When the Tata Group bought Land Rover from Ford last year, I feared the worst. Now the first Tata Land Rovers are beginning to roll off of the assembly line in the United Kingdom. I got a chance to drive the 2010 Land Rover LR4 on and off road in New England, and I'm happy to say that the Tata LR4 is an ample replacement for the Ford LR3. With a base price of $48,100 the 2010 Land Rover LR4 comes with a 4 year/50,000 mile warranty and EPA estimates from 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway. Let's drive.
LR4 represents the latest evolution of the Land Rover Discovery line. The Discovery first hit US shores as a 1994 model, after several years in the UK and worldwide. Discovery II represented a significant upgrade in design, but the real leap to respectability came with the 2005 Discovery 3, or LR3, as it was known here in the US. With great ground clearance and excellent on-road manners, LR3 was the most accessible Land Rover in the portfolio, until the arrival of the compact LR2.
LR4 arrives with that accessibility intact, along with ability. A quick glance at the exterior reveals the same basic shape and size, with the signature stepped rear tailgate, boxy body and rugged proportions that blessed the LR3. But upon closer inspection, LR4's corners are more elegant and rounder than before. LR4's front end has been crafted to fit better with the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, with a chiseled two-bar grille and highly detailed headlamps. LED running lights surround the HID headlamps. A smoother, body-colored bumper guards the front end with a big air intake dominating the center and integrated fog lamps poking through the outsides. A functional cooling vent dresses each side above muscular front fenders (LR3 only had a vent on the right side). Jeweled LED tail lamps complete the picture.
The more the Discovery line evolves, the classier it becomes. What once looked like a jumble of design cues now looks like an elegant, well thought-out luxury SUV.
In the Driver's Seat
As much as the exterior of LR4 has evolved, the interior has made one of those incredible leaps from the muck onto dry land. The number of buttons has been substantially reduced and cleaned up from LR3's center stack to LR4's control center. A clunky instrument panel is now a high tech information center with traditional analog gauges flanking a multi-function TFT (thin film transistor) screen that can display a dazzling array of information, and provide access to a wide range of features. Materials and surfaces are first rate, pleasing to the touch and attractive.
The changes aren't merely cosmetic, which is one of the things I love about Land Rover -- they are a case of form following function. For instance, every Land Rover in the current model year is equipped with the Terrain Response system, an electronic interface that affects suspension, traction control, throttle response and other settings based on road conditions. The interface is a simple knob, which you rotate to select General, Mud and Ruts, Sand, Rock Crawl or Grass/Gravel/Snow. In the LR3, the interface sat flat in the middle of the center console. In LR4, the interface has been moved up into the center stack, ahead of the gear selector, and angled up toward the driver. The Terrain Response interface is now easier to reach, see and operate, and is protected from drink spills and settling dirt. The bonus is that it looks better in the stack, too, as a direct result of improving function.
On the Road
Under the hood, there's a whole lot of new stuff to see in LR4. A new big 5.0 liter direct injection V8 cranks out 375 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque, a major improvement over the outgoing LR3's 300 hp/315 lb-ft of torque. A new 6-speed transmission sends the power to all four wheels. Land Rover claims a 0-60 time of 7.55 seconds, and I believe them.
I spent some time with the Land Rover engineers discussing the details of the new front suspension package, which features a revised roll center that reduces the pendulum effect that causes uncomfortable body roll in a big SUV. When the vehicle's center of gravity and roll center are not in harmony, the body's movement over the suspension can feel floaty or boat-like. There's little of that in LR4, which handles like a much smaller vehicle through the turns, with a nice sense of balance and predictability.
With the command seating position, you'll never forget that you're piloting a big SUV, but LR4's ease and grace makes all that weight (5,833 lbs) feel like a lot less. And if you're inclined to load your SUV down, LR4 can carry up to 1,325 lbs and tow up 7,716 lbs on a braked trailer.
I had a ton of fun driving the LR4 off-road with the Land Rover Driving Instructors. I'm always amazed by what a Land Rover can do, and this time I got to try out the LR4 in some of the thickest mud and slipperiest muck I've ever driven through. LR4 took to the trails like it was sipping tea, never missing a step or getting flustered in the slightest.
If I had my choice of any Land Rover in the lineup, I wouldn't hesitate for a second. I'd choose an LR4 over a Range Rover, over a Range Rover Sport, over an LR2. I might regret not choosing a Range Rover Supercharged for a minute, but when it came to living with the vehicle every day, LR4 would suit me just fine. I might even choose the 7 Seat Comfort Package ($1,150), further extending my vehicle's utility. LR4 offers just the right balance of toughness and luxury that I crave in an SUV.
If you're considering an LR4, there are several other luxury SUVs to take a look at. The Toyota Land Cruiser is a worthy competitor, but can't match LR4's sophistication and elegance. Mercedes-Benz's GL550 challenges LR4 on the road, but lacks LR4's off-road pedigree. And if it's pure off-roading that you aspire to, don't forget that you can go in a completely opposite direction with the Jeep Wrangler, the purest off-road vehicle available from a major manufacturer.
For my money, though, LR4 is pretty much the best balance of day-to-day luxury and off-road prowess out there. Just the thought of crawling through the mud, climbing over rocks and generally getting dirty in an LR4 without ever breaking a sweat or losing touch with the latest in technology, really appeals to me. I can't promise that an LR4 will be the most reliable vehicle that you'll ever own -- the jury's out on that one. Buyer beware. But it does seem that the Tata Group has poured some love on Land Rover, and the 2010 LR4 is the best entry yet in the Discovery series.