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New SUV Is Right on Course

2005 Land Rover LR3

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2004; Page G01


The heavily wooded areas surrounding this quaint Canadian town are filled with wildlife. There are cougars, elk and mountain goats; and, deep within the tapestry of the nearby Kenauk Reserve, there is the hum of a fleet of Land Rover sport-utility vehicles.

Nowadays, you are most likely to spot the newest of three Land Rovers sold in North America. It is the 2005, mid-size Land Rover LR3, currently undergoing final testing, mostly abusive off-road driving, at the Land Rover Experience Driving School at Kenauk.

2005 Land Rover LR3

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: Computer glitch on tested pre-production models led to several brief engine stalls on steep hill climbs. Land Rover engineers said the matter will be corrected with new sensors in production models.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent on-road manners, excellent off-road competence. The several engine stalls raised eyebrows; but they were not significant enough to undermine the overall laudatory performance of the LR3.

Head-turning quotient: Aggressive without being visually offensive. Credit here goes to Land Rover designers' insistence on a clean, cladding-free exterior.

Body style/layout: The LR3 is a mid-size, front-engine, permanent all-wheel-drive SUV with four side doors and a rear hatch. The LR3 is available as the base SE and upscale HSE, the latter including a navigational system as standard equipment. In market position, it falls between the full-size Land Rover Range Rover and the compact Land Rover Freelander.

Engine/transmission: The LR3 comes with a new 4.4-liter V-8 that develops 300 horsepower at 5,500 revolutions per minute and 315 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 RPM. The engine is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission that can also be operated manually.

Capacities: The LR3 has seating for up to seven people. Estimated payload capacity is 1,695 pounds. Estimated towing capacity is 3,000 pounds. Fuel capacity is 22.8 gallons of required premium unleaded.

Mileage: Estimated on-road mileage was 18 miles per gallon, combined city-highway. Environmental Protection Agency mileage ratings were not available at this writing.

Safety: Dual-stage-deployment front air bags; side air bags and head curtain bags; rigid body structure.

Price: Prices are not yet firm at this writing. The preliminary base price for the LR3 SE is $44,995. The HSE initially will start at $49,995, according to Land Rover.

Purse-strings note: The LR3 is easily one of the most competent mid-size SUVs on-road and off. It's a buy.

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It is a tough off-road course. There are many rocks, lots of deep mud and seriously rutted ruts. There are fallen logs of various dimensions; and there is a man-made log bridge, a scary thing consisting of three huge logs on the bridge's right and left, the whole thing supported by huge cross-members atop poles sunk into a ravine.

I feared crossing that one, especially inasmuch as there was a gap about two feet wide running down the bridge's middle. But I slipped LR3's gearbox into first and low, prayed and drove across without incident.

There is a tendency after such triumphs to fall in love with the thing that facilitated victory. I did. But it was affection beyond infatuation, which is significant in regard to the LR3, which replaces the much-maligned Land Rover Discovery.

The Discovery was a troubled SUV, replete with rear windows that leaked in the rain. The all-wheel-drive LR3, which goes on sale in the United States in November, represents a substantial improvement.

The LR3 is a larger vehicle -- its wheelbase is 14 inches longer than that of the Discovery. That helps to give it a better on-road ride. It is laden with technology, all of it purposeful and useful.

But two technical attributes of the LR3 stand out among the rest. They are the new SUV's Integrated Body-Frame (IBF) structure and its wonderfully effective Terrain Response system.

There lately has been a trend of building SUVs in the manner of cars and minivans. Car companies have been using a unibody structure -- that is, an all-in-one frame to which various chassis and other components are attached.

The benefits of unibody construction include a lighter-weight body, one that rides and handles more like a car and that causes less damage to smaller cars in crashes. But off-roaders, and there are many, have remained unimpressed with unibody performance in the rough, which is why Nissan Motor Co., for example, has gone back to traditional body-on-frame SUV construction in its 2005 Pathfinder.

The LR3 offers a compromise -- two high-strength frame rails mated to a rigid body structure. The result is a vehicle body that better manages crash energy and improves on-road driving without undermining off-road performance.

Terrain Response uses a rotary knob on the LR3's center console to select one of five terrain settings: general on-road driving, slippery on-road and unimproved road (grass, gravel or rain/snow); and three off-road settings (mud/ruts, sand and rocks).

Terrain Response automatically adjusts the vehicle's ride height, engine torque, hill descent control, electronic traction control and transmission settings to best suit the road being traveled.

There were some complaints on the day-long test drive that Terrain Response took some of the fun out of driving off-road. I was not among the complainants. For me, roughing it is a day on the trail without accident or incident, and with a warm bath and bed ready at the end of my labors.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company