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2011 Land Rover Discovery LR4 Review and Road Test By Steve Purdy +VIDEO

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Land Rover Buyers Guide - Comparisons, Specs and Prices

An SUV for the Sophisticated Safari-er
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The name Range Rover brings to mind big, tough, noisy safari trucks rattling across the African savanna in search of wild game.

Among British brands Range Rover has been one of the most iconic, along with Rolls Royce and Jaguar. Advancements in technology have brought this, and every other car and truck, legions beyond anything Jungle Jim could have dreamed of.

It seems a bit ironic that the Brits own none of those classic British brands. The Germans (BMW) own Rolls Royce and MINI and the huge Indian conglomerate, Tata, owns both Jaguar and Range Rover. Fortunately, Tata has continued to allow the two British brands to keep their character as new models are developed.

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This week we are testing the luxurious Land Rover LR4, the barely smaller sibling to the safari trucks of yore. This tall, stylish, 7-passenger, body-on-frame, SUV strikes an imposing and erect pose in my driveway with sort of an industrial art feel. Big, intricate headlight housings with xenon projection units inside dominate the front view. From the rear, the asymmetric two-piece tailgate suggests a design focused on both aesthetics and utility. Side views suggest a stylish box with lots of detail. Though we did not find the actual number, I expect the coefficient of drag is a just a few clicks better than a brick.

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We find under the hood - or bonnet, I guess we should say, since we still think of this as a British truck – a torquey, direct-injected, 5.0-liter, aluminum alloy, V8 engine making 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque. The company claims a 0-100-kph (62-mph) time of 7.9 seconds for this 5,600-pound tough guy. We have no reason to doubt that claim as we found the acceleration entirely satisfying, especially considering the size and weight of this truck. The EPA estimates a less-than-impressive 12-mpg in the city and 17 on the highway. With a 20-gallon-plus fuel tank we can still get a good 350-mile range. Premium fuel is recommended.

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Getting the power to the road or trail is accomplished with a 6-speed ZF automatic transmission and a 2-speed electronically controlled transfer box with front and rear split and lockable center differential. The transmission has adaptive electronic programming that continually adjusts itself to road conditions and driving style for maximum adaptability. We can set the system’s priorities to a variety of road conditions and we can influence the transmission’s behavior with three different settings. All in all, this drivetrain could probably out think the original space shuttle. I wish I could be testing the LR4 during the worst of our winter weather to challenge its versatility.

Towing capacity is just about 7,700 pounds and cargo limit is about 1,500 pounds. The standard ride height is 7.28 inches but we can raise that to 9.5 inches with the standard air suspension. Cranked all the way up we can ford 27.5-inch-deep water. If you’re doing serious off-roading you’ll be impressed to see that the Land Rover LR4 can manage an approach angel of 37.2 degrees, break-over angle of 27.9 degrees and a departure angle of 29.6 degrees. Beneath the truck we have lots of strategically placed skid plates to protect the vulnerable parts.

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Inside, cargo capacity is impressive as well. With both third and second row seats folded we have a cavernous 90.3 cubic-feet of space. With just the third row folded we have 42.1 cubic-feet. And with all the seats in place we still have a good 9.9 cubic feet. The rear seatbacks release easily from either inside the rear hatch or at the side.

Our Monrony (price sticker) shows a base price of $47,650, though the official Website shows nearly a grand more. The basic truck comes mighty well equipped with 19-inch wheels and tires, permanent four-wheel drive with traction control, a two-speed transfer gearbox, six-speed automatic transmission, hill descent control, four-corner electronic air suspension, six airbags, side impact beams at all four doors, front and rear fog lamps, halogen projector beam headlights with washers, rear park distance control, steering wheel audio controls, dual-zone HVAC, folding outside mirrors and too much more to list. Suffice it to say that it comes very well equipped.

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Our sticker shows that the black lacquer interior finish costs $350 extra and the 20-inch, 10-split-spoke alloy wheels add another $2,500. The Vision Assist Package includes five cameras around the truck and adaptive front lighting for $1,200. We also have the “Seat LUX Package” costing $9,165 including special climate packages, premium leather seats, ambient lighting Xenon headlights, passive keyless entry, cooler box, 8-way power front seats with memory and adjustable bolsters and 480-watt Harmon/Kardon sound system with 14 speakers. Grand total with the $850 destination charge is $61,715.

“So, how does that all come together on the road,” you ask?

“Mighty well,” I contend.

First impressions upon hopping in for my first drive to the city were of a luxurious, competent, truck-like SUV. We sit very high, as you might surmise, and with slow steering input and a massively broad hood it felt remarkably similar to the new Ford Super-duty pickup I reviewed a few months ago. Out on the road it is quiet and smooth, unlike trucks of yore.

Handling is tight and controlled with less than expected lean on the cloverleaf freeway ramps. It is a truck, after all, so we needn’t expect sports car-like cornering. Our country two-lane is rippling rapidly and the LR4 felt a bit jumpy where the road was at its worst. Otherwise, on reasonably good roads the suspension felt well balanced.

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Interior design is attractive but very busy with knobs, buttons and touch screen poised to control an amazing array of functions. I had no trouble figuring out how to manage it all, including the navigation options. The only niggle to note is that, as I tried to adjust the outside rear-view mirrors, I kept inadvertently folding them as if preparing for the car wash. That little function needs some attention.

Acceleration is brisk and smooth with barely perceptible shifts either up or down. Seats are generous and comfortable making long drives a breeze. In spite of its size we found nothing to criticize in the area of maneuverability. The rear view camera made it easy to stay out of trouble when backing up. Turning radius is good. Over all, I would characterize the driving experience as excellent.

Warranty covers the whole vehicle for 4 years or 50,000 miles including the powertrain. Corrosion is covered for 6 years and unlimited miles. The first scheduled service is free.

If you are one of those driving enthusiasts who are turned on by the ambiance of luxury off-roading and for whom fuel mileage is not crucial, this might be the truck for you. Or if you like the capability of decent trailering and like to project a certain image of upper crust adventuring, take a look at this beauty.

I would like to know, though, how many owners of the Land Rover and Ranger Rover SUVs actually use them for recreational and utilitarian purposes. I’ll bet not many. But if you had one, you sure could.

Watch the Discovery LR4 take on a Vermont winter

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved