Land Rover LR2 – 2008 Review: We’ve all heard the sayings before: “Things can only get better.” “We’re past the worst of it.” The point is always the same – sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to turn things around.
It may be harsh, but we considered the late Freelander to be an accurate representation of Land Rover’s darkest days, with the eventual turnaround coming in the form of the 2008 LR2. Replacing the miserable Freelander, the new little Rover enters the market with less exaggerated styling, an invigorated powertrain, and a comfortable interior. If only it lived up to the Land Rover off-road heritage.
by Thom Blackett
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Painted in Stornoway (a.k.a. charcoal) gray, our 2008 Land Rover LR2 tester arrived with a window sticker reading $40,050. Added onto the base price of $33,985 was a $715 destination charge, $700 for a cold climate package, $100 for California emissions, and two popular equipment packages. The Lighting Package, coming in at $1,050, tacked on bi-xenon headlights, approach lights, and a memory function for the mirrors and driver’s seat. Priced at $3,500, the Technology Package packed in a navigation system, a surround sound system with Sirius satellite radio, rear seat audio controls, and Bluetooth connectivity. We put about 700 miles on our temporary ride, covering much of southern California.
With 230 horses on tap, the 2008 Land Rover LR2 comes up a bit short compared to many of today’s crossovers and small suvs, and when nailing the go pedal drivers will likely wish for a bit more power. However, the little Rover provides sufficient gusto for merging into speedy highway traffic, delivers well-modulated throttle response, and utilizes a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Besides less than overwhelming power, the LR2’s powertrain makes for enjoying commuting, though engine refinement could be bumped up a notch or two at high revs, and the 17-mpg average fuel economy we recorded was hardly impressive.
The LR2 crossover features a soft ride exhibiting noticeable body roll in moderate corners. On pavement, road irregularities are isolated from the cabin, though on washboard surfaces the LR2’s suspension clatters and punts any hopes for refinement out the window. Steering feel is somewhat responsive, and brake pedal feel and modulation are excellent.
Our brief off-road excursion indicated that the LR2 is less capable than Land Rover shoppers may expect. Multiple Terrain Response settings didn’t allow us to clear the deepest ruts – a low range or locking differential would’ve helped there. We did, however, appreciate the hill descent control system that limited speeds on the downhills.
Seeing out of the high-riding LR2 crossover is a breeze thanks to tall side windows, sizeable side mirrors, and three retractable rear head restraints that provide a clear view out of the rear window. Rear pillars are a little on the wide side, but they have no ill effects on visibility, and relatively narrow B-pillars allow for clear over-the-shoulder viewing.
Fun to Drive
Few drivers will likely walk away from some seat time in the new LR2 screaming “Man, that was FUN!!” Unless, of course, they’re Land Rover Freelander owners, in which case the improvements all add up to a vehicle superior to what’s in their driveways. The LR2 is comfortable, features a competent powertrain, and arrives with a much needed degree of sophistication. Great stuff, but nothing that puts a big ol’ stupid grin on your face.
Front comfort is one of the LR2’s strong points. Though possibly a bit too narrow for larger folks, average-size adults will find the buckets to be well-shaped, supportive, and quite comfortable even during long hauls. However, slightly longer lower sections could help to improve thigh support. But, as-is, there’s little to truly complain about. A leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel (should be power-operated at this price), padded door sills, and copious amounts of room make this little Rover a hospitable place to watch the miles pass. The padded center armrests are a nice touch, too, but we’re not fans of the awkward adjustment knobs.
Packed into the rear of the LR2 is a supportive, split bench seat with three adjustable head restraints. The shape of the seat and the set recline angle provide a comfortable spot for two small- to average-sized adults, though it’s too narrow for three. The soft front seatbacks will go easy on the knees, especially since there’s not a lot of leg room – foot and head room are very plentiful. As is the case up front, rear doors feature padded inserts and armrests, large pockets, and awkward power window switch placement. Doors open wide, but feet must be lifted up to clear the small lower door opening.
Luxury buyers expect a lot for their money, including a quiet ride. Unfortunately, they’ll be left wanting by the 2008 LR2, as the six-cylinder engine can be clearly heard and gets downright raucous at high revs, tire and road noise creep into the cabin at higher speeds, and the suspension clunks its way over off-road obstacles. It’s easy enough to carry on a normal conversation amidst all the clatter, but for a Land Rover-badged vehicle in this price range, a quieter cabin should be standard equipment.
As one might expect from a crossover vehicle such as the LR2, cargo room is a high point. The tailgate, which includes two integrated interior handles, grants access to a wide trunk opening. The load floor is a bit high, but there’s a bumper pad to prevent scratches when lifting items up and into the LR2. A light and a few tie-down points are provided, and a cargo cover is released with the push of a button. The rear split seatback can be lowered flat, provided the front seats are pushed forward and the lower seat cushions are raised.
If only we’d skipped this part, the LR2 might’ve left our care with a more favorable impression. However, that wasn’t the case, as we completed our usual inspection and found a number of build quality issues. Starting outside, the body gaps on our tester were noticeably wide, gaps round the headlights and above the taillights were irregular, the doors exhibited a tinny sound when shut, and the rear driver’s side door didn’t sit flush with the quarter panel. Inside, we found rough edges on multiple plastic panels and open gaps on the outer sections of the dash.
On some points, Land Rover appears to have made some suitable choices for LR2 interior materials. The leather upholstery feels soft and durable, there are soft-touch materials on dash and door panel inserts, and most of the hard plastics feel substantial, offer consistent grains, and have a matte finish. Even the flat black instrument panel fits in. But the cheap mousefur headliner and plastic upper pillar covers should be covered in mesh, the door grab handles be constructed of more rugged plastic, and the shift knob should be covered in leather rather than plastic. Or, leave as-is and drop the price by about $10,000-15,000.
Though it resembles its Freelander predecessor, the 2008 Land Rover LR2 arrives with a more sophisticated presence. Outside, the blocky front end has been massaged into a more congruous design, the headlights have been tweaked, and the flanks have lost the trying-too-hard-to-be-tough plastic fender flares. We’re not sold on the vent treatment on the fenders, but the clean tail end with stylish lenses is welcome. The spare tire, previously mounted on the tailgate, has been moved inside under the cargo floor. That interior also boasts an elegant instrument panel, replacing the hodge-podge setup with odd dash-top cupholders found in the Freelander.
As a vehicle theoretically designed for light-duty off-road use, or at least an occasional road trip to the mountains, the LR2 needs to include a fair number of cubbies and storage provisions. Satisfying this demand are ample door pockets with integrated cupholders that flex enough to accommodate a large Nalgene bottle, a spacious glovebox, pockets on the back sides of the front seats, a center console cubby, and a fold-down rear armrest with cupholders and storage. Front passengers are also granted three cupholders in the center console as well as small pockets on the front sides of the lower seat sections.
Basic radio controls are easy to comprehend, the buttons are well-labeled for the most part, and the rubber dials and plastic buttons have a solid, durable feel. Not so good are the number of buttons, an auxiliary jack that’s located on the rear of the center console, and steering wheel controls that are located too close to the horn (yes, that can be embarrassing). Rear sound controls with input jacks are a nice addition.
The touch-screen navigation system, located high on the dash, can be hard to view in direct sunlight, and as is common, does not allow user input when the vehicle is moving.
With its dual-zone climate control system, the 2008 LR2 provides a comfortable environment for both front seat passengers. The setup features three dials – one for driver temperature, one for passenger temperature, and one for fan speed. Secondary buttons address economy mode, air flow direction, and defrost functions. Two-setting heated seats are operated by clicking the inner sections of the outermost dials. We tested the LR2 off-road on one of Southern California’s hottest summer days, and we’re pleased to find the LR2 capable of cooling off quickly and effectively. Separate controls are not provided for rear seat passengers.
Switches for power windows and mirrors are oddly placed atop the door panels as opposed to the preferred placement near the door armrest. The power locks buttons are on the center dash – a design cue we continue to consider odd. Other controls, such as headlights and wipers, are in the expected spots. A dial for the Terrain Response system, along with buttons for the hill descent and stability control systems, are clearly marked and placed in front of the shifter. And last, there’s the ignition that requires insertion of a key fob and the pressing of a start button, which begs the question – why not just use a key?
Crossover vehicles represent a growing segment, with models representing everything from modern-day station wagons to capable off-roaders designed to drive like cars. The Land Rover LR2 falls under the latter category, provided excursions taking place beyond the pavement aren’t terribly difficult or technical. Rigs like the LR2 are perfect for busting through snow en route to the ski resort or picking your way along a rain-soaked fire road, as are a number of competent competitors. There are several sharing a pool of buyers with the Land Rover, including Acura’s turbocharged RDX, BMW’s X3, and Lexus’ RX 350.
2ND Opinion –
Driving the Land Rover LR2 doesn’t evoke images of a safari unless your idea of one includes a trip the mall. Based on the Volvo S80 platform, it isn’t so much the somewhat more car-like ride as it is the luxury interior. Leather trim and a multi-speaker audio system are all very nice, but they don’t make the vehicle more capable of fording a stream or crossing a desert.
The inline-six cylinder engine lacks neither torque nor horsepower, with 234 lb.-ft. and 230 ponies respectively. Acceleration isn’t terribly quick, but you’ll get to freeway speed by the end of most…
2ND Opinion –
It’s interesting that Ford finds itself in a position where it needs to sell off its various branches. Take Land Rover for example. After a day spent behind the wheel of the LR2, it’s easy to see that Ford has been very good for the English SUV manufacturer.
Well, technically Volvo has been good for it, but since Ford also owns that company, it’s all one big happy family, so you get my point.
The LR2 is yet another permutation of the Volvo S80 platform, internally known as Ford’s EUCD platform. A lot of vehicles are built off this structure…