody Mercedes-Benz GL450, a velvet-cloaked bruiser with a stout 4.7-liter V-8 and a superb seven-speed automatic. Rounding out our trio is the Lexus GX 460, which first appeared in 2002, but, like the LR4, is heavily reworked for 2010. Sharing its updated platform with the new Toyota 4Runner, the GX remains a body-on-frame workhorse-with fresh styling, a handsome new interior, an electronically controlled transfer case, and, most significant, a version of the 4.6-liter V-8 that romps in the Tundra pickup.

Again, we judged these seven-passenger tanks (each offers three seating rows) primarily on how they fared through Death Valley-hundreds of miles from such hedonistic diversions as Starbucks and the Olive Garden. If you're after something to ferry Dacoda to her harp-stringing lessons, this comparo won't serve you well. If you're looking for the dirty truth, though, read on.

MILD WEST
All three of our players offer more off-road competence than most asphalt-avoiders will ever use. But among this mil-spec group, the big Benz is least armed for battle. Crucially, unlike the Rover and the Lexus, the GL450 lacks a low-range transfer case. "More demanding than the other two through our rock- crawling drill," says executive editor Ed Loh. "With no transfer case and gearing designed for strip malls rather than the abandoned strip mines we visited, this one took considerably more effort to pilot through the crags." While the big V-8 is plenty strong-335 horsepower and 339 pound-feet-the lack of low-range torque multiplication limits extreme maneuvering, such as thrashing your way out of heavy muck or tackling steep canyon obstructions.

Dial back to scud-running at eight-tenths or less, though, and the GL shines. It's huge inside, claiming second-best cargo capacity with the back two rows folded down (83 cubic feet) and the most cubed feet behind the third row (14). Tow capacity is a beefy 7500 pounds. The seven-speed automatic is now accessible via excellent wheel-mounted shift paddles. The V-8 makes stirring sounds and, in concert with the seven cogs,serves up group-best acceleration (0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds). Finally, the GL makes marvelous use of its Airmatic springs. A flick of a switch raises ground clearance to 10.9 inches, the suspension offers Sport and Comfort ride modes, and there's auto load-leveling. "Sportiest, most carlike chassis; feels the most planted," says senior editor Ron Kiino.

So why the third-place rating? Two big hurts: the "mild"-rated off-road hardware and a crushing Monroney. Base sticker for the GL450 is $61,825, which outprices the Lexus by nearly nine grand. Outfitted with such extras as Keyless-Go, COMAND voice activation, navigation, and a rear camera, our tester checked in at $68,485-topping the field by nearly $11K.

Writes Kiino: "A useful, functional, capable, still-handsome seven-pass lux SUV that's too pricey. Just three years ago it was our SUOTY-how things change."

TO THE MANOR SCORNED
The Lexus GX 460 tackled the rougher off-road stretches with...wait a minute. Didn't that lab-coat mag dub the GX a "Don't Buy"? What's this "evil" Lexus doing here, anyway?

In the days before traction- and stability-control systems, most motorists understood that, if you drive like a raging idiot, you'll get into trouble whatever the make or model of vehicle. Today, you're apparently supposed to be able to take an SUV-a machine with an inherently high center of gravity-hurl it into a turn way too fast, jump off the gas, and have the vehicle's miracle systems save you and your careless self from the resulting spin. Here's our take: During our on-road drives and track tests, we observed that the GX's stability-control system does indeed feel "looser" than many we've tried-Kiino dubbed it "surprisingly sporty." That said, we were driving way, way harder than any SUV pilot would ever attempt. Even so, never did the GX feel scary or unsafe. To paraphrase the familiar refrain: Your stupidity may vary.

Underneath its tailored skin, the GX is a bona-fide desert warrior. "Very impressed," says Kiino. "Put it in 4L, dropped it down into first gear, and essentially just modulated the brakes-the GX simply idled its way up and over the rocks and ledges." In addition to low range, the GX offers such Swiss Army functionality as Downhill Assist Control, Crawl Control, Hill-Start Assist (to prevent rolling backward), and a hydraulic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that, off-road, frees up the anti-roll bars so the opposite wheels can move more independently. You could take this rig almost anywhere.

Add a sweet V-8, a smooth six-speed automatic, every imaginable electronic luxury, a great ride, group-high fuel efficiency, and strong value ($57,619 as-tested), and the GX acquits itself impressively. Indeed, it might have finished first were it not for two drawbacks: a third-place tow rating (6500 pounds) and, far more important, a meager 64.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the front seats and a very tight third row.

Sums up Loh: "I can imagine Maharajahs used to riding atop big Indian elephants being jealous of this rig."

THE REAL THING
This was an easy call. If you're taking the tribe off-road, and maybe even if you're just doing the mall thing, the Land Rover LR4 tackles every mission parameter with ease. Room? Biggest here: more than 90 cubic feet with the rear seats down-and a third row that's genuinely comfortable for adults. Towing? Top rating: 7716 pounds. Off-road prowess? Easily best, with up to 9.4 inches of ground clearance (with the air springs raised) and the latest edition of Land Rover's Terrain Response system-which makes optimizing throttle response, transmission, and chassis performance for any condition as easy as twirling a dial. Says Loh: "I am a conqueror of all I see in this vehicle. Damn, the view is nice: Through these big windows and windshield the Sierras, Eureka Dunes, even the dusty-green Joshua Trees that litter Death Valley look as though shot in Cameron's IMAX 3D." When the tough stuff comes, this is the one drivers fight to pilot.

And yet the LR4 remains thoroughly refined on-road, too. "Brilliant steering that's both light and fluid, yet offers plenty of feel and feedback-wouldn't mind this in a sports car," says Kiino. "Love the multi-configurable seating arrangement and genuinely flat load floor," adds Loh. "I can stretch out on it no problem; could easily camp at night back there."


  2010 LAND ROVER LR4 HSE 2010 LEXUS GX 460 2010 MERCEDES-BENZ GL450
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD Front engine, 4WD
ENGINE TYPE 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads
VALVETRAIN DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT 305.1 cu in/5000 cc 281.2 cu in/4608 cc 284.6 cu in/4663 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.5:1 10.2:1 10.7:1
POWER (SAE NET) 375 hp @ 6500 rpm 301 hp @ 5500 rpm 335 hp @ 6000 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET) 375 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 329 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 339 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER 15.3 lb/hp 17.0 lb/hp 15.9 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic 7-speed automatic
AXLE/FINAL/LOW RATIOS 3.54:1/2.44:1/2.93:1 3.91:1/2.29:1/2.57:1 3.70:1/2.70:1/-
SUSPENSION, FRONT;REAR Control arms, adj air springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, adj air springs, anti-roll bar Control arms, coil springs, adj anti-roll bar; live axle, air springs, adj anti-roll bar Control arms, adj air springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, adj air springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO 19.4:1 18.4:1 18.6:1
TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK 3.3 3 3.6
BRAKES, F;R 14.2-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS 13.3-in vented disc; 12.3-in vented disc, ABS 14.7-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS 8.0 x 19-in, cast aluminum 7.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum 8.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum
TIRES 255/55R19 111V M+S, Continental 4x4 Contact 265/60R18 109H M+S, Michelin Latitude Tour HP 275/55R19 111H M+S, Pirelli Scorpion Zero
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE 113.6 in 109.8 in 121.1 in
TRACK, F/R 63.2/63.5 in 62.4 / 62.4 in 65.0 / 65.1 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 190.1 x 75.4 x 74.1-76.2 in 189.2 x 74.2 x 72.6 in 200.6 x 76.4 x 72.4-75.5 in
GROUND CLEARANCE 7.3-9.4 in 8.1 in 7.8-10.9 in
APPROACH/DEPART ANGLE 32.2-37.2/26.7-29.6 deg 28.0/25.0 deg 27.0/21.0 deg
TURNING CIRCLE 37.6 ft 38.0 ft 39.7 ft
CURB WEIGHT 5744 lb 5112 lb 5340 lb
WEIGHT DIST, F/R 49/51% 52/48% 51/49%
TOWING CAPACITY 7716 lb 6500 lb 7500 lb
SEATING CAPACITY 7 7 7
HEADROOM, F/M/R 40.4/42.4/40.1 in 38.0/40.4/35.2 in 40.1/40.6/38.2 in
LEGROOM, F/M/R 42.4/37.6/36.3 in 41.7/34.1/29.3 in 40.3/39.5/34.2 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R 59.0/59.2/42.8 in 55.4/57.3/54.5 in 58.3/58.9/50.5 in
CARGO VOL BEHIND F/M/R 90.3/42.1/9.9 cu ft 64.7/17.0/4.2 cu ft 83.3/43.8/14.3 cu ft
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-30 2.2 sec 2.3 sec 2.1 sec
0-40 3.6 3.6 3.3
0-50 5.2 5.2 4.6
0-60 6.9 6.9 6.4
0-70 9.2 9.5 8.4
0-80 11.9 12.2 10.8
0-90 14.9 15.5 14
PASSING, 45-65 MPH 3.4 sec 3.8 sec 3.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.3 sec @ 91.2 mph 15.4 sec @ 89.7 mph 14.8 sec @ 92.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft 117 ft 115 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.74 g (avg) 0.73 g (avg) 0.70 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.3 sec @ 0.60 g (avg) 28.3 sec @ 0.58 g (avg) 29.6 sec @ 0.54 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1750 rpm 1550 rpm 1600 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE $48,100 $52,845 $61,825
PRICE AS TESTED $54,760 $57,619 $68,485
TRUE CAR TRUEAVERAGE PRICE $52,433 $56,588 $67,704
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes/yes
AIRBAGS Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain Dual front, f/m side, f/m/r curtain, fr knee Dual front, f/m side, f/m/r curtain, dr knee
BASIC WARRANTY 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles

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