Automotive technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds. So much so that technology has become niche-specific for sports cars, touring cars, trucks and, now, SUVs. Land Rover has always been at the forefront of off-road technology, bringing off-roading to the commuting masses. Land Rover's vehicles have long outgrown the multi-row cab-on-truck-frame design and were the first to have many features that are now considered SUV standards.
The LR3 comes as the replacement for the intermediate Discovery model. It is a totally new vehicle-the first to be developed since Ford's purchase of Land Rover-and features functionalities and quality to rival the Range Rover, but starts at just below $45K. The LR3 inherits some of the striking features of the Discovery, such as the stepped roof and rear windows, and similar exterior dimensions, but is styled to look more like the current Range Rover with projector embedded headlights and a chrome-appointed interior. On the interior, everything from the standard Terrain Response and ride-height controls to an optional independently powered drink cooler is packaged in. There really wasn't much that the Range Rover has inside that the LR3 doesn't as well. The idea is to gain sales numbers in the medium luxury SUV market comparable to the popular Range Rover. I'm more curious as to how much the next Range Rover will have to improve to be able to top the LR3.
Most appealing about the LR3 is the advanced driving features packaged in both SE and HSE models. Standard to the LR3 is the Jaguar-derived 300-bhp 4.4-liter, dohc, aluminum V8. This is the most powerful engine Land Rover offers in its entire line and comes mated to a six-speed ZF automatic transmission. The engine, driveline, suspension and lower portion of the cab monocoque are all neatly tucked between a full steel frame hydroformed to minimize void space. This increases safety, and suspension travel is maximized without unnecessarily raising the vehicle.
Land Rover calls this an Integrated Body-frame(tm) architecture. All critical components are tucked and shielded within the protective confines of the frame. There is 10 in. of travel in the airbag supported double wish-bone front suspension and 13 in. in the multi-link rear. The continuously active airbag suspension and large range of suspension travel helps the LR3 conquer 45-degree slopes, 35-degree roll grades and wade through 28 in. of water.
Granted, these numbers are not difficult feats for any credible off-roading vehicle to deal with, but the LR3 is special in that it automatically deals with these conditions, allowing drivers with minimal off-road experience to take it to the limit. The Terrain Response(tm) system, standard on all LR3s, is the heart that governs the LR3's operating features, making this possible.
Based on testing performed on 50 different types of off-road surfaces, Land Rover engineers created five selectable modes of Terrain Response operation: general driving; various slippery conditions, such as snow, gravel and grass; mud and ruts; sand; and rock crawl. Each program has specifically calibrated characteristics that affect the engine management and throttle response, transmission shift points, air suspension ride height, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), traction control and anti-lock brake force distribution, Hill Decent Control (HDC) and the locking rates for the center and rear electronic differentials.
Some conditions call for more wheel spin and less sensitivity to locking brakes, others require more throttle modulation and less sensitivity. In a nutshell, by simply selecting the appropriate mode, the LR3 intelligently copes with almost all traction conditions, making the off-road experience far more intuitive. Rock crawling for a first-time off-roader like me presented no difficulties. The limitation was more on account of my fear than what the LR3 was capable of performing.
It's fairly unlikely that most LR3 owners will use the full off-road capabilities of this SUV. That's why the LR3 was also developed with near car-like on-road manners. Though there is a tremendous amount of vertical clearance the SUV does not physically ride very high, thanks to the integrated frame design and independent suspension. The use of a cross-linked air suspension adds stability around corners by automatically distributing spring forces to the opposite corner of the vehicle.
With all the innovative features in the LR3, Land Rover again establishes itself as the SUV technology leader with purposeful off-road aids and yet further refined on-road luxury.