Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, Autos.ca
If you’re looking for a sensible family vehicle, the 2011 Land Rover LR4 will not be, as the Brits say, your cup of tea. However, for those open to owning a piece of British automotive royalty that is just as happy mall-crawling as it is rock-crawling, this tall boy from the UK makes for an intriguing proposition.
Sybaritic pleasure and extreme off-roading capability make strange bedfellows, but that’s what Land Rover is all about. As you may know, this model Landie, which sits below the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport in the marque’s hierarchy, experienced a significant metamorphosis for model year 2010, enough that its moniker gained a digit – the LR3 became the LR4.
First, they addressed the LR3’s tippy on-road demeanour, mitigated with the addition of enlarged anti-roll bars, stiffened dampers and a new steering rack. Visually, new headlight clusters, LED taillights and some exterior cosmetic tweaks gave it more upscale distinction. The LR3 to LR4 transformation also included a completely redone interior, bringing it more in line with big brother Range Rover.
The other major improvement was found under the hood. An all-new Jaguar-sourced direct-injection 5.0-litre V8 kicked the horse count up by 75 to 375 hp, along with 375 lb.-ft. of torque. This is a terrific engine, featuring crisp throttle response, linear power delivery and a robust exhaust note. Hooked to a six-speed automatic, the LR4 moves out smartly.
The LR4 is the odd duck here, still sporting a low-speed transfer case and serious off-road capability. But would we expect anything less? It’s a tough cookie, with a unique structure of a monocoque body shell on a ladder frame that Land Rover calls Integrated Body Frame. Building the passenger compartment and engine bay like a unibody vehicle while bolting the drive-train and suspension to a ladder frame pays off in structural rigidity, cabin isolation and towing capacity – 3,500 kg with the optional tow package.The 2011 LR4 kicks off at $59,900, which casts it in a pretty favourable light when looking at the other V8-powered European offerings: the Mercedes-Benz ML550 4Matic at $69,700, the BMW X5 xDrive5.0i at $74,300, and the Porsche Cayenne S at $72,700. The Audi Q7 no longer comes with a V8.
This also makes for a hefty 2,567 kg curb weight. So it’s no surprise this porky SUV with the drag coefficient of a Holiday Inn gets lousy fuel mileage. During my week of testing, the LR4 dented my wallet to the tune of 16.3 L/100 km of premium gas. Ouch.
Owners will need to come to peace with the fact that they are spending extra gas money to haul around a whack of dedicated off-roading kit that they’ll likely never use.
And trust me, what’s not being used is the real deal. Having experienced several days of extreme jungle off-roading in an LR3, I’ve seen what these SUVs are capable of, and it is truly astounding.
The LR4 gets a few upgrades for 2011. They include standard heated steering wheel, Hill Start Assist and Gradient Acceleration Control (helps the driver negotiate severe slopes/gradients encountered in off-road driving conditions), available black lacquer finish interior trim, halogen headlamps on the HSE Package that now include LED signature lighting, premium audio upgrade available on HSE Package and a new Vision Assist Package for HSE and HSE LUX Packages that includes xenon HID headlamps (HSE only, already standard on HSE LUX); Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS; swivelling headlights); Automatic High Beam Assist (AHBA) and a Surround Camera System.
My tester had the full-blown HSE LUX package that adds $10,800 to the bottom line. For this you’re getting a lovely supple leather upgrade, two third-row seats, keyless entry, park-assist and rear-view camera, ambient lighting, memory for driver’s seat, steering column and exterior mirrors, active Xenon headlights, centre console cooler box, and a killer 480-watt 14-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system that is one of the best I’ve heard. Being a musician, this audio would seal the deal for me. It is clear, accurate and uncoloured. Who ever tuned this deserves to be knighted.
Furthering the luxury quotient were the $2,200 Vision Assist Package (five-camera Surround Camera System, Xenon headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting and Automatic High Beam Assist) and $430 in piano black interior trim. So we weren’t hurting for creature comforts or techo-goodies.
Both steering and braking feel get high marks, and the LR4 eats up highway kilometres in serene opulence.On the road, the 2011 LR4 feels like no other SUV in this class. The seating position is high, the belt line is low, and visibility is fantastic – features that make off-roaders happy. It still feels a bit tippy, and brisk cornering is not the LR4’s strong suit, but the ride is smooth and quiet, and the short-ish wheelbase and tight turning circle make this big ute surprisingly manoeuvrable.
The interior is rich, beautifully designed and well crafted, and its uniquely British ambience is enhanced by the smell of fine leather on a warm day. There is enough headroom for a Palace Guard and his bearskin hat.
Not all is scones and clotted cream in here, though. Second row legroom in not generous, and the rear wheel arches cut into the back doors, making ingress and egress awkward.
There was also an intermittent glitch in the driver’s seat memory system where on start up, instead of defaulting to position one, it went somewhere else entirely.The touch-screen infotainment interface feels and looks dated, and if you want the Radio Broadcast Data System active (it relays artist and song information), the station presets show random words or call letters instead of simply “107.1” or “92.5”. Weird.
The two third row seats are certainly serviceable for adults, however, with plenty of headroom, dedicated HVAC vents and cup holders.
If you do venture off road, the LR4 has your back. Air suspension puts it on its tippy toes, and shift-on-the-fly low-speed transfer case along with locking front and rear differentials spell go anywhere capability. Terrain Response, controlled by a rotary dial in front of the shift lever, calls up five programs (General Driving; Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand; Mud and Ruts, and Rock Crawl) that optimize the throttle response, drive-train parameters, traction control, stability control, and transmission mapping for the selected conditions.
There’s more. The LR4 has a deep, pressure die-cast oil pan to accommodate the extreme tilting angles it can negotiate. Belt drives are waterproofed, as are the alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump and starter motor should you find yourself fording a deep stream – none of which makes a lick of sense in the real world. But this is a Land Rover, dammit, and this is what Land Rover does.
The LR4 is quirky, regal, charming, never dull and always cosseting. Smell the leather. Crank up the audio. Twirl the Terrain Response knob and dream of muddy jungle tracks and vast deserts.
Pricing: 2011 Land Rover LR4
Base price: $59,990
Options: $16,410 (HSE LUX Package (7 Seat) $10,800; Santorini Black Metallic Paint $600; Vision Assist Package $2,200; 20″ 10-Split Spoke Alloy Wheels $2,200; Roof Rails $180; Black Lacquer Finish Trim $430)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $77,770
Crash test results