There must be something in the water at Land Rover’s headquarters in the English Midlands town of Solihull. Either that, or the company is intent on making a specific model for every member of the British royal family, who’ve long favoured the company’s vehicles for driving around the grounds of Balmoral, attending polo matches, and whisking newborn heirs safely home from hospital.
At any rate, over the years the Land Rover family tree has become at least as complicated as the royal family’s, and apparently just as concerned about the concept of having “an heir and spare.” And if you’ve ever wondered if the spare heir really matters, the LR4 proves that yes, it really does.
The heir to the Land Rover crown is the Defender, which is directly descended from the robust and utilitarian Series I 4×4 that launched Land Rover back in 1948. But the Defender is due to cease production at the end of 2015, with its replacement not yet officially revealed and not due to be built until 2018.
The spare heir, in the meantime, is the Land Rover Discovery – a slightly roomier, more street-friendly and better-fitted mid-size SUV that was originally based on Land Rover’s more upmarket Range Rover, and that itself later spawned the smaller Range Rover Sport (we’ll ignore the compact Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, much as we do the various side branches of the royal family).
The Discovery is the closest North American buyers have been able to get to the king of Land Rovers since 1997, when the Defender was chased out of our market over air bag and side impact regulations. We know the Discovery by a different name, however, because market research indicates that if North Americans are going to plunk down over $60,000 for a luxury SUV we prefer it to have an alphanumeric name rather than one that can be shortened to “Disco”, so Land Rover calls it the LR4 here. It’s a name that sounds like it means business, and the LR4 does indeed mean business.
Big and boxy, with a stepped roofline and expansive windows, the LR4 has been around in the same basic form since 2010, when it replaced the very similar LR3. It underwent a major mechanical revision in 2014, with a Jaguar-sourced supercharged 3.0L V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission replacing the previous V8 engine and six-speed transmission. At the same time the standard two-speed transfer case was made optional, with a simpler single-speed transfer case replacing it as standard equipment, thus reducing costs and improving on-road fuel efficiency.
For 2015 the LR4 receives only minor revisions, with adaptive cruise control, a wood-and-leather steering wheel and a suite of smartphone apps added to the options list, and side steps now standard.
The LR4 is both immensely capable and physically immense, measuring a full 1,882 mm tall (just a quarter-inch shy of six feet) and tipping the scales at 2,695 kg – nearly three tons. Both the capability and the weight are due in some part to the LR4’s unique IBF (Integrated Body Frame) structure that combines a monocoque engine bay and passenger compartment with a basic ladder-frame chassis for the gearbox and suspension.
Where the old V8 cranked out 375 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque, the V6 develops 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of twist. It does get a couple more gears to work with, but mass is mass, so the LR4’s acceleration is a tick slower than it used to be, at 8.1 seconds from 0-100 km/h. Still, that’s about average for the segment, and nothing to really complain about.