In 1995, we took delivery of the new-to-America Land Rover Discovery for a Four Seasons test. It was a distinctive, rugged-looking SUV with exceptional off-road ability but poor body control, flawed ergonomics, and limited cargo and passenger space. Even worse, however, was its appalling reliability. Ten years later, Land Rover created an all-new Discovery. It dumped the old SUV's pushrod V-8 and ladder-frame construction and in their place put a 4.4-liter, DOHC 32-valve V-8; a hydroformed frame supporting a much stiffer body; and an independent, air-sprung suspension. Land Rover North America badged the new SUV the LR3. In June 2005, our Tonga green LR3 HSE arrived here fresh from the Solihull, England, factory. Over the next year, we'd determine if the famous Land Rover values and abilities were intact but also if the old Discovery's many faults had been exorcised.
We were immediately smitten with the British SUV's styling. Although totally contemporary, the LR3 maintains the classic Land Rover design language--a boxy, upright stance, a stepped roof profile, and rear side windows that extend into the roof. "I love how it looks," said contributor Ronald Ahrens. "It's simple and honest: rectilinear perfection. The designers successfully produced raw drama, rather than having to contrive it, by using a tall profile, short overhangs, and large wheels."
It's not only the LR3's styling that is thoroughly modern: its driving dynamics also have leaped into the twenty-first century. Like most SUVs, our LR3 spent most of its year on pavement, but it handled the tarmac much better than past Land Rovers. The switch to independent suspension dramatically improved body control. The LR3 is still a tall beast, and since it weighs nearly three tons, it can feel a bit top heavy. Overall, though, the suspension tuning is excellent. As creative director Richard Eccleston noted, "The ride is just superb--it's better than in a lot of luxury cars."
While the ride and handling were universally commended, the drivetrain got mixed reviews. Occasionally, we felt a clunk in the transmission when pulling away from a stop. We've heard that other LR3s have similar issues, but it happened so infrequently to us that we never investigated. Our most common complaint was a lack of power. "It's not often that 300 hp feels weak," opined assistant editor Erik Johnson. "With the cruise set at 80 mph on the freeway, the transmission downshifts when the LR3 encounters even the slightest grade." Blame it on a peaky, Jaguar-based V-8 motivating a 5800-pound truck. That combination also contributed to the LR3's appetite for fuel; it downed a gallon of premium unleaded, on average, every fifteen miles. In Europe, an optional turbo-diesel engine provides better fuel economy and greater torque, but that engine isn't offered here.
We never drove our Four Seasons vehicle on off-road adventures comparable to those we've had with other LR3s in England, Scotland, and South Africa, but we did endure a few wicked Midwest snowstorms. On a drive to western Michigan through twelve inches of fresh snow, senior editor Joe Lorio found the LR3 exceedingly stable and comfortable, thanks in part to a set of Dunlop Grandtrek SJ5 winter tires. The aggressive rubber sacrificed steering feel and directional stability in warmer, dry conditions but was much appreciated when the flakes flew.