DETROIT — No adventure is successful without a safe return home. That is the guiding wisdom of all road trips undertaken by me and my wife, Mary Anne.
We will sacrifice economy in pursuit of that goal. Our priorities for long drives are safety, comfort and enjoyment of motoring.
To those ends, for our 564-mile drive here to the 25th North American International Auto Show from our home in Northern Virginia, we chose the 2014 Land Rover LR4 sport-utility vehicle outfitted with the HSE luxury package.
There were two substantially more fuel-efficient vehicles in our driveway — our own Mini Cooper and a borrowed 2014 Nissan Altima. But we’ve driven here for previous Detroit shows — moving northwest through Maryland into Pennsylvania along the always challenging Pennsylvania Turnpike into the flatlands of Ohio and, literally, racing along the southern portion of Michigan’s I-75 (an insanely high-speed road even in foul weather) into Detroit. It is not a trip for wimp-mobiles, especially that segment involving the narrow, twisting, mountainous, seemingly always-under-construction-or-repair, truck-laden, snow-and-ice-vulnerable Pennsylvania Turnpike.
For that drive, we always overprepare. We pack an emergency kit — blankets, bottled water, dried food rations, flashlights, batteries, hand-crank radio, backup GPS devices and emergency cellphone chargers. We always take a four-wheel-drive vehicle — one that could get us to Detroit and back to Virginia in a snowstorm, and one that could serve as temporary shelter if we really ran into trouble.
The new LR4 served our purposes just fine, although the Virginia-to-Michigan price for premium gasoline was a bit steep at $112 (figure double, of course, for the round trip). It could’ve cost more had we been in a 2013 version of the LR4 equipped with a 5-liter gasoline V-8 (375 horsepower, 375 pound-feet of torque). That engine delivered 12 miles per gallon in the city and 17 on the highway, also sucking premium fuel all the way.
For 2014, Land Rover went for better fuel economy with a new 3-liter aluminum-alloy V-6 with direct fuel injection (340 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque). The smaller, lighter new engine delivers 19 miles per gallon on the highway and 14 in the city while helping to alleviate the weighty, ponderous on-road handling of the predecessor LR4.
But, again, fuel economy was the least of our concerns. We’ve seldom driven to Detroit in January without running into snow and ice, especially along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We have never driven that turnpike without running into potholes — big ones, lots of them. The LR4, equipped with permanent four-wheel drive with traction control, easily handled the remains of a recent snowstorm. It dismissed the turnpike’s multiple structural insults, never once losing its confident demeanor or otherwise hinting at a loss of control. Credit the LR4’s four-corner electronic air suspension, which calms the vehicle over rough roads and helps to keep it balanced in twists and turns.
Land Rover historically over-engineers its vehicles, building all of them for worst-case scenarios. Most people who buy Land Rovers will never use the SUVs’ full potential. Our LR4, for example, came with the manufacturer’s Hill Descent Control to ease us down steep inclines without burning up the brakes. The Terrain Response suspension system could be electronically adjusted for best traction in snow and ice. In the event that we might have had to venture off-road, we could have adjusted the suspension for that trek, too. But we used none of that stuff. We didn’t use anything in our emergency travel kit, either. We simply enjoyed the peace of mind of knowing all of those things were there if we needed them.
The LR4’s six-cylinder engine numerically does not pack as much horsepower as the V-8 it replaces. But we didn’t notice that deficit in the high-speed insanity of I-75 into Detroit. The new LR4 responded instantly to the need for speed, moving quickly out of the way of fellow motorists for whom 80 mph in a 70-mph zone was not fast enough.
We arrived here safely, ensconced in a plush passenger chamber trimmed with leather and walnut. It was a beautiful, fun run. Happiness is looking forward to the drive back home.