It would be pretty easy to blame all of Land Rover’s ills merely on either the economic collapse of the entire industry or the steep decline in SUV sales segment-wide. Of course, if that were the case, than Jeep would be one of the weakest brands instead of one of the strongest. More realistically, they have only themselves to blame for their troubles. A comparison with Jeep illustrates Land Rover’s most prominent mistake. After building one of the strongest reputations on go-anywhere, do-anything capabilities, Land Rover began focusing almost exclusively on becoming a luxury brand, opening themselves up to big losses when money was tight with consumers.
While Land Rover has had high hopes that the LR3 would help make amends for this misdirection, they have only been partially successful.
As a result, the first vehicle completely designed under Ford’s leadership will probably be its last and will be dumped in 2010 for a redesigned and renamed LR4 version.
Land Rovers consistently perform admirably in off-road situations. And the LR3 continues that tradition. This is not just lip service. We have no doubt that if the chips were down and we needed the LR3 to extricate us from a boulder-strewn gully somewhere that it would get the job done. To that end, Land Rover has kept the power-train unchanged for 2009 with the same 330 horsepower, 4.4-liter V8 as in the previous year. With weight of 5,880 lbs, this power is more than enough for both on and off-road motoring. Though not winning any sprints, it is capable of hauling its substantial self from 0 to 60 in a respectable 8 seconds.
Test drivers find the 2009 LR3 quite nimble for its large size. They are especially impressed by the responsive steering given its out-of-this-world all-terrain abilities. Handling, both on and off pavement, is impressive with four-wheel-drive coupled with Electronic Traction Control (ETC), a two-speed electronic transfer gearbox and Land Rover’s venerated “Terrain Response” system. Not surprisingly, however, is the rather top heavy feel of the LR3 which does not lend itself to confidence in pushing the vehicle to spirited driving in certain conditions. But the same could be said of many SUVs, and the LR3 is just as capable as most in this category. However, while handling is strong and power plentiful, it isn’t managed particularly well by a six-speed automatic transmission that according to testers was prone to occasional up and downshift at inopportune moments.
Land Rover may not have sacrificed much in performance, but they are asking their dwindling potential consumer base to make up for that at the pump with an EPA estimated 12 mpg in the city and 17 on the highway. With premium gas no less.
Beyond off-road prowess, the LR3 sports one of the most attractive exterior designs in this class. It isn’t easy to design a vehicle to look at home both on and off-road, but the LR3 succeeds as much as any contender. Although in some respects, it may be too pretty to chance scratching on some low hanging branch. At any rate, it’s squared-off dimensions seem to align themselves correctly with traditional Land Rover styling, as the successor to the Discovery, and as a mini-version of the flagship Range Rover. Standard exterior updates for 2009 include 19-inch wheels, body colored wheel arches, revised front and rear bumpers, and revised door handles.
Depending on the context in which you evaluate the interior, conclusions about the cabin are mixed. Mostly the LR3 suffers from unfair comparisons to the Range Rover, which outclasses it in most respects. And it should, being that it is the automakers most expensive model. The LR3 is far more utilitarian than its upscale sibling. But evaluated next to more reasonable rivals, especially domestic, will result in largely complimentary overtures towards the cars opulence and refinement.
Inside, minor upgrades for 2009 include straight-grained walnut wood or black lacquer wood, almond leather with “nutmeg” carpet and optional third-row seating and rear climate control extras. In base-mode the LR3 offers 19-inch wheels, leather seating, a sunroof, a nine-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. Also standard is a full array of safety equipment, including front, side and side curtain airbags. The HSE option package comes standard with heated front and rear seats, Bluetooth, a power tilt steering wheel, a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system and a navigation system. The HSE luxury package adds further luxury niceties including upgraded leather and an adaptive headlight system.
A benefit to the exterior proportions is an airy cabin outfitted with comfortable seats and intuitive controls. The focus for those leaning towards utility over comfort will be satisfied by the LR3’s previously mentioned Terrain Response system, as well as Hill Descent Control, adjustable ground clearance capabilities, traction control, and an electronic air suspension.
Although the LR3 is classified as a mid-size SUV, the third row of seats are not destined for just kids with room enough, barely, for 6 foot tall occupants. Cargo capacity as a whole is a particular strength of the LR3 with a total of 90 cubic feet of storage available with both the 2nd and 3rd rows folded flat. The space itself does not form a completely flat area, but enough so that the LR3 performs hauling applications with ease.
With a starting price of $46,825, the mid-size LR3 requires a not-so-midsize budget. In actuality, were the company not dogged by pre-Ford quality and reliability issues, $50K would not present itself as an insurmountable obstacle in owning the preeminent off-road nameplate. But because potential owners are most likely to use it for grocery duty and not herding duty, the LR3 just doesn’t fit into many people’s lifestyle.