I'm a bit of an Anglophile. I love Monty Python, the Beatles, Shakespeare and Land Rover. So when I got a chance to drive the most accessible Land Rover, the 2009 Land Rover LR2 HSE, I was quite chuffed. Known in Europe as the Freelander 2, the 2009 Land Rover LR2 HSE arrives here in the Colonies with a base price of $35,375 ($43,700 as tested) with a 4 year/50,000 mile basic warranty and EPA estimates of 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway. Let's drive.
In 2008, Land Rover came under new ownership, Tata Motors of India. Time will tell how the new stewards of the brand develop new product, as the current LR2 arrives substantially unchanged since 2007. After a run as the Freelander from 1996 -- 2006, LR2 is based on a European Ford mid-size car platform that underlies the Ford Mondeo sedan, the Volvo V70 wagon and new XC60 crossover, among other vehicles. LR2 is still quite British -- final assembly takes place in Halewood and 63% of the parts, including the engine, originate in old Blighty.
Most importantly, LR2's styling is distinctly British and all Land Rover. LR2 shares some styling cues with big brother LR3 -- most distinctly, the line of the hood (or bonnet, fellow Anglophiles) and the dual daylight openings (DLO) on the profile. In profile, the front two side windows and b-pillar form one DLO, bound by the shoulder line, roof line, A-pillar and C-pillar. The cargo compartment has its own unique, geometrical DLO, and the two shapes set up a dissonance that brings to mind iconic Land Rovers past, tempered with a flavor of urban sophistication.
A few upscale features elevate LR2 over the common crossover. A functional engine compartment vent on the front quarter panel wears a wire mesh insert. The big embouchement at the front of the vehicle is lined with a flat diamond grille, a simplified echo of the three-dimensional cheese grater that leads the Range Rover Supercharged down the highway. 19" aluminum alloy wheels are standard equipment this year, and they look great.
In the Driver's Seat
The ambiance of an English gentleman's study, updated with today's technology. That's the feeling I get from the LR2's cabin. Nicely chosen materials cover each surface, especially the ones that you have to touch, like armrests, door panels and dash. My test vehicle came with the Technology Package ($3,500), which included DVD navigation, Dolby surround sound, satellite radio and Bluetooth telephone integration. It works seamlessly, but the price is a bit of a shocker. Though, with the Sirius Satellite radio hookup, I was able to listen to the BBC all day long, which made me very happy.
The driver's seat in the LR2 is very comfortable, supportive and adjustable. In combination with the tilt and telescope adjustable steering wheel, I had no trouble finding the right driving position. Which is a good thing -- because my first impression of the LR2 was less favorable. I'm taller than average (6'2"), and I felt that the center stack impinged on my right knee. I didn't see any way I could be comfortable driving. A few seconds of tilting, telescoping, leaning and sliding, and the pressure point was relieved.
LR2's center stack is very heavily populated with buttons and knobs, but it all seems to work well. By the end of my week with the test vehicle, I was fully comfortable with the control layout, and using the redundant steering wheel controls as fluidly as the stack-mounted controls. With more time behind the wheel, I'm confident that all the operations would become second nature.
On the Road
There's nothing like a Land Rover off-road. A rock crawl through Moab is as simple as a quick trip though the Lancashire countryside. Unfortunately, I didn't get to drive the LR2 off-pavement. With 8.3" of ground clearance and four-wheel independent suspension, I would be confident taking the crossover on light adventures. The unibody construction feels stiff, and Land Rover says that it's up to the torsional stresses of serious off-roading. LR2 is equipped with Land Rover's intuitive Terrain Response System. You can access traction control settings with the twist of a knob on the center console, selecting General Driving, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts and Sand to match conditions on the fly, just like in Range Rover and LR3.
Under the hood, a 3.2 liter in-line 6-cylinder engine with double-overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and cam profile switching. The engine produces 230 hp and 234 lb-ft of torque, and sends it to the ground through a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. LR2 is a little porky at 4,255 lbs, resulting in just adequate acceleration -- Land Rover estimates that it will get from 0 -- 60 in 8.4 seconds. Fuel economy is barely adequate at 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway.
Driving LR2 around town was a great pleasure, helped in no small part by great visibility in all directions and a tight 37.1 foot turning circle, curb-to-curb. Parking lots cause no fear with a 68.5" overall height and 177.1" length. Even country lanes in Somerset would be easily passable with a reasonable 75.1" body width (85.7" with mirrors).
As an entry-level luxury vehicle, LR2 does a very good job of capturing the flavor of the Land Rover brand without matching its price tag. If you're intent on joining the Land Rover fraternity, if you must have your seat at the Round Table, LR2 is by far the least expensive way to take your place in a new vehicle. Before biting from this leg of mutton, though, you should check out the other choice in the mid-size luxury crossover realm.
The Lexus RX, Acura RDX and Infiniti EX each offer distinctive interpretations of the theme from the Japanese point of view. All are available with all-wheel drive, though none purport to have off-road ability. They are loaded with technology and luxury features that rival the LR2's level of available equipment. Mercedes-Benz's new GLK and BMW's now-venerable X3 are the German versions of compact luxury crossover until Audi's Q5 arrives on the scene. Cadillac's SRX (a new edition arrives for 2010) and Lincoln's MKX represent the USA's toe in the water. You might also want to consider Ford's Escape, Volkswagen's Tiguan and Toyota's Highlander, not purely luxury vehicles, but crossovers that can be nicely equipped in a competitive price range.
For us Anglophiles, though, only a Land Rover will do. Now if I can only find a good drive-through fish and chips stand...