2009 Land Rover LR2 HSE

Land Rover is a funny brand. Its flagship Range Rover doesn't sell in astounding numbers, but the company surely rakes in a healthy profit each time a Master of the Manor purchases one, and its customers are incredibly loyal. The LR3 is a very nice SUV, and the Range Rover Sport might be the coolest-looking sporty SUV around.

But the LR2 is more of a question mark in Land Rover's lineup. It's the least expensive model the company offers in the U.S., so you might think that it fits the volume-seller role. Except it sold barely half the volume of the top-dog Range Rover Sport in the first nine months of 2008 (4660 LR2 sales vs. 8804 RRS sales). OK, well, maybe it exists because it offers fuel economy far superior to its bigger brethren. Nope, the LR2 offers only 17 mpg combined, says the EPA, only 2 or 3 mpg better than its siblings.

These are all reasons that I was baffled by the fact that our fully loaded LR2 probably costs well over $40K. Don't get me wrong: I actually like small SUVs in the vein of the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape. I'd just have a hard time justifying spending $40,000-plus for a fancier version of one.

But what do I know? There must be growth in this segment; otherwise we wouldn't be bracing for the stateside arrivals of the Audi Q5, the Mercedes-Benz GLK, and the revised BMW X3. Maybe it's a status thing ... Lexus sure sells a ton of RXs, but I'd just as soon buy a real workhorse SUV or a C-class for the price of the tiny Land Rover.

Not that I despise the LR2. Its handling is decent for this type of vehicle, despite lots of body roll. Performance off the line is pretty good, too, although the 3.2-liter I-6 doesn't have all that much passing power. It's acceptably comfortable, and I've seen numerous reports that the LR2 is very impressive off-road.

I still just have to wonder: why?

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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