Like the arrival of a comet, a new Land Rover is a rare and memorable event. There have been just nine new models in the last 56 years. Characterized by an uncommonly focused reconciliation of opposing engineering priorities-street luxury and trail excellence-Land Rovers have been conspicuous suppliers of gracious transportation since the advent of the first Range Rover. The formula is to combine an industrial-strength, even military, framework with a thoughtful, if somewhat eccentric, luxury cabin. The result is a high-utility product that instills confidence in operator and passengers alike.
The LR3 is essentially a family Range Rover, but with updated systems and components that the Range Rover does not offer. It is bristling with electronic enhancements tailored to handle off-highway driving.
The LR3 is new from the ground up for '05, including the chassis, the engine, the transmission, the interior, and everything else.
The engine is a 4.4L version of Jaguar's DOHC V-8, stroked to deliver more torque (315 lb-ft) than horsepower (300 at 5,500 rpm). For Land Rover use, the engine received a protected air intake, and water and oil pumps that allow the engine to be properly cooled and lubricated at 45-degree tilts and 35-degree side slopes. The chassis is essentially a heavily braced unibody, in which the body and frame are integrated. Hydroformed pieces are used to create a front structure that crushes on frontal impact-to spare the other guy, poor devil.
The LR3 has extremely powerful brakes, a necessity in a vehicle weighing just under 6,000 pounds. The hardware is impressive-the biggest discs, all ventilated-but it is the way they are controlled that makes them impressive. In the LR3, there are no fewer than seven different systems that can intervene to improve cornering control, adjust brake force, or to restrict downhill speeds in low range, to name a few. As a result, an LR3 driver on a narrow highway can hang two wheels into the dirt to avoid a stray dog and swing right back on to the road again, with no drama.
It would take 10 pages to explain every system, but they work, and they all seem to have been thought through by hard-core four wheelers and experienced adventure drivers. For example, Descent Control on the LR3 is adjustable via the cruise control switch on the steering wheel, so you can dial in the amount of speed you feel best.
The new engine is far more willing to rev than previous Land Rover V-8s, and gives away less torque to the competition than in previous generations. It might not be the biggest or most powerful of this bunch, but the LR3 gets up to speed pretty fast, with good passing power on the highway. It is backed by a six-speed Tiptronic-style transmission, which gives the driver the option of hanging on to a gear when climbing hills or towing loads. The rest of the time, we liked the automatic mode just the way it was. One tester blurted out, "It almost reads your mind."
Nevertheless, it is on the trail the LR3 shines most brightly. The LR3 is possessed of the lowest crawl ratio by far, complemented by a computer-modulated throttle control in Rock Crawl mode that makes exquisitely progressive throttle tip-in an easy matter. In Rock Crawl mode, a slipping tire will spin just a half turn before traction control kicks in ... and the LR3 moves ahead. Rock Crawl mode is just one of five selectable operating modes that the driver can choose, depending on the conditions. Each mode optimizes the response of the engine, transmission, differentials, dynamic systems and air suspension, depending on the nature of the surface, the speed and driver input.
Then there is the long-travel air-spring suspension, which cycles between operating levels that can supply 10 inches of vertical travel in the front and 13 inches in the rear. On the soft side in normal paved-road use, the suspension delivers remarkable droop on the trail, keeping tires in contact with the ground.
Optional tires compromised on-road composure, notably during cornering at what we admit would be illegal speeds. Even so, with the suspension geared more toward ride comfort and equipped with taller tires designed for off-road terrain, testers experienced significant body roll, with cornering power somewhat less than average. The off-road tires also probably did not help acceleration at the track, or enhance braking distances. The point is, if you decide to order the tires, make sure you need the maximum in off-highway performance.
On one high-speed leg south toward Los Angeles, a gas gauge actually appeared to gain fuel as we drove. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We found the 4.4L V-8 revs willingly, so we drove it that way, ending up with an overall average of 13.8 mpg over tankfuls on the highway, around town, and in low range.
Testers awarded the LR3 top points for off-road performance. The LR3 glided over rocks and obstacles without spinning a tire, it retained composure over washboard, it maneuvered extremely well for a vehicle of its size, and we all fought to drive it. The LR3 seems to be the best Land Rover ever. But in the end, it fell short by less than a point, beaten by 200 lb-ft of torque and the stunning rally-car charisma of our winner.
* "Incredible capability to climb obstacles"
* "This thing is like a vault off-road. No squeaks, no rattles. Phenomenal."