Road Test: 2008 Land Rover LR2
It's going to shake up the segment
There was a time when Land Rovers were rugged, supremely capable off-roaders built from sturdy chunks of steel and sheets of aluminum, with overwrought drivetrains and suspensions. This recipe earned the company a formidable reputation--but the vehicles became increasingly out of step in a world where SUVs are expected to serve as comfortable and efficient family transportation.
How can Land Rover provide that civility without compromising off-road capability? Enter Terrain Response, a computer-controlled system that apportions power to the wheels based on a scheme selected from four different settings. With that technology on board, the LR2 ably fills the shoes of its jungle-busting forebears, despite the fact that this upmarket replacement for the primitive and unloved Freelander is built using parts and designs from corporate-sibling Volvo's S80 sedan.
Because of this source of drivetrain hardware and suspension designs, the new entry-level Land Rover possesses the graceful ride and handling expected by today's sport/utility buyers. There's no engine smoother than an inherently balanced inline-six like the LR2's Volvo 3.2-liter, 230-horsepower unit. The LR2 also uses a beefed-up version of the Volvo's MacPherson-strut front suspension, combined with Land Rover's own new strut rear suspension.
But the question in any off-road traditionalist's mind is, how could this glorified Volvo possibly uphold Land Rover's proud tradition of rock-busting prowess?
To answer this question, Land Rover launched the LR2 in Morocco, a country renowned for exotic settings and a classic film ("Casablanca"), not the quality of its highway system.
Fortunately, Land Rover didn't expect us to stick to those byways, instead shepherding us off to rock-strewn paths frequented by donkey carts and over windswept sand dunes along the country's Atlantic coast.
On the dunes, the LR2 ran a close second to the camels, which was impressive considering the absence of LR3-style air suspension to provide added ground clearance. We also hadn't bled the air pressure from the smooth-riding highway-oriented Continental tires for better traction, making the performance in sand even more amazing.
Give it a bit of stick, as our English handlers suggested, maintain momentum, and keep the front wheels pointed as straight as possible, and the LR2 climbs dunes that would leave many 4x4s buried. Judging from the plumes of sand lofted by all four wheels, the Sand setting of the Terrain Response permits considerable wheelspin and ensures that all wheels contribute equally.
Off the beach and into Morocco's interior, much of the country is covered in a blanket of fist-size rocks. It was a struggle to keep the vehicle on course on that Mars-like surface. After turning the rotary dial on the Terrain Response selector knob to the Grass/Gravel/Snow setting, the LR2 easily bounded over the rock. Unlike Terrain Response in pricier Land Rovers, the LR2's has no Rock Crawl mode, a consequence of not having a low-range gear. Instead, the LR2 uses a Haldex computer-controlled center differential, also from Volvo; however, one advantage of Land Rover's version is it has a precharged reservoir of hydraulic fluid that lets the differential instantly shift power to the rear wheels, rather than needing front-wheel speed differential to build pressure to engage the clutches.
On the road, the vehicle is a smooth, quiet, and easy-riding companion. Even over potholes and broken pavement, the off-road suspension absorbs the blows. On winding roads, the LR2 exhibits the steering feel and response more akin to an English sports car than a 4x4, with excellent weight, feel, and feedback. This is in contrast to other premium compact SUVs, even some within the Blue Oval corporate family, which have vague, isolated steering. How Land Rover provides such direct connection to the activities below without inflicting abuse on the driver over broken terrain is a mystery. Handling prowess is backed by electronic- and roll-stability control systems, which should help minimize the consequences in the event of an emergency situation.
A slick-shifting six-speed automatic backs the straight-six engine to good effect. The computer controlling shifts is smart enough that the transmission doesn't hunt for gears or downshift too often and manual control is possible. The lower gears are good off-road ratios--remember, there's no low range--and they help launch the LR2 briskly. The company claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 8.4 seconds, which seems about right. With a spread of six gears, the LR2 can enjoy low-speed granny gears and overdrive highway gears that target EPA gas mileage.
But while the off-the-line acceleration is good, passing power at highway speeds is weak. The 230-horsepower engine feels overmatched by the 4255-pound curb weight when zipping past traffic in the 50-to-70 mph range. The Rover isn't slow by any means, but it is sluggish. There is the potential for more power, should the company decide to offer the narrow-angle, Yamaha-supplied, 311-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8 that's used in the Volvo XC90. But a V-8 version could push $50,000. That price level would position the LR2 against competitors in higher market segments, which could make it a tough sell, appealing as the notion of a V-8 LR2 may be to enthusiasts. Overseas markets get a diesel version, so the U.S. can expect to see one eventually, but not soon.
In the cabin, the design and layout feature the planar, technical appearance seen in other Land Rover models, with large, clear instruments and easy-to-use controls for the HVAC and entertainment systems. The touch-screen navigation is easy to use as well, and the Dolby Pro Logic surround-sound audio system features the same hardware admired in Volvo stereos.
The two-panel panoramic sunroof is standard on all U.S.-market LR2s, keeping the interior well lit and contributing to the airy feeling and good visibility of the roomy second row. The seats are comfortable and supportive, but lack lumbar adjustment.
The LR2 really is the natural extension of Land Rover's revival in recent years, with styling, on-road ride and handling, and off-road talent that mirror that of its larger siblings, but in a smaller, more fuel-efficient and agile package.
|2008 Land Rover LR2|
|Location of final assembly||Liverpool, England|
|Body style||Four-door midsize SUV|
|EPA size class||Special purpose vehicle|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, AWD|
|Airbags||Front, front side, inflatable knee bolsters, air curtains|
|Engine type||I-6, alum block/head|
|Bore x stroke,||in 3.31 x 3.78|
|Valve gear||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|Fuel induction||Electronic port fuel injection|
|SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm||230 @ 6300|
|SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm||234 @ 3200|
|Transmission type||6-speed automatic|
|Final drive ratio||2.59:1|
|Recommended fuel||Premium unleaded|
|Track, f/r, in||63.0/63.0|
|Headroom, f/r, in||40.2/39.4|
|Legroom, f/r, in||41.9/36.4|
|Shoulder room, f/r, in||57.6/57.3|
|Cargo volume, cu ft||58.9|
|Ground clearance, in||8.3|
|Approach/departure angle, deg||29.0/32.0|
|Base curb weight, lb||4255|
|Payload capacity, lb||1265|
|Towing capacity, lb||3500 (w/trailer brakes)|
|Fuel capacity, gal||18.5|
|Suspension, f/r||MacPherson strut/strut with lateral and longitudinal links|
|Steering type||Rack and pinion|
|Turns, lock to lock||2.6|
|Turning circle, ft||37.1|
|Brakes, f/r||12.5-in disc/12.0-in disc, 4WABS|
|Wheels||18 x 8.0-in alloy|
|Tires||235/60R18 Continental ContiCrossContact|
|Acceleration, 0-60 mph, sec||8.4 (mfr est)|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy||16/23 mpg|
|Base price||$34,700 (est)|
|Options||DVD satellite navigation, bi-Xenon adaptive headlights, Sirius Satellite Radio, Bluetooth handsfree phone, 12-speaker Alpine Dolby, Pro Logic II 7.1 surround-sound audio|
|Price as tested||$38,500 (est)|