First Drive: 2010 Land Rover LR4
To the Manor Borne On a Stately Steed
The secret to a successful vehicle launch event, in addition to offering all-day access to food and nightly binge drinking, is scheduling events that help put the hack journo in the mindset of the vehicle's target customer. For the launch of Land Rover's heavily freshened LR3, rechristened LR4, the itinerary included an opulent dinner with his Grace, the 10th Duke of Roxburghe (say ROX-bruh), at his residence, Floors Castle in southeast Scotland. Owing to the go-anywhere nature of the brand, we dressed up in carry-on-wrinkled Yank interpretations of appropriate attire, boarded our dapper Landies, and set out along the historic carriage approach to the castle, which fords the River Tweed. Water that would have been just above knee high on a horse and well below the floor of a proper carriage lapped midway up the doors and submerged the new proximity-view cameras mounted in the front bumper, affording us a salmon's-eye view. It was also moving swiftly enough to push the 5850-pound Rovers just a bit downstream.
It's probably not for lack of imagination that no such dramatic dinner commutes have been attempted on launches of similarly upper-crusty German or Japanese SUVs.
Land Rover arguably holds the high ground among serious off-roading luxury 'utes, and the Discovery-now dubbed LR4 in America and the Mideast-is its most versatile model. For 2010, its performance envelope is increased with the addition of a vastly higher-performing new 5.0-liter V-8, myriad driveline revisions, improvements to the renowned Terrain Response System, and a vastly upgraded interior. A brand new electrical architecture shared with Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models (and future Jags as well), lays the groundwork for current and future comfort, convenience and safety technologies. So while the exterior revisions appear modest, this is indeed a very new vehicle.
The 11-percent-larger naturally aspirated V-8 bumps power by 25 percent and torque by 19 (to 375 hp and lb-ft) by utilizing direct fuel injection and a sophisticated new variable valve timing system that leverages natural variations in camshaft torque that occur as each lobe approaches and passes the point of maximum valve lift. These tiny fluctuations are captured hydraulically and used to rotate the cams, instead of drawing pressure from the engine oil pump. These technologies boost performance and economy, and other efficiencies like earlier torque-converter lockup, lower rolling-resistance 19-inch tires, and aerodynamic improvements are expected to result in unchanged EPA city/highway fuel economy of 12/17 mpg.
Of course, adding this much power without a commensurate chassis upgrade would have been like hitching Seabiscuit and Citation to that 19th century carriage. Changes to the suspension knuckles revise the geometry in such a way as to bring the vehicle's center of roll to within a couple inches of passing through the center of gravity. The closer these are to each other the less tippy a vehicle feels. A larger front anti-roll bar curbs body roll even further. Front brake discs are almost an inch larger than before and the rear calipers are now aluminum.
But the real joy of owning a Land Rover is the ability to head off in practically any direction a horseback rider could, and the go-anywhere improvements include a new sand-mode launch control that helps accelerate from a stop without digging in, and more responsive traction and anti-lock control in "rock-crawl" mode to prevent a wheel rolling the wrong direction while maneuvering on boulders. Gradient Release Control releases the brakes more gradually to bring the vehicle from a stop up to the programmed Hill Descent Control speed on a steep grade.
Interior and exterior revisions are aimed at making the LR4 look and feel more expensive (prices are expected to rise about 3.5 percent), hence the black plastic exterior cladding goes body color and the front and rear lighting includes jewellike LEDs. Inside it's all ambient lighting, soft-touch surfaces, and available premium leather with stitching of Range-Rover quality. Wood accents the console and doors, and there are fewer buttons controlling more features. Things like 360-degree camera views that aid in parking and off-road maneuvering plus hitch guidance and trailer-maneuvering assistance, high-beam assist, keyless entry and starting, and available Harmon-Kardon audio with HD radio and iPod/USB stick/aux-jack inputs.
Our drive from Edinburgh to the Duke's crib included a mix of freeway, twisty, and hilly roads, on which the LR4 exhibited a carriage-to-chariot level improvement in acceleration feel, with way more midrange punch and a more pleasing engine note. We know better than to expect much steering feel from a dedicated off-roader (that extremely geared-to-the-road feel can tend to result in kickback that could take a thumb off when you're rock-climbing), but the effort and weighting feels about right. Anyone who values on-road dynamics and never plans to venture off pavement should shop BMW, Audi, or Mercedes.
Rubicon-running Camp Jeep regulars ready to do some social climbing to the Land Rover Experience will appreciate the upgrade in the ride comfort and cornering departments. They're likely to be impressed with what the Terrain Response electronics allow this long, heavy truck to do on street-biased tires, and they'll surely enjoy being able to use cameras to monitor the precise placement of the front tires, to see how close the bodywork is to encroaching rocks and obstacles, and to search for fish in the River Tweed. Crawling around on the Floors Castle grounds we were again struck by degree of precision with which Land Rover products can be placed. The throttle mapping in the off-road modes is very gradual, the brake modulation permits rolling a tire off a boulder and tiptoeing it down onto the ground, all of which makes "treading lightly" easier in a Rover than in most factory original rock-hoppers.
Our most serious misgivings are on the reliability front, especially as concerns the new electrical architecture. We were admittedly driving early vehicles, but the LR4 on hand to demonstrate the new trailer-tow functions experienced a fault in that very system and the driver seat of one test vehicle refused to power all the way forward. Another model had the nav system suddenly stop navigating at a critical intersection (simply reentering the destination got it back up and running). Fixes are underway for the above issues, but might other teething problems await? Probably. But there's a comprehensive four-year/50,000-mile safety net in place, and if your dealer gives you any flack, just tell him you're a friend of a friend of the Duke's.
|2010 Land Rover LR4|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door, SUV|
|Engine||5.0L/375-hp/375-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|Curb weight||5850 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||190.1 x 75.4 x 74.3-78.5 in|
|0-60 mph||7.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy econ||12 / 17 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.40 lb/mile|
|On sale in the U.S.||October 2009|