Whether we were plowing through winter storms or heading to the mall, the LR3's cabin was a welcoming environment, because it maintains the classic traits we love about Land Rovers--the upright driving position, the tall windows, and the airy feeling. Standard triple sunroofs and handsome, light tan leather upholstery enhanced the interior ambience. Thankfully, Land Rover has not succumbed to the trend toward rising beltlines and shrinking greenhouses that makes the interiors of vehicles such as the Chrysler Pacifica and the Hummer H3 feel like coffins.
The ergonomics are a big improvement over the old Discovery's. The controls for the low-range transfer case and the air suspension are neatly organized aft of the gearshift lever, and the thick steering wheel and control stalks are nicely placed. We liked the solid, rubber-coated switches for the climate control and radio, but there are a few too many buttons of a similar size. Some drivers found the nonadjustable front headrests intrusive and uncomfortable. With its optional third row, our LR3 comfortably sat seven adults, and third-row head- and legroom are better than in most large SUVs. Both the second and third rows fold flat, creating a huge cargo hold that easily swallowed senior editor Joe DeMatio's peculiar load of a full-size kitchen range and two mountain bikes.
Finally, to the big question: was the Land Rover reliable? The year got off to an inauspicious start. Only two weeks into the LR3's stay, warning lights for the air suspension, stability control, and hill-descent control began popping up frequently. Restarting the vehicle would fix the issue temporarily. After multiple visits to the dealer, technicians solved the problem by recalibrating the steering-angle sensor. Soon after, warning lights popped up again, as if to alert us that the LR3 wouldn't accelerate past 15 mph, a situation we'd noticed on our own. A restart brought the LR3 back to normal. Also early on, we visited the dealer twice to fix the driver's door handle, which wouldn't open the door. Around the six-month mark, a new coolant expansion tank was installed because of a false low-coolant warning, and the fuel tank was replaced on recall.
We saw less of our dealer in the latter half of the year, but three items still needed to be addressed: a sticky rear wiper, a broken rear-seat latch, and a burned-out brake light. In all, we made five unscheduled dealer visits--better than the twenty-plus warranty repairs to our '95 Discovery, but an area where Land Rover still needs to do better.
Where the old Discovery was a one-dimensional, off-road-oriented machine, the LR3 is enjoyable to drive in the real world. Interior packaging and ergonomics have gone from one of the worst to one of the best in class. Chassis dynamics also made a similar leap. Most important, Land Rover has succeeded in these areas while maintaining the brand's core values. Now Land Rover needs to continue to improve quality, put the LR3 on a diet, and offer a torquier, more fuel-efficient engine. Then the LR3 will be one of the best SUVs on the market.