The newest Land Rover, the LR3, goes on sale as you're reading this. We can assume it will be comfy and highly utilitarian for everyday use. We can also assume it will have great seats, plenty of cupholders, and a great audio system. The question is, is it any good on the trail?
We joined Land Rover product engineers on a dusty, rocky trail in California's San Gabriel Mountains and again two weeks later to drive a greasy, partially flooded logging trail through the hilly forests of eastern Canada, near Montreal. Combining both venues, we did about 10 hours operating in Low range. We had the opportunity to jump in and out of the current Discovery and LR3.
We immediately noticed how the LR3 differs from the Discovery. It's bigger. Just by driving to the trailhead, we could see that it exceeds the Discovery when it comes to on-road attributes. The LR3 handles better, is quieter, and is far more responsive to throttle. The interior is more versatile. The Discovery gathers speed slowly and deliberately, while the LR3 is actually fast. Both can seat seven passengers with optional rear seats, but the LR3's rear seats are more comfortable.
While the LR3 is clearly a better soccer-mom SUV than the Disco', that didn't answer our question. To understand a Land Rover, one has to operate in Low range all day and be there when the trail takes a turn for the worse. We did the hours, we were in the hairy situations, and, in the end, we were happy.
The more time we spent in the LR3, the clearer it became that Land Rover project designers understand the needs of four-wheelers. These guys - whoever they are -should be our heroes because they clearly insisted that the details support actual use of the LR3 as a 4x4. The proof is everywhere you look.
Let's start with the engine. As with any good truck engine, the LR3 V-8 delivers more torque (330 lb-ft) than horsepower (300). It's derived from a Jaguar 4.2L V-8 engine, but has been specially modified for the LR3. The Land Rover version is stroked to 4.4L. To cope with extremes of hot and cold, the 4.4L has also been fit with unique water and oil pumps. With the expanded oil sump, the LR3 4.4L can handle continuous side hills and descents as steep as 35 degrees and drive through tilts as high as 45 degrees without any threat to the oil pressure.
The ignition, a modern electronic coil-on-plug type, supports a varying throttle output. So when the LR3 is in rockcrawl mode, the throttle becomes less sensitive, making it very easy to tip in small amounts of throttle. We found that we never unintentionally lurched forward as we moved uphill tire by tire, rock to rock. In our findings, the LR3 V-8 is not just a truck engine. It's an off-road truck engine. The LR3, as the most advanced Land Rover made to date, is the only vehicle to offer the 4.4L V-8.
The suspension is another obvious signal that this SUV was made for use off-road. It's a long-travel double-wishbone independent setup front and rear. The use of electronically controlled air springs allows for multiple modes of operation. The air springs are housed in metal sleeves, so they're less wobbly through the corners than air-sprung suspensions of the past.
When the driver selects off-road mode, the springs gain 2.2 inches of vertical travel, with as much as 10 inches in front and 13 inches in the rear. This amount of travel, combined with truly outstanding brake feel, allowed us to ease down big stair-steps without slamming or bottoming the suspension.
Then there's the drivetrain. Land Rovers have always followed a gearing strategy that called for tallish but very strong ring-and-pinion ratios in the axles and low gears everywhere else. The LR3 conforms to that tradition, with 3.73 gears in the axles, a 4.17 First gear, and a 2.93:1 Low-range gear for a maximum crawl ratio of 45.57:1. We found it easy to operate at very low speeds, uphill and downhill, regardless of how steep the terrain became.
The transmission is a ZF six-speed automatic, with very low ratios in First and Second and a very tall - 0.69 to 1 - Overdrive. Remarkably cooperative, the transmission makes shift decisions based on the driving mode selected. The driver can also choose to operate it as a five-speed manual, locking out Overdrive. We usually selected First gear in manual mode on the downhill side of a steep trail and just let it crawl. The electronic Hill Descent Control (HDC) comes into play on longer, faster downhill movement. This is similar to what we've seen on past Land Rovers and some other impressive off-road-going SUVs, but better. The HDC algorithm can be adjusted through the cruise-control switches on the steering wheel, holding downhill progress to just 1.6 mph in Low range.
The brakes have a lot to do with supporting this kind of control. There are discs on all four wheels, and they're massive stoppers: 13.3-inch discs at the front and 13.8 inches at the rear. They supply impressive stopping power, plus progressive brake feel. There is also a functional parking brake for hill stops. It works as a lever handbrake located on the center console, but is actually electronic and actuates a drum cast into the rear-wheel disc rotors. A fingertip lift tab on the center console controls the brake, and it works very well to secure the vehicle, even in an awkward position.
Not all trail driving is at extremely low speeds. Even moving quickly down graded dirt roads, the LR3 is relaxed, soaking up bumps and maintaining composure across mixed surfaces. Actually, the LR3 is equally at home in a variety of terrains. A dial on the console allows you to choose any of five terrain settings. It may sound like Big Brother all over again, but we found the system (known as Terrain Response) actually makes quicker and better decisions than we could on our own. Select a terrain setting, and the computer works from a particular set of priorities that will adjust the ride height, engine torque response, hill-descent control, electronic traction control, and transmission shifting. The Terrain Response system will lock and unlock differentials in practically instantaneous reactions to slight wheelspin, and each air spring can be extended or collapsed individually, maximizing traction. As a result, the LR3 moves surprisingly effortlessly across irregular surfaces, even with minimal skill from behind the wheel. Terrain Response as has settings for grass/gravel/snow (slippery surfaces), mud/ruts, sand, and rockcrawling.
Unlike most ABS systems, Land Rover's ABS works off-road. This comes into play on graded dirt or gravel roads, where braking control is all the more crucial. Traction is another asset. All newer Land Rovers have a full-time 4WD system, which Land Rover calls Permanent Four-Wheel-Drive. Unlike most full-time systems, the normal operating mode is to split traction 50/50, front to rear, for continuous balance as the vehicle moves across surfaces that have differing friction levels. The advantage is that the system is always ready in case you hit patches of ice, or have to hang two wheels off onto dirt to avoid something in the road. A center differential lock and electronic traction control eliminate wheel spin. If that's not enough for where you're going, however, a locking rear differential is a factory option. We had the locker in our test units, but the traction control in rockcrawl mode was so effective, we never had a chance to use it.
We had some reservations about the tire choices. The standard tires will be of a mud-and-snow tread design, in a wide 255/60R18 radial size. They appear to be biased toward on-road performance and do supply a fair amount of grip on dry pavement. While we wish Land Rover offered a taller, thinner tire on a smaller wheel - if only as an option - we have to admit that these tires performed surprisingly well on the trail. They didn't slip on the dust at about 18 psi and worked surprisingly well in greasy mud, so long as there was a firm bottom to the rut. We did not experience any tire failures during our testing. In our opinion, there's room in the wheelwell for an alternate wheel/tire combination should a more specialized tread be required, but the brakes are large, so wheel choice may be limited.
The basic architecture of the LR3 is another revealing study. Most manufactures are moving toward larger bodies and longer overhangs. Wrestling with the need to offer more carrying capacity than the current Discovery, the LR3 wheelbase was extended 14 inches, but the body length was increased by just 4 inches, resulting in short overhangs. With the air suspension set at the off-road mode, we had maximum approach and departure angles of 37.2 and 29.6 degrees, respectively. Because of these generous angles, we found that there was always a way to pick a line up a given pile of rocks or set of stair-steps, without scuffing the front air dam or dragging the hitch. Although we didn't encounter really deep water during our trail testing, Land Rover has always been known for its ability to roll through standing water without ill effects. The fording depth for the LR3 is 27 inches - practically hood-high.
Steering is remarkably quick for a vehicle with a 114-inch wheelbase. The turning circle is 37.6 feet, requiring just 3.32 turns lock-to-lock. As with the Range Rover, the steering wheel itself is relatively thick, unusually solid, and vibration-free.
Further indications about engineering intentions are equally clear-cut:
The key fob charges itself upon insertion into the lock, resists impact, and is waterproof to a depth of 75 feet.
The grab handles are thick, located exactly where you need them, and do not hurt your hands as you hang from them.
The tailgate is split, so it can be used as a shelf when you camp or an overhead clamshell to protect from the rain and sun.
A fullsize spare is available.
The doors are double-sealed to exclude dust and water.
The in-dash navigation system includes GPS, which can set waypoints and illustrate topography.
There's more to add, but we're out of space. The LR3 clearly is the most advanced expression of Land Rover's design philosophy yet. Most people will probably never know how well the LR3 is adapted to operate in an outdoor environment. We think any recreation-minded enthusiast would appreciate the LR3, but because of the price ($44,994-$49,995 for the HSE), relatively few will be able to own one. Nevertheless, the LR3 does make the statement that Land Rover is back, the company knows who it is, and there's more to come.
Year/make/model: '05 Land Rover LR3
Body/chassis: integrated body/frame with hydroformed boxed steel ladder frame and welded steel monocoque underbody; double-sided, zinc-coated steel outer body panels
Engine: 4.4L 268ci; 90-degree V-8 with aluminum alloy block and cylinder heads
Performance: 300 hp at 5,500 rpm; 315 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm; 0-60 in 8 seconds; top speed of 121 mph
Suspension: multiple-mode electronically controlled air suspension with automatic load leveling; independent front and rear with double-wishbone construction; 10 inches of maximum wheel travel at the front; 13 inches of maximum vertical wheel travel at the rear; selectable multimode Terrain Response System controls
Drivetrain: full-time four-wheel drive with four-wheel electronic traction control
Transmission: ZF six-speed electronically controlled with Sport and Manual modes; transfer gearbox: two-speed electronic transfer gearbox with shift-on-the-move capability
Ratios: High - 1.00:1; Low - 2.293:1
Final drive ratio: 3.73:1
Brakes: power-assisted four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with four-channel all-terrain ABS; Emergency Brake Assist (EBA); Cornering Brake Control (CBC); Active Roll Mitigation (ARM); all-terrain Dynamic Stability Control (DSC); Hill Descent Control (HDC)
Wheels: 18x8-inch aluminum alloys on SE model; 19x8-inch alloys on HSE
Tires: 255/60HR18 mud/snow radials on SE; 255/55R19 on HSE
Steering: power-assisted rack-and-pinion; turns lock-to-lock: 3.32; turning circle of 37.6 feet
Overall length: 190.9 inchesOverall width: 75.4 inchesOverall height: 74.1 inchesWheelbase: 113.6 inchesTrack (front/rear): 63.2/63.5 inches
Ground clearance: 7.3-inch underbody, standard mode; 10.6 inches under rear axle in off-road modeAngle of approach: 32.2-37.2 degrees (in off-road mode)Angle of departure: 24.9-29.6 degrees (in off-road mode)Ramp breakover angle: 22.8-27.9 degrees (in off-road mode)Maximum side slope: 35 degrees (continuous)Maximum fording depth: 27.6 inches (in off-road mode)