Ford Motor (F) acquired Land Rover from BMW in 2000, and industry watchers saw the deal as a mixed bag. Land Rover's unique SUVs had snooty British cachet, but the vehicles were sluggish, overpriced, and at best, mediocre.
The new Land Rover LR3 cures most of those ills, but it's still pricey. The LR3, the unfortunate new moniker for the old Discovery, is about the size of a $28,000 Ford Explorer, but it starts at $45,000, 32% higher than the Discovery. My test version was $53,000.
True, it's a technological showcase. The Terrain Response system is a nice feature that makes the SUV a real off-roader. With the turn of a knob, the suspension, traction control system, and throttle can adjust to handle almost any kind of terrain. It toggles from standard-drive mode to four others, including one for snow and slick pavement, one for mud and ruts, a sand and gravel mode, and a setting for driving over jagged rocks.
Is the wizardry necessary? After a foot of fresh snow fell on my unplowed street, I rolled through the neighborhood without shifting the vehicle into any alternative terrain mode. It handles deep snow in normal drive just fine.
On the highway, the LR3 is pretty good. The Discovery would have felt frighteningly unstable when changing lanes at 60 mph. I wouldn't suggest aggressively swerving in and out of lanes, but in ordinary driving, the LR3 handles well. The suspension provides a smooth ride.
The interior, however, is not worthy of the price. Land Rover says the plastic on the dashboard is resistant to fading from sunlight. But the battleship-gray plastic in my test model was flat-out ugly. It doesn't look like something befitting a $50,000 SUV and isn't in the same family as the Land Rover's flagship Range Rover, which has one of the most artistic and luxurious cabins in the business and starts at $74,000. The LR3 is roomy and has a $1,250 option for a third row, making it a seven-passenger vehicle. But the seating is a little too upright.
All in all, the LR3 does what Land Rover promises. The 300-horsepower V-8 has more than enough juice. The question is whether to shell out more than $50,000 for some off-road driving hardware you may never use.
By David Welch