New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2010 Land Rover LR4

What’s in a name, anyway? For 2010, the Land Rover LR3 transforms into the Land Rover LR4. According to Land Rover, this is the fourth generation of the Discovery, a name still used in other markets.

Familiar Looks
The slight changes to the exterior of the 2010 Land Rover LR4 are limited to a new grille, front bumper, and LED headlamps. A larger cooling duct in the front bumper is about the only visual change there and it isn’t nearly as noticeable as the new grille just a few inches higher up. Now the front bumper helps improve aerodynamics by pushing air around the front wheels and streamlining the sides of the vehicle. Revised head and taillights now contain LEDs. The overall affects of the freshening are very slight and aren’t immediately obvious unless the LR4 is parked right next to an LR3. If the LR4 happens to be painted Nara Bronze, Bali Blue, or Ipanema Sand, it will be more noticeable as these colors are new for 2010.

More Power
With a new 5.0-liter V-8, horsepower is up an impressive 25% to 375 and torque increases 19% to 375 lb-ft. The 0-60-mph time is down to 7.5 seconds, which is nearly as fast as the outgoing Range Rover Sport Supercharged. Direct injection allows the compression ratio to be bumped up to 11.5:1. U.S. fuel economy ratings for the larger engine should match those of the outgoing 4.4-liter V-8, with the new engine benefitting from a lower idle speed and a smarter alternator that refrains from charging the battery while the vehicle is accelerating. Another small efficiencies come from the six-speed automatic transmission locking up the torque converter earlier and from taller gearing.

Jaguar and Land Rover models share the 5.0-liter V-8, but there are some important changes to the AJ-V8 for use in Land Rovers: A deeper sump allows lubrication at the more extreme angles Land Rovers may experience, a mechanical cooling fan is used for SUVs, and the intake manifolds have been revised to accommodate the packaging restrictions of the LR4. Vital parts like the alternator, air conditioning, power steering pump, and starter motor have been waterproofed to aid in the LR4’s water fording abilities.

Speaking of water fording, it’s important to remember off-road ability is a cornerstone of the Land Rover brand. All Land Rovers are basically very luxurious British Jeeps, not pretentious luxury trucks. That might be more apparent if the Defender models were sold in the U.S.A., but we wouldn’t expect that to happen in the foreseeable future.

Land Rover has added a special sand launch control program and improved the rock crawl mode of the Terrain Response System for all 2010 models. A slight revision to the hill descent control program is called gradient release control and slowly accelerates the vehicle to a driver-selected maximum descent speed. This diminishes the momentary panic that comes from releasing the brake pedal on a steep downhill trail. Purists may cringe at the thought of these electronic aids replacing mechanical solutions like low gearing and manually locking differentials, but they allow virtually anyone to go from driving 125 mph on the paved roads to inching along a difficult trail without doing much more than turning a dial. The electronic solution is also unobtrusive during regular driving on paved roads, which is not something that can be said of low gearing and old-fashioned locking differentials.

Despite the importance of off-road ability, it’s on road where the vast majority of LR4 owners will spend the vast majority of their time. For 2010, the LR4 underwent extensive revisions to the braking, steering, and suspension systems. To counter the increased engine power, the LR4 now uses 14.2-inch ventilated front rotors with cast-iron twin-piston sliding calipers and 13.8-inch ventilated rear rotors with aluminum single-piston sliding calipers in the rear. We found the revised brakes to be adequate for the LR4’s 5833 lb curb weight.

Land Rover wanted the LR4 to corner much better than the LR3 and changed the suspension knuckles to reduce the difference between the suspension’s roll center and the vehicle’s center of gravity; the engineers also enlarged and stiffened the anti-roll bar. Although the LR4 corners flatter than an LR3, there is still a considerable amount of body roll present in a turn. Other minor revisions to the suspension include new bushings and dampers all around.

The LR4 has a variable ratio steering rack that gives quite different steering feel than other Land Rover models. We actually prefer the feel and weight of the LR4’s steering to that of the hyper-sensitive Range Rover Sport or ultra-insulated Range Rover.

Aside from the engine, the area of greatest improvement for the LR4 is the interior. Gone is the confusing and unintuitive infotainment system and in its place is an easy to use touch-screen unit. All of the materials used, from the dash to the door panels, are softer and more luxurious than the LR3‘s. There’s a new steering wheel with better controls for everything from infotainment functions to the cruise control. Those very familiar with the ordering guide for the LR3 will notice two new interior colors. There are new seats for the first and second row passengers, but not for those forced to ride in the optional third row. LR4s with the optional Premium Leather pack also gain adjustable side bolsters in the front bucket seats. A new ambient lighting system uses white LEDs to highlight the metal door handles and the center console area when the headlights are on.

All of the 2010 Land Rovers make use of new technology, and the LR4 particularly benefits from the upgrades. As we’ve mentioned, the confusing infotainment system has been simplified and the touch-screen is much more intuitive to operate than the old collection of buttons and dials. The new iPod interface is well-integrated and there is also an option to play music files from a USB memory stick.

A fancy, 5.0-inch TFT display is situated between the speedometer and tachometer in the dashboard, but currently it can only display basic information about the vehicle. We hope a software upgrade will allow information about what song is playing, or navigation directions, to be displayed in this location. It can be much less distracting to look down to the instrument cluster for navigation info rather than looking down and to the right at a nav screen. Such an arrangement could also allow navigation information to be displayed to a driver and infotainment information to be displayed to a passenger, or vice-versa.

Other notable technological improvements include an available surround camera system, which uses five different digital cameras to monitor the ground around the vehicle. Unfortunately there’s no software to combine the views of the five cameras into a single image a la the Infiniti EX35, but one or two views can be selected to be blown up, and each camera can zoom in. The cameras can be displayed at speed and we particularly enjoyed the ability to see how close the passenger-side wheels were to the curb while driving in the United Kingdom. That same network of cameras makes the “tow assist” function possible. In this mode, drivers can enter information about a trailer (size, type, and number of axles) to help predict how the rig will maneuver in reverse. We weren’t able to test this system, but the idea is intriguing.

The Drive
Driving a 2010 Land Rover LR4 is quite different than driving an LR3. The immediate differences are a comparative abundance of power, more confidence-inspiring handling, and slightly improved steering response. Of course the last two points are almost moot when it comes to the nearly-6000 pound SUV’s road manners, but any improvement is welcome in this class. The few owners who manage to take the LR4 off-road will certainly appreciate the available surround camera system, adjustable air suspension and terrain response system. For the rest of the owners, these systems provide piece of mind and won’t detract from on-road manners.

When Can I Buy One?
Land Rover LR4s should start trickling into dealers this month with an official on-sale date of September 1st. Pricing starts at $48,100 and the LR4 can be optioned up past $63,000. The $3650 HSE package seems like a worthy upgrade as it includes heated front and rear seats, steering wheel, washer jets, as well as navigation, Bluetooth integration for cell phones, and 19-inch wheels. Those looking for 20-inch wheels will have to shell out an additional $2500.