Never one for pop psychobabble, I can’t say I really bought that whole reptilian brain-SUV association a French deep thinker advanced a few years back.
The one about there being something distinctly reptilian about driver’s who covet big hulking SUVs for everyday suburban existence. What exactly being ‘reptilian’ really means was never made clear, but one has to assume it speaks to a cold-blooded, survival of the fittest ethos. For my money, it could just as well refer to the shoe material luxury SUV owners prefer.
Still, like many half-baked ideas, there is a bit of proof in the Frenchman’s pudding.
I was reminded of all this as I did my daily duty of kid drop-off/pick-up at the elementary school as I was testing the 2009 Land Rover LR3.
Without fail, Lululemon-adorned moms would gaze lustfully at the hulky beast as I cruised slowly through the school zone. A few would even break into a big toothy grin and little wave to me, who if testing a new Kia wouldn’t get a sideways glance. Volvo station wagons seem to garner close to the approval and accolades of the soccer set, but a Land Rover or Range Rover will always give them pause.
The LR3’s ancestral heritage is right out of the Serengeti — quite literally — and apart from the fact the Queen rattles around her endless acreage in one, there is little romantic about a Land Rover. Surely a Mercedes, BMW, Lexus or even Cadillac SUV should be the darling of this social set, where style often takes a backseat to substance?
Perhaps deep down in those, umm, brains (nearly said reptilian there), there is an innate understanding that despite having the wind-tunnel physique as a loaf of bread, the Land Rover LR3 is actually a very special kind of SUV.
Namely, one that has the technical sophistication and design features to let you take on off-road situations that would leave the German and Japanese competitors in the muck, but also the kind of comfort amenities and ergonomic engineering found in luxury sedans.
It truly is the best of both worlds.
The LR3 came into the world in 2005, as the third generation Discovery, a revolutionary market segment vehicle launched way back in 1989 in what proved to be a shrewd move by then owner Rover. Essentially a less-expensive Range Rover, the Discovery I was on the leading edge of the so-called “lifestyle accessory” concept of the latter part of the 20th Century.
By the time BMW — which bought the brand in 1994 — got around to producing the Discovery II in 1999, the rugged Land Rover saw stiff competition from every luxury carmaker in the world. Ford would buy Rover the next year, and when they got around to update the Discovery in 2005, they corrected issues with a model that had seen the competition pass it by.
With suspensions bits and chassis design virtually unchanged since 1989, the Discovery II could no longer claim off-road supremacy and was bleeding market share to strong machines from Japan and Germany.
Ford returned the Land Rover to the top of the heap with an all-new construction (Integrated Body Frame), a full independent suspension and the award winning Terrain Response System. Popular Science honoured the innovative off-roading driver aid with one of its coveted awards in 2005. In fact, the LR3’s 97 international awards are a world record for a production 4X4.
Is this why the moms love it?
For 2009 and now under the guidance of newest owner TATA, the LR3 gets a bit of a facelift, with a tweak here and a pull over there. Likewise, a number of what Land Rover calls new “standard features” have been added. These include:
– Body color painted wheel arches, front and rear bumper, lower tailgate appliqué and tailgate lift handle provide a unique, fresh appearance to the LR3.
– Straight Grained Walnut Wood at the centre console uprights and end caps. Or the choice of Grand Black Lacquer wood, as a no cost option.
– Standard 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels
– Clear side repeater lenses
– Exterior door handles with Tungsten finish, (replaces the previous model years black finish)
– New Interior Leather Trim
– Almond leather with Nutmeg carpet (replaces Alpaca Beige leather and carpet)
– New Exterior Paint: Galway Green (dark green color; replaces Tonga Green)
– The 3rd row seat and 2nd and 3rd row climate control become a value priced stand-alone option package.
Available as a base SE V6 or SE V8 model, the LR3 can be upgraded with HSE or HSE LUX trim level option packages. A seven-seat comfort package, which features third-row seating and rear climate control, is a stand-alone option package for 2009.
The base LR3
The HSE upgrade includes a Premium DVD-based satellite Navigation System with a 7-inch touch screen and voice activation and 4×4 driver information center, personal telephone integration system with Bluetooth connectivity, power tilt-telescope steering column, front park distance control, cold climate package, SIRIUS satellite radio, and HSE exterior identification badging. The LR3 and LR3 with the HSE Package feature standard 19-inch six-spoke alloy wheels, however all new 19-inch slotted seven-spoke alloy wheels are available as a no cost option.
The HSE LUX package adds premium leather seats, the seven-spoke wheels, memory settings for the driver’s seat, steering column, and mirrors, a 550-watt harman/kardon premium audio system with 14 speakers, Bi-Xenon headlamps and adaptive front-lighting, and a center console cooler box.
LR3 SE models are powered by a 216-horsepower 4.0-litre V6 engine mated to a six-speed ZF automatic transmission or by an optional 300-horsepower 4.4-litre V8.
Apart from receiving approving looks from my neighbours, the LR3 proves a capable, though somewhat underpowered performer.
Three hundred ponies may seem plenty for a vehicle of this sort, but due to its heavy weight and almost anti-aerodynamic design, a fully loaded LR3 can’t compete with the muscular competition in terms of passing acceleration. It’s not often an issue, but one that those preferring a sport aspect to an SUV should keep in mind.
Other than that, the LR3 is a very solid machine.
Gear changes are smooth and subtle; the ride comfort is comparable to most luxury sedans; and the ergonomics are ideal. Most if not all luxury SUVs of this ilk come equipped with a back-up camera, but with its well laid out cabin minimizing blind spots, the LR3 doesn’t need one.
My tester was outfitted with the three-sunroof option, and the extra light coming in dark winter days provided welcome relief.
Stopping power is good on-road and off-road, as Land Rover’s four-wheel all-terrain ABS is calibrated to avoid wheel look on all kinds of terrain. In addition, the Hill Descent Control automatically limits forward speed to 3.5 km-h (2.2 mph) in low range and 6 km-h (3.7 mph) in high range.
All of which means a novice off-roader can drive with the confidence required to master the art of keeping three wheels on the ground at all time.
In terms of passenger comfort and safety, the LR3 offers the usual laundry list of innovative and technically advanced systems, be they airbags, child safety seats or audio/video equipment.
All of which leads back to the beginning and the nagging question of what makes the Land Rover LR3 such a mummy-mobile?
All I can say is if Land Rover figures it out, they should bottle it.
Pricing: 2009 Land Rover LR3 SE V8
$ 8,750 (Rear seat package: $1,750; Rear seat & Climate Package: $3,100; On-road/off-road Navigation system: $3,900)
|Price as tested:||
Manufacturer’s web site