It's Land Rover's first major product launch since its Indian owners, Tata Motors, took over. And the transfer of power from Ford to Tata puts the British marquee back on track.
For 2010, the Land Rover LR3 gets re-engineered, redesigned and rebadged as an LR4. Personally, I prefer the LR3 name or, better yet, the old Discovery name, which is used in the U.K. and the rest of the world, except for North America. But officials felt the powertrain upgrades, exterior and interior design changes justified the new LR4 name.
"Great design is a gateway to customer desirability. It's about making that emotional connection. We're not just selling a vehicle that can go from A to B or up and down a hill, we're selling a dream, we're selling an adventure, a luxury product," says Gerry McGovern, director of design, Land Rover, at Megget Reservoir - the biggest earth dam in Scotland.
The dam holds 64 million tonnes of water, supplying Edinburgh's 450,000 residents. It was an engineering marvel - the first project of its kind in the world; that's why Land Rover chose it as a backdrop to complement the LR4's engineering improvements.
The LR4's new engine, developed jointly by Jaguar/Land Rover engineers, is powerful and refined. It's a 5.0-litre V-8 direct injection engine that delivers 375 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque - that's 25 per cent more power and 19 per cent more torque than the 4.4-litre V-8 engine in the LR3.
The new engine also meets strict U.S. ultra-low emissions vehicle regulations (ULEV2). Mated to the engine is a new six-speed automatic transmission. The LR4 isn't the fastest vehicle - it will do 0 to 100 km in 7.6 seconds, but that's s not bad considering it weighs 2,646 kg.
Driving on the left-hand side of the road in a right-hand-drive SUV proved challenging and frustrating at times. Your perspective is shot. And the LR4 isn't exactly the smallest vehicle on the streets, although that doesn't stop others - the U.K. is Land Rover's largest market and the roads are filled with Discovery and Range Rovers.
I begin the trek to Floors Castle in Roxburghshire, following another LR4 the wrong way on a roundabout. "Don't follow me - I don't know what I'm doing! I just got off a plane!" shouts an American journalist.
There are close calls everywhere - unfortunately I ding a side-view mirror. The owner of an old Discovery parked entirely in the left-hand lane comes out, "You can get a tank through there!" I beg to differ.
At least the brakes are powerful, helping me avoid running over several pheasants en route. The LR4's passing power is sufficient; the ride comfortable and extremely quiet. But there is some body lean when cornering.
For off-roading, the LR4 is a master. Under the hood, its belt drives, alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump and starter motor are waterproofed for all-terrain driving.
Land Rover's Terrain Response system is updated yet remains easy to use. Just turn a dial on the centre console to select the terrain - grass/gravel/snow, sand, mud and ruts, rock crawl, or general driving. A 4x4 display in the instrument panel and on the LCD screen displays the wheel position - a useful resource when fording rivers and tackling mud ruts.
The Hill Descent control system has a new gradient release control system, which restricts downhill speeds to 3.5 km/h in low range and 6 km/h in high range. You don't touch anything to engage it - it automatically does it for you. At first, it's awkward and a bit jolting to feel the system kick in. But once under way, it's impressive, braking the SUV slowly and cautiously downhill. Shifting from high to low gear is also easy - select neutral and push a button.
From the exterior, the LR4 retains the clean, geometric look of its predecessors. In fact, the exterior design changes are subtle. A new face is the most obvious - a new grille, bumpers, side vents and sportier lights, including LEDs in the front and rear.
New twin, seven-spoke, 19-inch wheels are muscular; an optional 10-spoke, 20-inch wheel is also available for the first time, as are three new colours: Nara bronze, Bali blue, and Ipanema Sand.
Impressive technology includes an optional surround camera system, which displays a 360-degree view of the LR4 from five cameras positioned around the SUV on to the LCD touch screen. You can select and zoom in for a closer look at any view.
Automatic High Beam Assist is also offered - it automatically switches on or off the high beam as required.
Inside, everything is new - the seats, centre console, steering wheel, instrumentation and door panels. It's more refined than the LR3 and not as plasticky. It's also functional, with seating for up to seven passengers.
But the layout is still busy and confusing - there are buttons and gauges everywhere. The message information centre in the instrument panel, for example, is very complicated and time-consuming to use - there are so many options and subcategories to scroll through that I gave up trying to find my average fuel economy reading. A split tailgate comes in handy for accessing the cargo area fast.
The 2010 Land Rover LR4 is a marked improvement over the outgoing LR3. It costs slightly more, starting at $59,990. In comparison, the 2009 LR3's V-8 equivalent costs $57,800; while the V-6 LR3 model, which isn't available in 2010, is $53,900.
2010 LAND ROVER LR4
Type: Five- to seven-passenger, premium SUV
Base Price: $59,990
Engine: 5.0-litre, DOHC, V-8
Horsepower/Torque: 375 hp/375 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Permanent four-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 17.1 city/11.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56, Lexus LX470, Audi Q7
- Excellent off-roader
- Innovative technology such as surround camera and high-beam assist
- Improved interior
- Seating for up to seven passengers
- Busy console
- Optional packages pricey