I was thinking about Ratan Tata the other day and it was not a random event.
Tata crept into my thoughts because without him, Jaguar Land Rover would either be long gone from the marketplace or in the hands of, I don’t know, some crazy Russian oligarch with gobs of cash.
In any case, it’s doubtful that Land Rover would have done such a nice renovation of the 2013 LR2 without him. So when I drove it, I began channelling Tata. Ratan Tata, of course, championed the effort by India’s Tata Motors to acquire Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in 2008. Bold? No, audacious.
Tata, a structural engineer by training, retired from the family business, Tata Industries Ltd., in December at age 75. He left behind a $100-billion company, with holdings as far flung as Tetley Tea and Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
But insiders at JLR tell me it’s British car brands that fascinate him. He’s known to take deep dives into the JLR design studios in the British Midlands, spending hours poking about the creative types. Moreover, Tata comes across as wonderfully unpretentious for a billionaire. In a recent Automotive News interview, he discussed future plans for JLR – noting that the company won’t repeat the mistakes Ford made with the X-Type.
In response to a question about buying JLR, Tata pointed out that “two or three months” after the purchase, along came the “financial collapse” “and everybody said: ‘You stupid people, who would go and acquire this company that is already struggling and you will bankrupt your entire group as a result?’ It looked a little scary at that time. But it’s completely changed. People are not saying we are smart, but they aren’t saying we are stupid, either.”
He went on to explain why Tata risked so much to fund products like this renovated LR2, even as the world’s economy shuddered: “If we had not put money into it, the company would have amputated itself in many ways to stay alive. And one of the ways it would have stayed alive was to cut new product development.”
All is not perfect, but at least JLR is making money and sales were up 29 per cent through the second quarter. Nonetheless, Land Rover must improve its quality scores in influential research from the likes of J.D. Power and Associated and Consumer Reports. Hovering around the bottom of quality studies is not a long-term recipe for success – not when your competition includes the biggest, richest, most powerful car companies in the world.
The LR2 is aimed at the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Volvo’s XC60 and even Land Rover’s own Range Rover Evoque. Aside from the new engine, redesigned interior and revised bodywork, what stands out most is the pricing. The 2013 base LR2 is going for $39,990. JLR president Lindsay Duffield says it was critical to get the entry point below $40,000 in Canada – especially so given the five-door Evoque starts at $46,995. There needs to be a noteworthy price gap between the two smaller Land Rover rigs and now there is.
Of course, you can load up the LR2 with extras and, if you do, you’ll drive the price to $50,000 or so. But even the most basic LR2 gets the Ford-sourced 240-horsepower, 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder. Thank goodness, too.
What’s known at Ford as an EcoBoost engine replaces the clunky, thirsty 3.2-litre inline-six that had its roots in old Volvos. That six feels ponderous compared to the responsive four-banger. The new engine is efficient and torquey (250 lb-ft), which is what you want in a small SUV.
Just as important as the new powertrain is the refinished interior. Some of you may have liked the rugged and unrefined look of the old LR2, but not enough of you. The new cabin design includes a handsome dashboard, car-like trim bits, a standard seven-inch colour touch screen, a useful centre console and, if you’re willing to pay $2,000 for it, an 825-watt Meridian surround sound system with 17 speakers (a 380-watt Meridian system is standard). Voice controls are also available, packaged with the $2,000 navigation system. Exterior upgrades are more subtle, but take a long look at the lights up front and you’ll see a notable difference.
Whichever LR2 you pick, standard fare includes leather-covered electric seats, dual sunroofs and the usual power-operated goodies. That and various safety items are standard (seven airbags, roll control, stability control and a five-star European crash test rating, for instance).
Before the upgrades and the price cut, I would never have recommended an LR2. But now, even with those miserable Land Rover quality scores, I’d suggest giving Ratan Tata a tip of the hat and at least a road test if this rig suits your needs. If nothing else, when you dip into the JLR world, you get a great story.
2013 Land Rover LR2
Type: Compact SUV
Base Price: $39,990 (freight $1,270)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/250 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): not available; premium recommended
Alternatives: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Volvo’s XC60, Range Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, Lexus RX, Acura RDX