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Story and photos by John LeBlanc
Montreal, Quebec – At the North American launch of the all-new Land Rover LR3 SUV, I quickly got a sense that this was a big deal for Land Rover.
The LR3 is the first Land Rover developed under the stewardship of the Ford Motor Company, which purchased the British marque from BMW in 2000. The LR3 is one of only nine models introduced by the company since it was formed in 1948, and the first to be launched in an urban setting in downtown Montreal.
With over 100 SUV nameplates available, the LR3 is entering a very competitive arena with traditional SUV buyers moving towards more car-like vehicles faster than the price of gas can rise at the pumps. Despite its Solihull, England plant recording the worst quality scores in the industry, Land Rover still wants to broaden its line-up and double North American sales within the next few years.
Effectively replacing the aging Discovery model (the LR3 label is only being used in Canada and the U.S.) the new model needs to be outstanding.
“And we think it is”, confided executive vice president of Land Rover North America, Richard Beattie. He signified the LR3 as “a true Land Rover, benefiting from its “clean design, versatility and outstanding driving experience”.
Externally, you might mistake the LR3 with the granddaddy Range Rover. Believe me, the likeness is intentional.
Bold, geometric vertical and horizontal elements; the LR3’s stepped roof (to boost headroom); its asymmetric rear tailgate (to reduce load height when the lower part of the tailgate is closed, and reduce ‘reach in’ distance when opened); the use of an air intake on only one side of the body (it’s all that was needed); and its large glazed areas are all what LR3 design director, Jeff Upex, considers unique Land Rover design cues retained from the initial concept sketches.
Mr. Upex emphasized that the LR3 was designed from the inside, prioritizing passenger comfort and ergonomics with a fold-flat interior and optional seating for up to seven full-size adults. The second row bench seats three and is set higher in Land Rover’s “stadium seating” configuration.
Land Rover claims the LR3’s interior roominess betters such mid-size premium SUV competitors like Lexus’s GX470. Much of this packaging success can be attributed to what Land Rover calls its Integrated Body-frame body structure, unique to Land Rover, and putting to rest any rumours that the LR3 is based on a Ford Explorer.
Combining the benefits of a stiff monocoque, normally found in cars, with the strength and off-road toughness made possible by a traditional separate chassis frame, the LR3’s structure allows Land Rover to aspire to sedan-like on-road attributes, while continuing its expected high standards in off-road performance.
To qualify Mr. Beattie’s claim that the LR3’s on-road composure was on a level with its off-road capabilities, Land Rover had us battle morning traffic in Montreal as a way to get to The Land Rover Experience Driving School (see below), a three hour drive west of Montreal near Montebello, Quebec.
On-road, the LR3 was very responsive, due largely to the most powerful Land Rover engine ever. All LR3s come with the new 4.4-litre derivative of Jaguar’s 4.2-litre V-8 engine that develops 300-horsepower and 315 pound-foot of torque in the LR3.
Changes to the original Jag engine included enhanced dust- and waterproofing, and (Floridians, take note!) revised breathing to enable the vehicle to wade in up to 61 centimetres of water.
The engine is mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission with CommandShift (what Land Rover calls their manumatic function) and a two-speed transfer case with electronically lockable centre differential. As with all Land Rover vehicles, the LR3 has permanent four-wheel drive with power being normally split 50/50 between the front and rear axles.
Steering on the LR3 was more like a premium-German sedan rather than a Rubicon-rock-jumper, with a solid, on-centre feel and reasonably quick steering. Bruce Rosen, vice-president of Marketing for Land Rover Canada, was riding shotgun with us for the morning and mentioned that Ford’s ride and handling guru, Richard Parry Jones, had signed-off on the LR3, and it shows in spades in just a few miles.
I certainly felt all 2629 kilograms of the LR3’s weight on some of the twisty rural Quebec two lane roads. The LR3 doesn’t have the same sort of dexterity as some of the new car-based SUVs, such as Cadillac’s SRX or Infiniti’s FX45, but those vehicles would be shaking in their radials if presented with what Land Rover had planned for us in the afternoon.
The old Discovery was the standby for the driving school, designed to tackle almost any off-road terrain. Despite the aesthetic and on-road gentrification of the new LR3, it will now be required to handle not only the course’s various terrain, but also nervous first-time off-roaders.
Partnering with 18-year Land Rover Experience veteran trainer Don Floyd (better known to me now as “God”) and with the new LR3’s technological “helpers”, my confidence grew quickly. In an afternoon spent tilting the LR3 sideways at over thirty degree angles, climbing rock stairs, ploughing through bogs, and sliding down mud slides – unlike its driver – the LR3 never complained or felt challenged.
Land Rover fans are already familiar with Hill Descent Control (HDC) that lets you crawl your way down the steepest grade without having to use your brakes or ruin a good pair of shorts. New in the LR3 is the ability to adjust your descent speed via the steering wheel located cruise controls.
Terrain Response is a dial on the console that lets the driver select five modes ranging from “Mud and Ruts” to “Sand and Dunes” and then optimizes the various electro-mechanical bits built into the LR3. Based on how most SUV drivers use their vehicles, I looked for the “Malls and Schools” setting, however, to no avail.
Before attempting to get my LR3 up a near vertical wall with boulders the size of grizzly bears, God, er, Mr. Floyd had me engage the “Rock Crawl” setting. This adjusted the traction control, electronic throttle, HDC, ride height, ABS, and centre and rear differentials for maximum performance. It also had me looking like Sir Edmund Hillary, minus the frostbite.
The LR3’s cabin environment was developed to cope with a wide range of operating conditions, potentially from the deserts of Dubai to the frozen tundra of Sweden. Automatic temperature control air conditioning is standard with separate controls for the left and right front seats. An optional rear heating and air conditioning unit is available for vehicles with third row seating.
From high-speed testing at European race-tracks, to Australian and African deserts, to stifling urban crawls in Tokyo and New York, Land Rover says they rolled over almost 6,500,000 kilometres testing the new LR3, more than any other previous model. Thankfully the cold climate package that includes, front windshield and wipers is standard in Canada.
When the LR3 goes on sale this fall, Land Rover will be asking $61,900 for the SE and $67,900 for the HSE, which adds a touch-screen, voice-activated navigation system, upgraded audio, bigger wheels and tires, Bi-xenon headlights and memory seats.
That’s a noticeable step up from current Discovery pricing, but for the best Land Rover ever, consider it a big deal.
The Land Rover Experience Driving School
Montebello, Quebec – For those who own, or are contemplating owning, a Land Rover and want to explore the vehicle’s true off-road capabilities (and figure out the alphabet soup’s worth of technological acronyms that come with these vehicles), I have a little secret.
The “Land Rover Experience Driving School” at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, Quebec, is Canada’s first manufacturer-sponsored off-road driving school and is one of an elite group of driving schools Land Rover runs around the world.
Similar to other driving schools operated by Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it’s a combination of driver training and sales tool.
“The Land Rover Experience offers customers the opportunity to learn how to get the most out of their Land Rover and inspire even more confidence in it,” said Bruce Rosen, vice president marketing for Land Rover Canada.
With professional instructors riding along, individual or group courses range from a one-hour session to half-day and full-day programs.
Courses familiarize drivers with the basics of off-roading, and the programs cover all the necessary skills to drive an off-road vehicle, such as planning, observation, manoeuvring and tackling a variety of terrain and obstacles.
Prices range from as little as $80.00 for a two hour lesson with a group of eight, to $233 for a full day at the Kenauk facility with two other drivers in your vehicle and lunch supplied as well.
Information about the Land Rover Experience Driving School is available at www.landrover.com/ca.