Thursday, August 1, 2013

Land Rover LR4, rediscovered

As if the debut of the new Range Rover wasn’t sufficiently newsworthy, who can forget that endlessly looped clip of Prince William strapping the child car seat of HRH Prince George Alexander Louis in a gleaming black Rangie for the young royal’s motor trip home from hospital? Add to this the recent arrival of a new Range Rover Sport, and the still piping-hot Range Rover Evoque, and it is no wonder the LR4 is a bit lost in the hubbub.

It is a shame, really. The LR4, sold as the Discovery 4 outside the US, is a wholly endearing sport-utility vehicle, one that embodies most of the traditional Land Rover virtues at a less-than-stratospheric price.

Within a hair’s breadth below $50,000, the LR4 is still no bargain-hunter’s dream, but even a well-equipped model compares favourably with some decidedly less engaging seven-passenger premium SUVs – none of which can match the Land Rover’s off-road credentials.

Fit and finish befit the House of Windsor, and on the tested vehicle, the impression of quality craftsmanship was furthered by the optional HSE LUX package, which upgraded the leather seating surfaces. A sense of spaciousness is abetted by a high roof, abundant glass and upright seating that gives occupants commanding views in all directions.

The LR4 is also rugged, possessed of a solidity that borders on impregnability. But ride is far more comfortable than the SUV’s off-road bona fides might suggest, same for handling – a surprise given the LR4’s tall, boxy form. The vehicle has been made more luxurious over time, but should a driver endeavor to cross a stream or, say, a continent with more sand than tarmac, it is more than equal to the task.

Land Rover’s excellent 5-litre V8 engine provides the motivation, delivering 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque. Land Rover claims the big seven-seater will hustle from zero to 60mph in 7.5 seconds, but that may be low-balling. The LR4 feels much quicker than that.

One cautionary note, and a not altogether shocking one: The LR4 is thirsty. Even driven gently, it swills gasoline with the same enthusiasm that it devours whatever surface is under its tires. The window sticker notes that drivers can expect to see 12mpg in the city, 17mpg on the highway and 14mpg combined. In a dead-even split of urban street and freeway driving over the course of one week and 450 miles, the test vehicle returned just 13.4mpg.

Land Rover has promised a mild freshening of the LR4 for 2014, when the aging six-speed automatic transmission is retired for a thoroughly modern eight-speed (a move that doubtless will boost fuel economy). An even more luxurious interior and changes to the headlights and bumpers, as well as the addition of a supercharged 3-litre V6 model, will be welcome, and may serve to insert the LR4 back into the family conversation – royal or otherwise.

Vital stats: 2013 Land Rover LR4

Base price: $49,995, inclusive of $895 destination charge
As tested: $64,090
EPA fuel economy: 12mpg city, 17mpg highway
Powertrain: 375hp 5-litre V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, permanent four-wheel drive
Standard equipment: All-terrain dynamic stability control, hill descent control, four-corner electronic air suspension, rear park distance control, keyless entry, straight-grained walnut trim, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power adjustable driver’s and front passenger seats with armrests, power tilt-and-slide front sunroof plus fixed alpine roof, 7in full touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, Homelink
Major options: Seven-seat LUX package (HSE and Climate Comfort packages plus premium leather seating, cooler box, ambient lighting, high-intensity discharge headlights, 8-way power seats with driver’s memory and adjustable bolsters, 17-speaker Harman/Kardon Logic7) $9,225; black design package (20in black wheels, black grill, black grill surround, black side vents, black door handles, black mirror caps, black hood lettering, black badge, black roof rails) $3,500; Sirius satellite radio and HD radio $750; protection package $520
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