In case the photos didn't give it away, our reason for being in Morocco was to testdrive the 2008 Land Rover LR2, the replacement to the much-maligned Freelander in the LR stable. Based off Ford's new C1 chassis architecture, the LR2 shares much of its underpinnings with the new Volvo XC60 crossover, but it also has a few high-tech tricks of its own to give it a measure of 'wheelability unique to the Land Rover brand.
The LR2 is powered by a transverse-mounted 3.2L inline six that produces 230 peak horsepower and 234 lb-ft of torque, and is backed by a six-speed Aisin manumatic gearbox and Haldex electronic center coupling that uses a multiplate hydraulic clutch to provide continuously variable torque splits front to rear. As with the Freelander, there's no low-range gear, so the LR2 is, yep, a full-time all-wheel drive. It does, however, have some features that make it more trailable than your run-of-the mill crossover, including LR's multimode, suspension-adjusting Terrain Response system sourced from the LR3, and an ABS-actuated Hill Descent control with Gradient Response, which automatically tunes brake-line pressure to throttle input on steep hills. Suspension is independent coil/strut at both ends; 60-series tires on 18x8-inch alloy rims comprise rolling stock; and interior amenities include 14-speaker Dolby Pro Logic, Sirius satellite, heated seats-the works.
We drove the LR2 over a variety of surfaces in Morocco, and found its on- and off-pavement manners superior in every way to the old Freelander's. Pavement handling was a pleasure, with peppy acceleration and nimble front-drive handling characteristics, and the Rover's grippy Continental 4x4 Contact tires provided excellent adhesion to the tarmac. On the trail, the LR2 was surprisingly supple for a unibody, even in eroded sluices and on rocky trails, where Terrain Response and Hill Descent proved their mettle. (And as we found, there are lots of rocks in Mo'Rocko.) Our only real grousing occurred at the beach, where a relative lack of low-end torque-and tires that are better diggers than flingers-helped us bury the LR in the dunes when we failed to keep our revs up.
In sum, the LR2's on-road performance is as refined and sophisticated as you'd expect from this upscale marque, its off-pavement prowess is the best of any crossover we've driven to date-and frankly, we can think of a few "real" 4x4s we've driven in recent years that aren't noticeably more trailworthy than the new AWD Landy. Whether that speaks ill of current OE offerings in four-wheel drive, we're loath to say, but if any manufacturer should be expected to build a crossover that's genuinely capable on all types of trails, it would be Land Rover-and based on our experience with the LR2, we'd have to say they've accomplished the feat. FW
Vehicle model: 2008 Land Rover LR2
Base price: $34,700
Engine: 3.2L transverse I-6
Valvetrain: DOHC; VVT, four valves/cyl.
Aspiration: Sequential EFI
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 230 @ 6,300
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 234 @ 3,200
Transmission: Aisin-Warner six-speed manumatic
Max low gear (:1): 15.56
Suspension (f/r): Independent coil/strut, stabilizer bar / independent coil/strut, stabilizer bar
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes (f/r): 12.5-inch vented disc/12-inch vented disc
Wheels/Tires (tested): 18x8 alloy/P235/60R18 Continental 4x4 Contacts
Wheelbase (in): 104.7
Length (in): 177.1
Width (in): 85.7
Height (in): 68.5
Curb weight (lb): 4,255
Min ground clearance (in): 8.3 (front diff)
Approach angle (deg): 29
Departure angle (deg): 32
Fuel capacity (gal): 18.5
Max towing capacity (lb): 3,500 (braked)
Max EPA mileage estimates (city/hwy mpg): 18/24
Seating capacity: 5