2010 Land Rover LR2 Expert Review:Autoblog
Land Rovers have always gone their own way – often literally. While off-roading demands a low center of gravity and muddy trails would seem to warrant hose-out interiors and body-on-frame-construction, the British automaker has long contented itself building tippy-looking unibody boxes with tall greenhouses and opulent cabins – the anti-Humvee, as it were. Further, in recent iterations, they've packed their products with immense electronic systems, air suspensions, dial-a-topography Terrain Response controller, and so on... the very sort of complexity that ought to be enough to send English sports car enthusiasts running back to their therapists' offices.
And yet, the formula has always worked – vehicles like the Range Rover and Discovery (now LR3) have somehow managed to earn both Kalahari-traversing credentials and valet stand privileges. Other companies have attempted the leather-lined off-roader thing before (Lamborghini, Lexus, Hummer, Porsche, and LaForza come to mind), but while some have added the trappings of luxury to their SUVs, exactly no one has been as successful in marrying their vehicles to the notion of aristocracy – the sort of "Lord and Master of All That I Survey" quality that has remained Solihull's historic preserve. In short, Land Rovers have always been a gloriously and uniquely British contradiction on wheels – a fact that goes some way toward explaining why your author remains more than a little conflicted when it comes to this LR2.
Click through to the jump to find how it all shakes out.
Photos copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.
A Contrarian Spirit
Admittedly, with more and more buyers flocking to the softroader pool, it made a good degree of sense for Land Rover to take a second crack at the market – even after the lackluster Freelander failed to find Stateside homes. Still, despite the solid concept of bringing a dose of the company's values, styling and heritage to bear on the segment, there's no getting around that the genre's developing conventions are at odds with traditional Land Rover tenets – most of which the LR2 doggedly seeks to uphold. Allow us to explain.
These days, more and more such vehicles are coming to market with a lower ride height, minimal off-road ability, and wider, more voluptuous bodies that have the occupants sit lower in the chassis to subconsciously reinforce feelings of security and safety. Perhaps predictably, the LR2 hasn't even waited for the crossover handbook's ink to dry before throwing it out the window and into the mud.
On the styling front, our tester deployed a raft of premium touches – complex-element bi-Xenon adaptive headlamps (part of the $1,050 Lighting Package), clamshell hood, side vents, massive 19-inch alloys (in a new pattern for 2009), and in the case of our tester, impressively lustrous Rimini Red paint. Ultimately, however, the LR2's rectilinear stance and slab sides strike at least some of us as gussied-up paint-by-numbers SUV bodyshell – not a unique form. This author would argue that the LR2 looks smallish and a bit like a lux variant of a more prosaic vehicle (say, Ford Escape?), and its jutting Leno-like mandible of a front bumper does it no favors. Somehow, the LR2 ultimately fails to cash-in on the Sub-Zero minimalist aesthetic advanced by the Green Oval's other models. However, it does offer more traditionally rugged, upright SUV looks than its increasingly wagon-like foes – and that strikes us as a valuable (if niche) position worth saving.
Despite its somewhat gangly appearance, the LR2 is actually wider than its chief competitors (think: BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, and Volvo XC60), yet it is also taller, has the shortest overall length and employs a markedly shorter wheelbase – all of which conspire to give it a comparatively tippy-toes look. This sensation is reinforced inside by the vehicle's dining room chair seating and low beltline. That "on, not in" feeling is pure Land Rover, though, and it's done for a reason – the formal driving position allows for a markedly better view of the vehicle's corners and immediate surroundings than any of its competitors – an important factor when tiptoeing around boulders and threading down narrow two-tracks. Sadly, unlike many Range Rover and Discovery owners we know, we have trouble envisioning the average LR2 driver subjecting their vehicle to much more than the occasional curb hop or gravel road, so this strategy may be of limited merit, – even if it is necessary to stay on [brand] message.
Bright, But Boring
With the exception of the annoyingly contrived starting process (insert oversized fob into hidden slot below gauge binnacle, push in until it clicks, then reach up to push the separate engine start/stop button), just about everything in the interior is on the up-and-up ergonomically, with large buttons, simple layouts, and good switchgear feel. Better yet, the low, elbow-on-the-sills beltline and matching décolleté instrument panel combine with the standard twin-element sunroof to flood the interior with sunlight, lending it an open and airy sensation. Despite the abbreviated overall length and the titchy wheelbase, there's plenty of room inside, again, thanks to the upright seating. And yet... the LR2's interior has a bit too much starch in its collar for our tastes.
The dashboard itself is a style-free zone, some plastics are substandard, and worse still, the center stack is badly dated, with a too-small yestertech navigation touchscreen (part of the $3,500 Technology Package) set distractingly low in the dash, to say nothing of the separate 320-watt Alpine audio controls that lurk even further down (and whose old-fashioned display is prone to washing out in the aforementioned floods of sunlight). Still, points must be awarded for the beautiful and aromatic almond leather/nutmeg carpet combination (also new for 2009), easy-to-read instruments, and heated windscreen (part of the $700 Cold Climate Package). And although we chide Land Rover for its aging in-dash technologies, we're quite pleased that they have yet to adopt an overly complex all-in-one GUI controller like their rivals at Audi, BMW and Benz.
Road Scholar? Well...
Despite casting the smallest shadow among its peers, the unibody LR2 is actually the heftiest customer of the compact premium class, toting around some 4,250 pounds (competitors generally ring up in the 4,000-4,200 pound range), a number that doesn't bode well for the 3.2-liter inline-six, which only brings 230 horsepower (@ 6,300 rpm) to the party. That's substantially fewer ponies than the LR2's aforementioned adversaries, most of which corral upwards of 260 hp.
At least the Volvo-sourced 24-valver's 234 pound-feet of torque (@ 3200 rpm) is in the hunt, albeit a bit higher up in the revband, though we wish the kickdowns from the Aisin-Warner six-speed transmissions happened a bit more smoothly and quickly. The latter's sport mode helps somewhat, but blistering progress just isn't on the menu – our rear-end accelerometers peg 60 mph as well north of 9 seconds (LR claims 8.4 seconds, but we're not buying), while many of the LR2's tarmac-oriented classmates will do the deed in under 7 clicks (and most will make more attractive noises while doing so). Because drivers will often find themselves dipping deep into the 3.2's meager reserves, fuel economy fails to excite as well, with EPA figures of 15 mpg city and 22 highway (17 mpg combined), though we could only muster 15.2 per gallon of premium fuel in mostly highway driving.
Speaking of highway driving, you can expect lots of minor course-corrections on the superslab, especially when it's windy. The quick steering rack (2.6-turns lock-to-lock) feels at odds with the rest of the LR2's abilities, so as a consequence, it feels a bit wayward and unsettled – a sensation that's magnified by the tallish seating position. There's a good amount of pitch and yaw from the long-travel suspension as well, although confidence-inspiring, linear braking performance help assuage any dynamic fears.
The Dirty Iconoclast's Payoff
But hang on – things can't be all bad, can they? Hardly. While we didn't take our HSE off-roading during its week with us in Michigan, we must confess to having prior knowledge of the LR2's extensive off-road capabilities, having tested the model's pluck at Biltmore Estate's Land Rover Experience last year in Asheville, North Carolina. After traversing a muddy and slick forest and field course that included log bridges, side tilts, and teeth-gnashing, root strewn descents in the LR3 and big daddy Range Rover, we went back and did much of the course over again in the LR2, finding that it was more than up to the task.
In fact, things were much more exciting while off-roading in the baby Brit, largely because one didn't feel as invincible. Lacking a proper low-range, momentum conservation became of paramount concern, making judicious two-footed juggling of the brake and throttle pedals increasingly important. With 8.3 inches of ground clearance (markedly less than the other air-suspended LRs, yet greater than any of its competitors), we had to pay close attention, but the LR2's nippy best-in-class turning circle helped us negotiate narrow trails and tight tree stands that would hang-up larger vehicles, and the vehicle's unusually erect driving position and excellent sightlines paid big dividends here, as did the long-travel suspension, which helped minimize head-toss and general skittishness that firmer road-oriented setups generally bring. Even the tight wheelbase helps with breakover angle.
With its Terrain Response Control (Driver-selectable modes: General/Snow/Sand/Mud & Ruts) and Hill Descent Control keeping an eye on everything from the four-wheel ventilated disc brakes (12.5-inch units in front, 12.0-inch out back) to our throttle position and the Haldex all-wheel drive system's machinations, our LR2 scrambled up, over, and down obstacles that would've left its contemporaries quite literally gutted. Along the way, we heard lots of skid-plate scraping and some distressingly loud noises emanating from the HDC, but the LR2 prevailed unscathed in enough tough situations that its rivals look terrified of drizzle by comparison. If you live in a particularly hostile climate, this performance alone may be all the justification you need to pay a visit your local Land Rover Center.
A Question of Value(s)
To be fair, the LR2 isn't exactly a new vehicle. While it has only been on the U.S. market since 2007, it went on sale earlier in Europe, and the GLK, Q5, are all more recent efforts, not to mention larger, more overtly road-focused outliers like the Lexus RX350 and Infiniti EX35. Critically, at a base price of $36,100 ($35,375 MSRP + $775 in destination charges), the LR2 undercuts many of its rivals, particularly when one visits the frankly extortionate option lists on some of its German rivals. Our full-house tester was $41,400 all-in, and a comparable X3 would run upwards of $48,000, although the Bimmer's superior maintenance program and resale value blunt the value disparity.
For its part, Land Rover has just unveiled its massively updated 2010 Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, and LR3 lines, all models that have, to one extent or another, historically shared some of the LR2's deficiencies (elderly interiors, underwhelming power). While we have yet to drive these new models, what we have seen suggests that Land Rover is serious about rectifying the bald spots in their product line. We hope that the LR2 is afforded the same treatment – and soon.
But enough with the conditionalizing. In the end, the LR2 is a willfully different product, and it is likely to stay that way, if only because it must. In order to stay true to Land Rover's core values and brand essence, the LR2 had to prioritize off-road ability, segment expectations be damned. Call our tester a tenuous balancing act, call it inherently conflicted, call it a singularly unique constellation of skills, call it what you will – the ramifications of this vehicle's design brief, both positive and negative, are felt in virtually every aspect of its being. Whether Land Rover's engineers have made the right decisions in shaping the LR2 is a question of the buyer's priorities. But one thing is for sure: If we ever had any doubts that the LR2 is a proper Range Rover, well, those days are gone.
Photos copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new entry-level Land Rover is the real deal.
If the Land Rover LR2 doesn't knock the socks off of shoppers for an SUV of this size and price, nothing will. It offers more content than they have reason to expect, compared to what's out there. Think of it as a baby Range Rover Sport, for at least 20 grand less. It costs about $8,000 less than the next Land Rover up the scale, the LR3, and has a more powerful and smoother engine: an all-new, high-tech, inline six-cylinder built by Volvo, mated to a sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission.
The styling is clean and handsome, and the interior roomy, with leather seating surfaces, wood trim, a panoramic sunroof, fold-flat rear seats, quality sound system and all the power stuff as standard equipment. The body structure is second to none in its rigidity and safety, with liberal use of ultra-high-strength steel in the door beams and other places. The list of electronic safeguards goes on and on. ABS, EBD, EBA, DSC, ARM, CBC, HDC, GRC (they're all explained below; each could save your life, or at the least keep the vehicle under control far better than any human). Also Terrain Response, with four settings for different driving conditions: pavement; gravel, grass and snow; mud and ruts; or sand.
The long-travel suspension uses all the acquired knowledge of Land Rover engineers, and delivers a firm and stable ride in all conditions, while providing superlative cornering for an SUV that's 68.5 inches high. The vented disc brakes are big and bomb-proof. The traction system is made by Haldex, the leader in all-wheel-drive design, and it's state of the art: electronic rather than hydraulic, making it faster and more sensitive than anything that's ever found its way into an SUV.
The Land Rover LR2 has it all, for a five-seat SUV.
The only decisions to make in buying a Land Rover LR2 are about options; there is only one model, the LR2 that retails for $34,700 including $715 freight; Land Rover doesn't price the LR2 at a lower-sounding $33,985 plus freight. That price includes all the comfort and capability you expect from a Land Rover.
Standard features include leather seats, air conditioning, power doors, windows and remote entry, keyless starter button, panoramic dual panel sunroof, front and rear foglamps, power headlamp washers, rain-sensing wipers, rear park distance control, 18-inch alloy wheels, and dual-zone climate control with pollen filter and humidity sensor.
The Technology Package ($3500) includes a DVD-based navigation system, Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound system, Sirius satellite radio, rear seat audio controls and Bluetooth telephone system. The Lighting Package ($1050) includes bi-Xenon adaptive headlamps (they swivel in the direction of turns), approach and puddle lights, and a memory driver seat and mirrors. The Cold Climate Package ($700) includes heated front seats and a heated windshield and washer jets. You can also get a special Narvik Black paint job ($400).
Safety equipment includes electronic stability control with anti-roll technology, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. There are seven airbags: two-stage frontal bags, side-impact bags for the front seats, airbag curtains for both rows, and a final small airbag for the driver's knees. There's also Hill Descent Control, which keeps the vehicle at six mph going down steep hills (even, or especially, on ice), and Gradient Release Control, which holds the vehicle on a steep hill for a moment before letting it creep up to that speed. All that's lacking in the safety equipment is a tire pressure monitor.
There's no mistaking the LR2 for anything but a Land Rover. Its design director says the LR2 has 'chiseled lines, chunky good looks and sporty energy.' We'll go along with that, as well as with his other adjectives: 'simple, uncluttered, sculptured, sophisticated, dynamic, refined.'
Your neighbors might think it's a Range Rover, although it's 18.6 inches shorter overall and 6.5 inches less high. But its wheelbase is only 6.5 inches less, giving it a total of one less foot of overhangs, which makes it more modern and compact. It also has a cool trapezoidal engine vent on each front fender just under the sideview mirror, a wider body-colored C-panel, black door handles, and outstanding 12-spoke spidery 18-inch wheels in silver alloy. Sleeker horizontal rectangular headlamps. As a package, it's the best looking and best proportioned Land Rover out there, although the LR3 (bigger than an LR2 and smaller than a Range Rover) is also very tidy. We just wish the LR2's silver plastic grille were black, and didn't look like its pattern was designed in about 10 minutes. The LR3 has by far the best grille, with body-colored slats.
Safety is enhanced by the LR2's monocoque structure, which uses crumple zones and ultra high strength steel to create what Land Rover calls a safety cell.
Sitting in the slightly elevated driver's seat, which Land Rover calls Command View, you feel satisfied by knowing that your SUV was designed by the best. It's a very professional layout, all black and thick and having no-nonsense gauges, instruments and controls. The smooth and meaty four-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel, with two horizontal and two vertical spokes coming straight down from the hub, adds to the solid overall feel of the vehicle; the buttons for cruise control and the sound system are on those vertical spokes. The gauges couldn't be cleaner, a big speedo and tach split by one smaller circle with fuel and water temperature, with neat small white numbers on a black background. They're shaded from the sun's glare by an extension from the dashboard like a visor. The rest of the dash is sloped, providing more of that Command View. A thick strip of stylish wood splits the dash panel.
The center stack is wide and full of black rectangular buttons that make you feel like a pilot when you press them; a few of the icons are arcane, but they're not as baffling as German ones. The vents are long and rectangular, on each side of the navigation screen having displays for other information such as climate control and the sound system.
The center stack doesn't flow into the console like some vehicles. Forward of the shift lever and at the bottom of the center stack, there's a big round knob for the Terrain Response System. It controls engine and traction settings for four different driving conditions: general; grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts; and sand. The lever and knob are nicely rimmed and trimmed by aluminum-look plastic.
The standard seats are good Land Rover leather; they're roomy and supportive, not always an easy combination. Ours were black and looked terrific. They were so good that after one day and 400 hard miles, including hundreds of hard curves and some time off-road, we weren't a bit sore. You can't say much more about a seat than that.
There are sufficient storage spaces all over, with good legroom in front, 41.9 inches, but less good in the rear, 36.4 inches; that's still nearly an inch more than the larger Range Rover, although it's 1.2 inches less than the LR3 (it's longer by 14 inches) and a huge 3.2 inches less than the new Ford Edge crossover. Our back-seat passenger said he didn't feel cramped, maybe thanks to the Stadium Seating, elevated a bit for better visibility out the windshield, while still allowing 39.4 inches of headroom.
The 60/40 rear seat folds flat, yielding 58.9 cubic feet of storage space, and there's 26.7 cubic feet with the rear seat raised; those are pretty good numbers but not as much as a Toyota RAV4, for example. There would be more cargo space if if the loading floor were lower; but if it were, you'd have to bend down to load things through the liftgate. The floor has a unique reversible cover: one side is carpeted, the other a washable surface.
The standard 40-watt sound system with eight speakers has an automatic volume control; the faster you drive, the louder it gets.
We had great seat time during a long day in the Land Rover LR2, in different driving conditions. No snow and ice, but doubtless the LR2 would be sure-footed and safe in those conditions too.
The engine is a new inline six cylinder displacing 3.2 liters; it was designed by Volvo and is used in the S80 sedan and XC90 SUV. It's very high tech and extremely small: only 24 inches long, small enough to be mounted transversely, an exceptional thing, yielding benefits in a number of areas, maybe most importantly in the safety structure, specifically the front crumple zone.
Volvo might have outdone itself with this new engine, and that's saying something. The acceleration is smooth and strong, taking the 4255-pound LR2 from 0 to 60 in 8.4 seconds, and it delivers an estimated combined 21 miles per gallon. There's a nice little inner growl, the engine's exhaust note a bit deeper than most BMW inline sixes. The horsepower is 230 at 6300 rpm, with a solid 234 pound-feet of torque peaking at 3200 rpm, a good low range for efficient acceleration. And 80 percent of that torque is available at a rock-bottom 1400 rpm. You'd only need a V8 if you tow a boat or horses or something, and then not even necessarily.
The least expensive LR3 costs nearly $8000 more than the LR2 and uses an older V6 engine with only 213 horsepower, making the LR2 look even better.
The new six-speed automatic transmission brings the most out of the engine. It's got three modes: Drive, Sport and Command. Slide the lever to the left for Sport, and the shifts get quicker and come later; after you make one shift manually you're in Command mode, and it stops shifting by itself (most of the time). But if you forget you're in Command, it won't always help you. We were in sixth gear one time, and slowed down for a 35-mph speed zone in a town; when we got through the town and accelerated, nothing happened because the gear was too high. It wasn't just slow, really: nothing happened. We downshifted two gears and all was well again. Okay, we were punished for forgetting; but we like that better than a transmission whose programming is annoyingly overprotective, because it invariably does things you don't want it to, and doesn't do things you do want it to. On the other hand, you can simply select Drive and the transmission does everything automatically.
The ride is excellent, maybe even exceptional. Our 400 hard miles with no stiffness or soreness attests to that. Way out in the country on a long straight road, we hit a series of deep long dips at 100 mph, and the LR2 stayed true, even when the front wheels got a bit light at the top, once. Land Rover says the LR2's monocoque structure is nearly twice as rigid as the competition (whomever that might be), and is exceeded by only the Porsche Cayenne. This airborne test was our way of finding out. The LR2 passed.
Land Rover tested the LR2 on the 13-mile Nurburgring circuit in Germany, where the best and sportiest go for their development. We drove miles of curvy roads more suited to a sports car, and the LR2 handled the challenge remarkably well for an SUV, thanks again to the chassis rigidity, the rubber-mounted front and rear subframes, and the long travel and large diameter of the gas shock absorbers.
Corner Brake Control (CBC) helped keep the rear end stable when we were braking in a corner.
The anti-lock brakes (with electronic front-to-rear distribution and brake assist) use big vented rotors, 12.5 inches in diameter in front and 12.0 inches in rear, and they took all the pressure we put on them for the slow corners, some of which came after long straights at high speed.
The all-wheel-drive system is exclusive to the LR2, and is as high-tech as anything else available, including from Land Rover. It's designed by Haldex, the leader in the field. Most systems use hydraulic coupling of the driveshaft to the rear differential, but in the LR2 it.
The LR2 is a ground-up new model from Land Rover, and it's a technological tour-de-force. It's the smallest and least expensive Land Rover, offering the most bang for the buck. It has a sensational new inline six-cylinder engine built by Volvo, and a smooth six-speed automatic transmission with obedient manual mode. The ride is beyond reproach in all conditions, the cornering is superior for an SUV, the brakes are huge, and the off-road capability is typically Land Rover. The safety structure breaks new ground, with ultra-high-strength steel, crumple zones, seven airbags and electronic safeguards galore.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Santa Barbara, California.
Land Rover LR2 ($33,985).
Options As Tested
Land Rover LR2 ($33,985).
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