Sunday, September 30, 2012

Land Rover LR4 - Be Careful How You Use It

It's a rare treat to test a Land Rover. Designed to tackle the challenges of driving off the pavement and also to look sharp at the country club, these upscale British vehicles have a long history and a special panache.

At the top of the lineup, the Range Rover is king. But a little smaller and easier to manage--both to drive and to finance--is the Land Rover LR4.

You can tell it's a Land Rover, from the bold upright textured grille to the tall rear windows to the side scoop in front of the front doors to the name across the rear asymmetrical tailgate. And inside, it's a special experience too, with rich leather, handsome metallic trim and a killer sound system--as well as highly sophisticated offroad driving technology.

The LR4 is a polished beast. Despite its medium-size SUV appearance, it weighs 5,659 pounds. This gives it a real sense of owning the road (it's pressed down onto the tarmac pretty forcefully). Lucky for its pilot, though, the LR4 comes with a mighty 5.0-liter V8 that churns out 375 horsepower and an equal amount of lb.-ft. of torque. That's good for about a 7.5-second zero to sixty time -- if you feel like driving it quickly.

Of course, you do pay at the pump, and I eked out just14.7 miles per gallon over my test week. The EPA gives the car ratings of 12 City, 17 Highway. The environmental scores are mixed: the Air Pollution score of 6 is surprisingly good, but the Greenhouse Gas score of 1 is the lowest I've seen on a test car.

Inside the car, all is padded, top-quality, and looks like it can withstand any rigors you toss at it. There is a triple sunroof overhead, two gloveboxes, and room for seven folks with all the seats up. I found that with the rear seats folded flat, the 40/20/40 second row made carrying long slender loads easy--even with four passengers. The bass fit in easily--and with the luxurious carpet and low cargo floor, it was a snap.

The front seats themselves are worthy of any posh club or your living room. The leather is old world--soft and supple--and the cabin feels friendly and familiar. I thought the wood trim on the front console looked like it was not originally from a tree, but the doors are lovely to see. 

The audio and video in the car was top-of-the-market. Enjoy the 380-watt harmon/kardon system with its 11 speakers or step up to the The 825-watt Logic7 system with its 17 speakers! Rear riders get twin screens on the two front seatbacks and cordless headphones to watch whatever their hearts desire. The DVD changer is up front. You can connect your game console to take the fun on the road, too. "Are we there yet? Who cares?"

I'm not sure many happy owners take their beautiful four-wheel-drive baby offroad but if they do, there are many ways to tackle it. The fully integrated Terrain Response system lets you move a dial on the center console to select from five different settings, each represented by an icon:
  • General Driving - Where I kept it for my test week
  • Grass/Gravel/Snow - For when you're worried about your wheels slipping
  • Sand - Sand Launch Control makes it easy to start out without getting bogged down
  • Mud and ruts - Bad dirt roads become something easy here
  • Rock Crawl - It applies low level brake pressure when you're maneuvering around on rocks in first or reverse at low speed
You also get Hill Descent Control, which keeps you from rolling too quickly when going downhill. I tried this years ago at an event and it's amazing--and works all by itself. Gradient Release Control also pitches in when going steeply downhill, supplementing braking even when you're not pushing on the pedal. Even more - Gradient Acceleration Control works on the brakes to keep them pumped up and ready for anything. I'm not sure I understand exactly why there are so many different bits of technology at work, but it is a thing of wonder. And it won't make a bit of difference if you just go back and forth with your LR4 on the interstate.

What goes down must sometimes go up. For that, there's Hill Start Assist, which keeps you from moving backwards when you're climbing a hill and move your foot from the brake to the accelerator. Nice when driving in San Francisco.

The remarkable Surround Camera System gives you a near 360-degree view around the car, thanks to five digital cameras. Yes, you get special features in a car like this.

Pricing? If you've been shopping Range Rovers, this will seem like a bargain. The "standard" LR4 begins at $49,950, including shipping. The HSE model, like my tester, comes to $54,175.

The feeling of driving a car like this is intoxicating, but may lead to bad behavior if you don't control yourself. The high, royal driving position, along with the sports car engine power, led me, in a fit of impatience, to change lanes and cut someone off. I knew I could make it, but the man was not amused and followed me home to tell me so. He was right, and I apologized. With great power comes great responsibility, right? If you buy one of these, be careful how you use it.




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