2008 Land Rover LR2 SEPosted on August 5th, 2007
Compact sport-utility vehicle gets jiggy with the big boys.
By Nina Russin
The LR2 is Land Rover’s replacement for the Freelander: a compact sport-utility vehicle that rolled out in 1997. Like the Freelander, the LR2 is a unibody, all-wheel drive car: a departure from the body-on-frame trucks the automaker is known for.
In contrast, the LR2 feels more solid and purposeful than the car it replaces. The body is stiffer, for better steering feedback, and the six-cylinder engine, plenty powerful. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 8.4 seconds: fast enough to merge onto freeway, or win the occasional game of chicken out of the tollbooth.
The 3.2-liter engine is an inline design, which I prefer to a V6. Inline engines are inherently balanced. Engineers can put sensitive electronic components on the cold end, where they’re less likely to fail from heat. In layman’s terms, inline six engines don’t vibrate, and they’re less likely to break down.
A six-speed automatic transmission boosts power and fuel economy. Drivers can select either regular or sport modes. The sport mode keeps the car in a lower gear for better power delivery.
Full-time all-wheel drive sends power to the wheels with the best traction. Traction and roll-stability control are standard. So is downhill descent control.
Land Rover’s terrain response system, introduced on the LR3, is standard. A dial on the center console allows the driver to alter the vehicle’s suspension, traction and braking according to driving conditions. Did somebody say deep mud? Yummy!
North to Sedona
Arizona’s red rock country is the perfect place to test the LR2: a combination of paved and dirt roads, with a healthy dose of slick rock that’s legal to drive on. The stretch of Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Sedona is an uphill grade that climbs from 1500 to 4500 feet. It’s great for testing the car’s low-end torque and horsepower. As the altitude increases and the grade gets steeper, large semis slow to a crawl. Passing on an uphill grade is a quick way to gauge how much of the engine power is actually making it to the wheels.
The intelligent all-wheel drive system automatically delivers power to the wheels that need it most. Power goes to the front wheels when the car is on dry pavement. But when traction needs change, as they do on winding uphill grades, the system can send almost all of the power to the rear axle. The design boosts fuel economy, while giving the LR2 the characteristics of an all-wheel or rear-wheel drive car.
A long, flat torque curve helps as well. The engine produces up to 234 lbs.-ft. of torque at cruising speeds. As a result, the LR2 can pass vehicles on a steep grade without harsh downshifts.
Unlike some off-road vehicles, the LR2 has a fully independent suspension, which produces a supple ride, not unlike a passenger car. Rack and pinion steering is very responsive, and four-wheel disc brakes are firm and linear.
August is monsoon season in the southwest: afternoon thunderstorms in the high country are commonplace. The prospect of flooded roads and high winds make the drive north more enticing. Rain may depress people in the Midwest, but here in the desert, it’s cause for celebration.
As we approach Prescott, we can see large thunderheads to the north. The winds pick up, and we realize that we we’re headed for a late afternoon thunder-boomer. The LR2 loves deep water.
Front and rear wipers maintain good visibility all the way around the vehicle, while the all-wheel drive keeps the tires glued to the road. Despite its high profile, the truck feels stable at speed, even in wind. Ground clearance is about 8.7 inches, so water intrusion is never an issue.
The LR2 can wade through water up to 19.7-inches without damaging the engine or interior. Except for getting dirt on the outside of the car, the LR2 comes through the storm with flying colors.
The steep hills in and around Sedona are perfect for testing the hill descent control. The system uses antilock braking to maintain a slow downhill speed. The speed is never more than four miles-per-hour, but may be less, depending on the terrain response settings.
A new gradient release control system works in tandem with the hill descent control. It maintains a certain amount of brake pressure after the driver takes his foot off the pedal so downhill acceleration remains in control.
Since all of this engages automatically, the driver can spend more time enjoying the scenery. The hardest part is keeping one’s foot off the brake pedal, so the electronic controls can do their job.
Like the LR3, the LR2 has theater-style seating. Second-row passengers sit slightly higher than those in front for better forward visibility. There are two sunroofs: one for each row. Because of the car’s compact size, second-row passengers don’t have a ton of legroom. But it should be adequate for most adults. While three passengers can sit in back, two will be more comfortable.
The rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. It’s a fairly simple operation that entails flipping the seat cushions forward and then folding the seatbacks flat. It’s not necessary to remove the headrests, so the process takes about a minute. With the second-row seats folded, there is plenty of room in back for a couple of bikes with the front wheels removed, or a bunch of camping gear. Those of us who like to get dirty appreciate the reversible cargo floor: carpeted on one side, and a water-resistant material on the other. A removable tonneau hides items behind the rear seat.
Power adjustable front seats and leather trim are standard. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows smaller drivers to find a comfortable seating position, and still maintain a safe distance from the front airbag. There are plenty of cupholders, as well as bottle holders in the doors. A small cubby in the center console easily holds a cell phone or PDA, and there are a couple of 12-volt power points, so the driver can recharge on the go.
A new keyless start system may fix a long-time Land Rover problem: keys sticking in the ignition switch. The key fob inserts into a slot next to the steering wheel to power up the electronic components. A start/stop button above it turns the ignition on and off. The system certainly doesn’t simplify things, but it seems to be reliable.
The terrain response dial at the front of the center console has four settings: general driving, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, and sand. Each setting varies the way the stability, traction and hill descent control functions, to optimize traction and directional control. It also adjusts shock tuning and the center differential to keep passengers comfortable, but give the wheels enough power to go forward on uneven terrain.
While the LR2 doesn’t have a two-speed transfer case, it has enough wheel articulation and low-end torque to take drivers through some fairly challenging trails. The advantage of all-wheel drive is that the driver doesn’t have to worry about changing settings. The car is always ready to respond to the unexpected snowstorm or flooded dirt road.
All the comforts of home
While the LR2 is Land Rover’s least expensive vehicle, it’s still a Land Rover. Base price is just under $34,000: the test car was just over $40,000. Luxury cars have luxury amenities. For example, the seats are similar to those found in the high-luxury Range Rover HSE: heaven for people with lower back problems.
A technology option package adds Sirius satellite radio, navigation system, six-
disc in-dash CD changer with Bluetooth connectivity and 7.1 surround sound. Other options on the car are heated front seats, a heated windshield, and a lighting package that adds bi-xenon headlamps, approach and puddle lamps on the side mirrors.
Engineers took vehicle safety seriously for the LR2: even the most skillful driver can get in trouble off-road. There are seven standard airbags: two in front, one at the driver’s knees, side and side curtain. Antilock braking, traction and roll stability control are also standard.
The LR2 is a good option for buyers who want the off-road capability and panache of a Land Rover at a more affordable price. It’s a stylish, nicely proportioned car that should be just the right size for one or two people and their gear.
Fuel economy is a respectable 16/23 m.p.g. city/highway. The car’s relatively compact dimensions make it easy to park in most urban lots or garages. Ride and handling characteristics rival passenger cars, with the additional benefits of exceptional off-road capabilities. The LR2 can tow up to 3500 pounds.
Land Rover LR2s are waiting to get dirty at dealerships nationwide.
Likes: Excellent on and off-road performance, with all the luxury Land Rover is famous for. The LR2 makes foul-weather driving an adventure to look forward to. The cargo area is large enough to hold a couple of bicycles or some camping gear, and the reversible cargo floor is easy to keep clean. Stadium seating gives all passengers an unobstructed forward view.
Dislikes: The new keyless ignition feature is more complicated than it should be. It takes longer to start the car than a traditional ignition system.
Base price: $33,985
Price as tested: $40,050
Horsepower: 230 Hp @ 6300 r.p.m.
Torque: 234 lbs.-ft. @ 3200 r.p.m.
0 to 60: 8.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 16/23 m.p.g. city/highway
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