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  • 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Family-friendly SUV with off-road capability

    By Nina Russin

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    The Discovery Sport is Land Rover’s offering for active families who don’t want a full-sized sport-utility vehicle, but need the versatility traditionally only available in those types of cars. Although the newest Range Rover has a similar powertrain to the Evoque, the car’s character is completely different, catering more to buyers who want to spend time off the grid, and need a versatile cargo area to pack the toys.

    Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged engine rated at 240 horsepower and nine-speed automatic transmission: the same components found in the Evoque. All models come with full-time all-wheel drive and the ability to climb up a 45-degree incline.

    Land Rover was the first to market with a terrain response system that automatically adjusts braking, throttle, shift points etc. for a variety of off-road surfaces such as mud and ruts, rocks, sand and snow. The Discovery Sport comes with the newest version of that technology.

    With over eight inches of wheel travel, drivers don’t need to worry about bottoming out of rocks or roots on rugged trails. The cabin is also watertight in case the vehicle needs to cross a small stream. Wading depth is a tick under two feet.

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    On the other hand, the Discovery is very much a road car, with a four-wheel independent suspension and available active safety features that include lane keeping assist, park assist and traffic sign recognition. Electric power steering saves space and weight under the hood, helping to extend fuel economy.

    An optional HSE package on the test car adds xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, 10-way power leather front seats, power tailgate and front fog lamps. Other options on the test car include automatic climate control with heated front seats and steering wheel, 20′ alloy wheels with black exterior trim, an audio upgrade, app infotainment package and cargo area cover, bringing the final MSRP to $49,470. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2015

    Women’s automotive conference charts changes in the industry

    By Nina Russin

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    It’s been a long time coming, but the automotive industry has finally realized that women think about cars differently. Since female buyers account for 50 percent of all new car purchases, understanding how their preferences impact purchase decisions significantly impacts automakers’ bottom lines.

    For the past five years, my colleague Christine Overstreet has assembled a group of female journalists, product specialists, market analysts and engineers for Heels and Wheels, a conference focused on the growing impact women have on car design, engineering, media coverage and automotive sales. This year’s conference that took place in Southern California included market analysts from Kelly Blue Book, engineers from General Motors and FCA, products specialists from GMC, Buick, Dodge, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Kia, Nissan, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen.

    Two-dozen journalists covered the gamut from traditional outlets such as Cars.com and Autobytel to electronic media, travel writers and mommy bloggers. While earlier Heels and Wheels programs focused primarily on the dealership experience, the 2015 event had a broader base, looking at recent trends and giving journalists a chance to spend time with women who work for the automakers on product development teams. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

    OEMs predict a brighter 2013

    By Nina Russin

    The fourth-generation Range Rover made its North American debut in LA

    Los Angeles is the first of four major auto shows in the United States, and therefore sets the tenor for the remainder of the season. While sales statistics can be misleading, catering spreads which accompany the various press conferences are much more telling.

    Before the crash of 2008, the show floor was rife with the spoils of success. It was rare to find any press conference without an espresso machine and plates of scones. Full-fledged buffets with open bars were not unusual. I remember one automaker inviting journalists to take home folding chairs set out for the event. The chairs were nice enough to furnish a summer cabin.

    When things went black four years ago, it was hard to find a bottle of water on the show floor, much less a cappuccino. While I don’t condone swag wagons at editorial functions, the lack thereof was certainly telling.

    Gradually, the amenities came back, beginning with some ice buckets with refreshments and the occasional Danish pastry. But it was not until the 2012 show which opened to the media this week that “real food” made its reappearance on the show floor. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Range Rover Evoque Coupe

    Off-road brand steers towards city center

    By Nina Russin

    Range Rover Evoque Coupe

    In today’s market, niche automakers are finding it necessary to break new ground. By filling all of the customer’s needs within the dealership, the manufacturer builds volume and makes it more difficult for competitors to conquest existing owners.

    Range Rover, best known for its high-luxury off-road vehicles has targeted the luxury crossover segment with the Evoque, aimed at style-conscious urbanites. While Range Rover has long enjoyed popularity within the Hollywood set, the Evoque adds edgier styling, and a powertrain intended primarily for paved roads.

    The new crossover comes as both a coupe and five-door, with three grades: Pure, Prestige and Dynamic. The premium option package builds on the base vehicle with 19-inch chrome wheels, a blacked-out grille, surround camera system, blind spot monitoring and adaptive xenon headlamps. Inside the model gains a 17-speaker surround sound audio system, leather steering wheel, unique upholstery and door panels and hard drive navigation with voice command.

    Base price is $44,145 excluding the $850 destination charge. The premium option package adds $7900, while an adaptive suspension costs $1250. Other options include a black roof ($650); heated front seats, steering wheel, windshield and washer jets ($1000); unique headliner ($750); satellite and high-definition radio ($950); special exterior paint ($2500) and 20-inch chrome alloy wheels ($850). MSRP is $60,095. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Land Rover LR4

    All-terrain vehicle for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Land Rover LR4

    The Land Rover LR4 and its predecessor, the LR3, have struck a chord among buyers with active lifestyles. I believe that the LR4’s appeal lies in its versatility. Not only does it combine excellent driving dynamics on paved roads with the capability to tackle extreme off-road trails; the LR4 also seats up to seven passengers, and has the most versatile cargo area of any Range Rover product.

    Power comes from a 375-horsepower V-8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The driver can engage manual gear selection for more aggressive performance on challenging roads.

    Land Rover’s terrain response system takes the guesswork out of off-road driving, by automatically matching the shift points, suspension settings and braking to specific types of terrain such as sand, mud and ruts, snow and rock crawl.

    Base price is $47,650, not including the $850 destination fee. Black lacquer paint on the test car adds $350, while a climate comfort package, including heated seats, steering wheel and washer jets, adds $1500. The optional third row of seating costs $1,150. California emissions controls cost $100,bringing the price as tested to $51,600. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Range Rover Sport HSE

    Luxury sport-utility vehicle has no limits

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Range Rover Sport HSE

    The Range Rover Sport’s handsome exterior can be misleading. Its honeycomb grille and 19-inch alloy wheels might appear better suited to Beverly Hills than the hills of Hollister. I see a lot of squeaky-clean Range Rovers running about: the exteriors suspiciously free of rock chips or blemishes.

    That’s a shame. While I’m not suggesting that the Range Rover has less-than-exceptional road manners, owners who fail to venture off the beaten path are missing a tremendous treat. What other car could wade through the Atchafalaya swamp without rattling a teacup?

    The Range Rover Sport is the performance version of the HSE, with a choice of naturally-aspirated or supercharged V-8 engines, a six-speed automatic transmission and permanent four-wheel drive. The test car comes with the 375-horsepower V-8, which accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 7.2 seconds.

    Base price is $59,645, not including an $850 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a premium audio upgrade ($1650), luxury interior package ($4700), and vision assist package that includes a surround camera and adaptive front headlamps ($1200), bringing the price as tested to $68,495. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Land Rover Reveals New LR4 in New York

    Fourth-generation sport-utility vehicle packs a more powerful engine and revised terrain-response system

    2010 Land Rover LR4

    2010 Land Rover LR4

    The Land Rover LR3 is a three-time Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year winner: athletes love its cargo versatility and user-friendly interior. So the LR4, one of three new Land Rovers revealed at the New York International Auto Show, is high on our radar.

    The LR4 improves on the original formula with a more powerful engine, revised terrain-response system, new safety technology and fresh styling. Its 5-liter V-8 engine is a variation on the block in the Jaguar XF, optimized for off-road driving.

    The engine has a deeper sump than the Jaguar block to prevent oil starvation when the vehicle is at extreme angles. Engineers waterproofed the belt drives, alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump and starter motor to maintain the vehicle’s water-fording capabilities.

    The 375-horsepower engine mates to a six-speed ZF automatic transmission: zero-to-sixty acceleration is 7.5 seconds. Engineering advances have increased scheduled service intervals to 15,000 miles.

    Revised suspension, bigger brakes

    The LR4 is more stable on uneven terrain, thanks to new suspension knuckles and a larger anti-roll bar. New brakes derived from the Range Rover Sport include 14.2-inch discs with dual-piston calipers up front, and 13.8-inch rear discs with single-piston calipers.

    Engineers have added a sand launch control to the terrain response system, improving the LR4‘s performance in soft sand.  In rock crawl mode, the system automatically applies small amounts of braking at speeds below three miles-per hour to reduce the car’s tendency to roll.

    A gradient release feature on the hill descent control system prevents the car from lunging when the driver releases the brakes on a steep grade. The system temporarily maintains brake pressure when the driver takes his foot off the pedal, and progressively eases the brakes off to control acceleration. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2009 Land Rover LR3

    Luxury sport-utility vehicle gets wheel and interior upgrades

    By Nina Russin

    2009 Land Rover LR3

    2009 Land Rover LR3

    Of all the products in Land Rover’s line-up, the LR3 is the model that resonates most with active buyers. It combines the automaker’s legendary off-road capability with an ergonomic interior that incorporates the technology these buyers look for, without some of the luxury accoutrements they don’t want.

    Over the past two years, Land Rover has added some upscale features to the LR3’s standard equipment: leather upholstery, nineteen-inch wheels, and seating for seven passengers. While the leather seats are less practical than cloth, they make sense in light of the vehicle’s mid-luxury positioning.
    Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2008 Land Rover LR2 SE

    Compact sport-utility vehicle gets jiggy with the big boys.
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Land Rover LR2

    2008 Land Rover LR2

    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.

    Theater-style seating

    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.

    Airbags everywhere

    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.

    Quick facts:

    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
    Towing: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Fuel economy: 16/23 m.p.g. city/highway