Not as sexy as the entry-level Range Rover Evoque, or the chiseled and cut Range Rover Sport, the Land Rover LR4 is the middle child in the Land Rover lineup. Stylistically linked to the tall-roof Discovery of yore, the LR4 still manages to equip its owners with the ability to handle the best and the worst of what the elements have to offer.
Clearly identifiable by its two-tier "Alpine" roofline, the LR4 is as aerodynamic as a Frigidaire side-by-side. Still, it is capable of carrying on the reputation.
Is reputation all it takes to survive in today's SUV market? Read on.
What is it?
A five- or as in our tester's case, seven-passenger SUV, the LR4 is equipped with a 5.0-liter 375 horsepower, 375 lb-ft of torque direct-injection V8 engine that is the only one offered for this particular model range. But that doesn't mean the LR4 has limits. Engineered tough, it is equipped with a full-sized oil pan that can compensate for the extreme angles that the LR4 might be subjected to. That is, of course, if its owners are so inclined.
Going further, the V8 engine breathes through a variable intake manifold that switches from short- to long-length induction chambers depending on the engine load and driver requirements. Power gets to the optional locking rear differential and ultimately the pavement through the use of a six-speed automatic transmission with learning mode that adapts to a particular driving style. Land Rover claims a 0-60 time of 7.5-seconds.
The hallmark of the Land Rover brand is its Terrain Response system. Using electronic controls, it manages, through the turn of a console-mounted dial, to switch between normal, grass/gravel/snow, sand, mud and ruts, and low speed rock crawling settings. An electronic traction control also monitors wheel slippage and can send varying degrees of traction to the corner of the vehicle that needs it most.
Two final features that help to reinforce the rep are the Hill Descent Control, and Gradient Release Control, which use the LR4's anti-lock braking system to creep down steep hills and other extreme angles.
As an added bonus, the LR4 has the ability to tow up to 7,120 lbs.
LR4s start south of $50,000, but our highly-optioned tester came loaded to the gills with a number of luxury and styling packages.
What's it up against?
Land Rover's off-road prowess is legendary. But they are no longer the only game in town. Although the LR4's competitors may not appear to have the guts to take on the Serengeti, that is not necessarily important to buyers anymore.
Shoppers interested in three-row luxury will want to check out the BMW X5, the Lexus GX 460, the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and the Acura MDX.
How does it look?
In light of the Frigidaire reference, imagine a flying brick, although one that is 20 years in the making. Resplendent in Fuji White, our tester was equipped with LR4's new-for-2013 Black Design Package, which offered 20-inch black-finished alloy wheels and all other exterior trim in black, including the imposing Land Rover logo.
It actually transmits a vibe that is more at home on Japanese tuner-cars than British SUVs. Fortunately, more Land Rover-appropriate hues are also available.
Attention to detail makes it a standout from the honeycomb-style grille to the technical-design of the headlights. Contrast-accented rocker panels subtract from the visual masses of a side-view, while the rear glass has a wrap-over appearance due to its extension into the roofline of the car (the Discovery's Alpine windows are long gone). The asymmetrical two-hatch rear door was a real boon for throw and go times where we didn't especially care to open a large rear hatch.
And on the inside?
If you are familiar with any of the Jaguar-Land Rover family of vehicles, the interior of the seven-passenger LR4 will seem mighty familiar as well. Controls are large and extra beefy for easy grip while remaining within easy reach of the driver. Drivers will find a meaty leather-wrapped steering wheel, and soft touch material throughout, including a leather-covered dashboard (new for 2013).
There are also three glass sunroofs that bring extra light into the interior to brightened up our tester's black leather and piano black trim.
The center stack features a seven-inch touchscreen display with a premium harmon/kardon 825-watt, 17-speaker audio system in place of the standard model that pumps out 380-watts through 11 speakers.
Carrying the Frigidaire notion further, our HSE Lux-grade tester even included a cooling box in the center console.
Both second and third row seating have more than 36 inches of legroom, while the way-back offers 42 cubic feet of cargo capacity in normal configuration and increases to 90.3 cubic feet with the middle row seats folded forward. Middle row seating was very comfortable and found us marveling over how our knees did not ever touch the seatbacks of those in the front row.
Row three, on the other hand, is best suited for children. The rearmost seats are thinly padded and they require a long reach to deploy or stow, which might turn off buyers used to pressing a button and watching electronic gizmos do their work.
But does it go?
With power from the 5.0-liter V8 checking in at 375 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, the LR4 moves and moves quite well.
Acceleration from the big V8 is robust, and so is the exhaust note - but not so the fuel economy. While the EPA said the 5,659- lbs. LR4 is good for a less than stellar 12/17 mpg with a combined 14 mpg, we were disappointed with the 11 mpg we actually observed in the city. Not only is the LR4 especially thirsty, it requires premium fuel to keep its nearly 23 gallon tank full. That's a big tank, but at 14 mpg it translates to about 320 miles to empty. Yikes!
Underneath, the constantly adjustable suspension system with automatic load-leveling helps to control the ride. We like these variable systems for their adaptability, but there will be no mistaking that this is not a corner cutter.
Standard on all Land Rovers is the brand's Terrain Management System for adaptability through all kinds of terra, whether firma or not. Located at the base of the center stack, LR4 retains a dial-style unit rather than the new switch affair found in the Range Rover. Although we did not drive through snow or streams, we have done it enough to know the system works. We were, however, able to find a steep incline and once again marveled at the LR4's ability to creep down the side of a hill that to one's eye would otherwise look impossible. Notably, LR4 comes standard with a two-speed transfer case, unlike virtually every rival bar the Lexus GX 460.
On road, the LR4's overall ride was very comfortable and steering was remarkably direct, although we noticed a bit of side wallow, probably owing to the extra shock travel needed when encountering off-road terrain.
LR4 is quiet on the highway, but its tall shape is more prone to being pushed around in crosswinds than some rivals. But at 17 mpg with cruise control engaged, we think there are better open road choices.
Leftlane's bottom line
Land Rover's LR4, now in its 20th season if you include its previous Discovery nameplate, does well as the family-oriented Land Rover off roader.
With a pleasant ruggedness, and over the top interior features, it looks and performs as you would expect from one of the most legendary and enduring marques on the planet. Now if they could only do something to address the less-than adequate fuel mileage figures...
2013 Land Rover LR4 HSE base price, $49,100. As tested, $64,211.
Black lacquer interior trim, $200; Black design package with 20-inch black wheels, $3,500; Sirius Satellite Radio, $700; Seven-seat Lux package, $9,275; Protection package, $541; Destination, $895.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.