It was here, half a block from Huntington Beach’s crowded main drag on a Friday night, where our mud-splattered 2005 Land Rover LR3 lurched and bucked to an unscheduled stop. For at least two miles, the LR3 had exhibited the classic symptoms of a vehicle about to run out of gas. But the fuel gauge read full, the trip computer assured us we had hundreds of miles to go until empty, and the low-fuel warning light remained dark. Yet the LR3 sputtered and stalled, surged and slowed as the fuel injection system’s thirst for life-giving liquid went unquenched. Sitting mystified behind the wheel, I couldn’t guess what might be wrong with the LR3. Clearly, however, the SUV wasn’t going to make it to the next filling station.
After several frustrating minutes spent looking for a roadside assistance number (why the heck isn’t it printed on the inside cover or placed on a discreet sticker on the windows?), it took a call to a colleague, and a 90 minute wait for a kid driving an old beat-up Volvo station wagon to arrive with a couple of gallons of unleaded. That solved the problem, and got us five blocks to a gas station, where the truck sucked up more than $50 of premium fuel.
While this particular example of Land Rover’s new suv is reminiscent of the old Discovery in more ways than just a bad fuel gauge, the LR3 is a huge improvement over the Disco in terms of drivability and design. With its more powerful V8 engine, better brakes, significantly improved handling, and high-tech traction control systems, combined with no loss of off-roading capability in an effort to soften it for the mass market, the LR3 is a success. Combine this newfound on-pavement prowess with its endlessly useful interior design, impressive utility, and outstanding occupant comfort levels, and it’s easy to see why luxury suv buyers might be inclined to select the LR3.
Initially, Land Rover offered the new 2005 LR3 only with a V8 engine in SE and HSE trim, but in the middle of the year the British SUV builder added a lower-priced V6 version with significantly less power but virtually no difference in EPA fuel economy numbers.
Standard equipment on the 2005 Land Rover LR3 SE V6, which starts at $38,950 including a $665 destination fee, includes a permanent four-wheel-drive system and an automatic transmission with manual shift control. An electronic air suspension with Terrain Response traction control; all-terrain Dynamic Stability Control (DSC); four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and cornering brake control; Hill Descent Control (HDC) to manage off-roading speeds; and Active Roll Mitigation (ARM) to control body roll are also included in the base price.
Additional safety gear includes dual front, side, and side curtain airbags. With the optional Rear Seat Package, side-curtain airbags are added for the third-row, too. Up front, occupant sensors work with the front passenger airbag to determine whether deployment is necessary, and both front airbags feature dual-stage inflation dependent upon crash severity.
Standard equipment on the LR3 V6 includes six-way power front seats, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Other standard features include heated side mirrors, remote keyless entry, power windows, 18-inch alloy wheels, and rear privacy glass. Every 2005 LR3 V6 comes with an optional $3,000 Premium Package that includes an “SE” badge for the tailgate, leather upholstery, a power sunroof, and a 240-watt Harmon-Kardon Logic 7 audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and nine speakers. The Land Rover LR3 SE V6, priced at $41,950, is available starting in July of 2005.
For another $3,045, the Land Rover LR3 SE V8 adds plenty more power with little reduction in fuel economy, and paves the way to access options such as a DVD navigation system with special off-roading features, Bluetooth wireless communications, and bi-Xenon headlights. Options for the SE V8 include a DVD off-road navigation, a Lighting Package with bi-Xenon headlights and front fog lights, and Rear Park Distance Control.
Buyers looking for maximum luxury will want the $49,995 Land Rover LR3 HSE V8, which adds bigger wheels and tires, a 550-watt audio system with four additional speakers, off-road DVD navigation with touch screen and voice control, and a 4WD driver information center. HSE V8 models also include an eight-way power driver’s seat, a memory feature for the driver’s seat and mirrors, bi-Xenon headlights and fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, a HomeLink programmable universal transmitter, and Rear Park Distance Control with footwell and puddle lights.
Both the SE V8 and HSE V8 can be ordered with a number of option packages. The Rear Seat Package adds seven-passenger capacity and third-row side curtain airbags, while the Rear Climate Package includes rear air conditioning controls. Other packages are the Heavy Duty Package with a locking rear differential and a full-size spare tire; the Convenience Package with a fold-flat second-row seat a cargo net and an additional front cupholder; the Cold Climate Package with heated front and rear seats and a heated windshield; and the Tow Package with a Class III receiver and remote rear suspension height adjustment. Java Black Pearl paint is available on both models.
Accessories available through the dealer include features like a day tent that covers the rear hatch, a sliding load space floor, a dog guard, a cargo divider, woodgrain interior trim, and other handy gadgets.
We test drove the 2005 Land Rover LR3 HSE V8 equipped with the Convenience Package, the Tow Package, the Heavy Duty Package, and the Cold Climate Package for a total of $52,245.
Nuts and Bolts
Mustering just 216 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 269 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm, the 2005 Land Rover LR3’s base 4.0-liter V6 engine is charged with powering 5,426 pounds – no small task. Clearly, the main reason for offering this overmatched motor in the LR3 is to get the base down closer to $40,000, since the EPA fuel economy estimate is 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, virtually indistinguishable from the 14-city and 18-highway numbers for the V8 engine.
Under the hood of the SE V8 and HSE V8 is a 4.4-liter eight-cylinder whipping up 300 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 315 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. This aluminum dual overhead cam powerplant is derived from a Jaguar unit, modified for rugged off-road use with changes to improve dust and water sealing, to allow the LR3 to ford up to 24 inches of standing water, and to traverse steep grades without fluid starvation.
All 2005 Land Rover LR3s are equipped with an adaptive six-speed automatic transmission with a CommandShift manual shifting feature that lets the driver choose her own gears if she likes. Power flows through this transmission to a permanent 4WD system with a standard locking center and available locking rear differential. Low range gearing is included with the two-speed transfer case, and the system splits power 50/50 front and rear at all times.
A four-wheel independent, height-adjustable air suspension is standard, with remote rear suspension control an option. Using this available feature, it’s possible to raise the rear of the LR3 to increase the departure angle, which allows the SUV to get through more difficult terrain. Four-wheel, vented-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are also standard, and the parking brake is electrically operated.
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is standard on the LR3, along with Terrain Response, a sophisticated off-road traction control system. With Terrain Response, the driver can select any one of five system settings that optimize the ride height, engine response, hill descent control, traction control, and transmission to handle conditions specific to general driving; slippery surfaces like grass, gravel and snow; mud and ruts; sand; and rock crawling. A power rack-and-pinion steering with a tighter turning circle than the old Discovery helps the LR3 to maximize the Terrain Response system’s effectiveness by ensuring that the SUV is maneuverable in tight spots.
Worried about having so much high-tech gear aboard a Land Rover? Every LR3 comes with a four-year, 50,000-mile warranty with six-year, unlimited corrosion coverage. So just make sure your lease contract doesn’t extend past the warranty coverage, and you oughta be all set.
Modern yet familiar, the austere and architectural 2005 Land Rover LR3 relies heavily on key design cues from the past blended with the crisp, clean flanks and distinctive face of modern Rovers. The retired Discovery is clearly evident in the stepped roof design, the standard Alpine roof windows, the asymmetrical rear window glass, and the high-mount taillights. But the more expensive Range Rover is represented in the LR3s headlights, grille, and plain side panels. The result is distinctly Land Rover, but at least one observer we spoke to thought the LR3 looked like a Honda Element and another remarked that it looked like a plastic toy version of a real SUV.
One thing is certain: The LR3 is built to defend itself from damage with large plastic overfenders and body work that tucks in at the corners for less exposure during off-roading. We do think it’s odd that the side character line stops between the door handles, creating an unfinished look, but overall the LR3 looks enough like Discoveries before it to create a solid tie to its rugged history while simultaneously looking toward the future.
Land Rover makes plenty of noise about the LR3’s new Integrated Body-frame structure, which liberally employs aluminum, magnesium, and Boron steel to reduce weight and increase structural rigidity. This design replaces the old Discovery’s traditional body-on-frame architecture and gives the LR3 the refinement and responsiveness of a unibody structure coupled with the off-road benefits of a rugged body-on-frame vehicle. In fact, this new foundation makes the cabin quieter and the truck more responsive, yielding big benefits in the suburban environments in which it increasingly serves duty. Land Rover also claims that the LR3’s Integrated Body-frame structure is specifically engineered to lessen the effects of impacts with smaller vehicles.
Though commanding a premium price, nothing about the 2005 Land Rover LR3’s interior says luxury. Our test model was black and gray inside, with a light colored headliner serving as the only thing breaking the monotony of the cabin’s appearance. Simple, industrial forms create a no-nonsense ambience, entirely in keeping with the LR3’s character but not quite what luxury buyers might expect.
At least the LR3’s control layout is dramatically improved over the old Discovery, which had a penchant for perplexing its driver on a regular and ongoing basis. But despite its greater ease of use, there is work to do on this front.
Take the stereo, for example. What looks like a large, rubbery tuning knob is not, making life frustrating. But the large, rubbery power and volume knobs are terrific, working exactly as expected. We also liked the nine presets for favorite radio stations, with large buttons that are simple to use. However, the radio’s display screen is flat and not angled toward driver, making it hard to see in bright light.
Like the stereo, the climate controls are much better than in the old Discovery. Three round, rubbery knobs regulate driver, passenger and fan settings for the dual-zone automatic climate control system. Equipped as our test truck was with a Cold Climate Package, the switches for the two-stage seat heaters were flanked by buttons for the defogger and heated windshield, system mode, air recirculation, and system-off features. Sounds great, right? It is, except the controls are located down low in dash where they’re hard to see and reach.
Similarly, other controls operate in a brilliant yet confusing fashion. Automatic down/up convenience is offered for the driver’s window only, almost unforgivable in a vehicle than can easily approach the $60,000 mark. And for that kind of coin, you might resent a power mirror switch looks like it came out of a Ford Focus, but it’s a handy twist knob mounted to A-pillar so you feel guilty complaining. The turn signal stalk is sensitive, making it easy to accidentally “bright” other motorists (which can get you killed on some Los Angeles freeways these days).
We really liked the pull-out fog lights with a separate setting for the rear fog light, and the location of the controls for the DSC, park control system, hazard flashers, and central locking that are arrayed atop the stereo system where they are easy to see and use. The four-wheel-drive and suspension settings are placed in the center console, logically grouped behind the gear selector with the electronic parking brake release. The power sunroof features one-touch opening, and the power seat controls are located on the lower left side of the seat base where they belong, rather than on the inner panel of the center console as on the Discovery. Handy twist controls allow for perfect setting of the front seat inboard armrests.
Navigation system buyers should know that the touch screen requires deliberate presses with substantial effort to get things to work. But when off-roading, the breadcrumb feature is indispensable, allowing you to drive deep into the boonies with little worry that you’ll get lost. This special off-road navigation system also offers latitude and longitude positions, the LR3’s heading in degrees, and an altimeter. On-road features include a bird’s-eye 3D perspective. The screen also houses a handy “4X4 Info” display that shows the real-time status of the LR3’s off-roading systems. Other system features include points of interest, stored locations, route options, and an SOS emergency feature that can summon rescue personnel. Our main complaint, other than the insensitive touch screen, is that the display washes out in sunlight, making all this cool stuff very hard to see.
If the old Discovery was good at anything, aside from off-roading, it was coddling its occupants. Once you clambered aboard the high-riding Disco through it’s narrow doors, the seats were almost heavenly. Fortunately, Land Rover has seen to it that the new LR3 duplicates this trait.
Tall, firm, supportive front seats feature soft, supple leather, with height adjustable inboard armrests and wide, softly padded windowsills to rest arms upon. The standard air suspension lowers the LR3 to make entry and exit easier – there’s no climbing involved, and if you’re six-feet tall you can just slide right in with just a little bit of squeezing under the steering wheel. Speaking of which, the steering wheel features a thick rim that’s nice to grip. Literally, when it comes to front seat comfort, we have no complaints.
Ditto the back seat, where passengers will find tons of foot space and a high, firm, supportive cushion covered in the same soft leather as the front chairs. Rear seat heaters, rear audio controls and jacks, a rear sunroof panel, and rear air conditioning vents make riding in back even more pleasing. Granted, legroom is a little snug. Taller folks might find their knees and shins right up against the soft front seatbacks, though not uncomfortably so. Getting in and out of the rear seat, like with most vehicles, isn’t as easy as it is up front. Rear door foot clearance is tight, and more so in a parking lot, where the molded-in door panel cupholder serves to block easy exit even for children. Our test vehicle did not come with optional third-row seats, so we cannot comment on how comfortable they are or how easy it is to use them.
Interior noise is dramatically reduced over the Discovery, with most interior noise coming from the various creaks of interior parts. Above 75 mph, wind noise is evident but not bothersome. The engine and tires are silent when cruising, unless the side windows are open to let tire whir into the cabin.
Any SUV worth the acronym needs to provide a modicum of utility, and the 2005 Land Rover LR3 shines brightly in this regard. Our test vehicle, which did not include the Rear Seat Package, featured a flat load floor six feet long combined with generous under-floor storage, and lots of little trays, cubbies, and nets throughout the interior.
Folding the 40/20/40 split rear seat is simple, but collapsing the bottom cushions so that the resulting load floor will be flat is not. Nevertheless, no headrest removal is necessary to clear the front seatbacks, and that’s always a big plus in our book. Once the seats are folded flat, the resulting load floor is level with the drop-down tailgate, making it a breeze to slide objects into or out of the LR3.
Land Rover also includes a rear glass panel that opens independently of the tailgate, making it easy to load smaller items into the cargo bay. But if objects roll forward to the rear seatbacks, reaching them over that tailgate is difficult. Maybe it’s best to place these smaller objects in the under-floor storage area or in one of the covered bins in each side panel.
Seemingly made for those with unquenchable thirst, the 2005 Land Rover LR3 features bottle holders that are molded into all four-door panels, ready to serve beverages to active lifestyle types. Additionally, two front cupholders with removable sizing inserts are located in the front console, and there’s a dashboard pop-out cupholder for the front passenger.
Big door bins accompany the bottle holders in all four doors, there are card clips on both sides of the windshield, and the dual-tiered glovebox is very large. A wide, rubber-lined, dashboard storage slot faces the front passenger, and there are other slots, trays, and bins scattered throughout the cabin. In fact, Land Rover provides so much useful storage area in the LR3 that it would be easy to lose something inside this truck.
Quality has not been a Land Rover talking point in years past. And though the current Range Rover, which was developed in large part by BMW, is a wonderful machine in almost every respect, quality is still not a Land Rover talking point.
Unacceptable in a Hyundai, much less a $50,000 Land Rover, many of the LR3’s interior materials are cheap. Slippery, creaky, insubstantial plastic bits and pieces do not belong in a vehicle of this price. The door panel grips, ashtray material, lower gauge bezel, glovebox door operation, and center console trim all serve as glaring examples of shortsighted cost cutting. Our only compliment on the LR3’s plastic parts is that they are low gloss.
Other materials are acceptable, such as the decent soft-touch door panel and dash top materials, the cloth but fuzzy headliner, and the thin felt lining the glovebox. The industrial-strength rubber floor mats are sturdy and effective, and the leather covering the seats is of high quality. But in our test truck, the leather-lined driver’s seat wiggled on its base when accelerating, stopping, or cornering. Everything inside the LR3 creaked and groaned under pressure, the headliner was not solidly attached to the roof, and the center console gearshift surround was loose and popped off with little provocation. Plus, the fuel gauge was on the fritz.
Exterior build quality ranked below average, too, with plastic A-pillar trim pieces that clip in with plastic tabs. We know this because, at 75 mph on a Los Angeles freeway, the right-side trim came partially off and, in the wind, began mercilessly beating the passenger-side rearview mirror. Our LR3’s hood was slightly tweaked off-center, the tailgate was obviously askew, and we noted minor variances in door fit, headlight attachments, and overfender trim adherence.
Due to foul weather that closed many of our usual off-roading areas, we drove the 2005 Land Rover LR3 primarily on the city streets and clogged freeways of southern California with a side jaunt to play in the mud near the ski-country town of Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest. In other words, we drove it like most of its owners will.
Our LR3’s 4.4-liter V8 engine was much more powerful than the creaky old motor in the defunct Discovery, making the LR3 feel like it could at least get out of its own way. But dipping into that newfound performance comes at a price; we averaged just 14.1 mpg during our week behind the wheel. We also noticed that when cold, the engine hesitated and responded sluggishly to throttle input – like the motor was choking. The six-speed automatic transmission doesn’t work terribly well with the engine, either. Downshifts and upshifts are occasionally poorly timed; sometimes the throttle provides quick off-the-line acceleration and sometimes barely any additional forward velocity is added. Come to a quick stop, and the transmission doesn’t drop into first gear fast enough, resulting in an unexpected lurch upon acceleration. There’s definitely room for improvement here. Or you can use CommandShift to select your own gears.
Braking was a Discovery weak spot, and again, the LR3 proves much better than before but not up to class standards. The brake pedal lacks feel and modulation during fast or panic stops, making it hard to engage full braking power despite the standard brake assist technology. Plus, the LR3 lurches about when the brakes are stabbed, and mid-turn braking results in significant weight shift.
When it comes to handling, compared to the Discovery, the LR3 is a Ferrari. Surefooted on all types of road surfaces, the LR3’s body leans in tighter turns, but thanks to Active Roll Mitigation (ARM) technology that helps to right the SUV under such conditions, it’s not like you’re sliding around on a balance ball like in the old Discovery. While mud-bogging the LR3 performed extraordinarily well. Except when caught in a rut, the LR3 behaved as though the trails we took were paved surfaces. With terrain response, air suspension, low-range 4WD, hill descent control, and the other electronics on board, it’s hard to imagine the average Joe getting stuck – but the LR3 inspires such confidence that’s it’s easy to see how an inexperienced four wheeler might wind up in over his head. Steering is quicker than the Discovery and, on the highway, exhibits a syrupy leaden feel common to a Jaguar. Mid-corner bumps and bad pavement are pounded into submission by the LR3’s stout suspension and 255/55R19 Goodyear Wrangler All-Weather tires.
Despite the LR3’s credentials as a capable off-roader, the ride quality is quite good. You’re aware that heavy-duty underpinnings are carrying you down the road, but the end result is more like a sport sedan than a rough-and-tumble truck. Undulating pavement can induce some body porpoising, but the LR3 never suffered side-stepping over broken pavement and took even the most severe bumps and dips in stride.
Like the ride quality, visibility is excellent, except the over-the-shoulder view to the right, which is blocked by giant rear headrests. The rear center headrest also impedes the rearward view, but the optional park assist system makes parallel parking and reversing easier, and the view over the square hood is expansive, making it simple to place the vehicle when off-roading.
Off-road, the 2005 Land Rover LR3 is definitely fun to drive. Clearly, this is where the LR3 shines brightest. On pavement, the LR3 is a novelty. You sit high behind expansive glass feeling like you could take on anything, but as a daily driver this truck gets tiring to drive. It’s not lithe, though the turning circle is impressive. The steering, brakes, and suspension are ultimately compromised by their dual missions, and the transmission simply doesn’t work well.
Though this particular example of Land Rover’s new LR3 reminded us of the old Discovery in more ways than just a bad fuel gauge, it is a huge improvement over the Disco in terms of drivability and design. With its more powerful V8 engine, better brakes, significantly improved handling, and high-tech traction control systems, combined with no loss of off-roading capability in an effort to soften it for the mass market, the LR3 is a dynamic success. Combine this newfound on-pavement prowess with its endlessly useful interior design, impressive utility, and outstanding occupant comfort levels, and it’s easy to see why luxury SUV buyers might be inclined to select the LR3.
But quality problems persist, and while the Land Rover LR3 raises the bar over the Discovery it replaces, it’s overkill in a world where sport-utility vehicles have replaced the minivan as the soccer mom’s wheels of choice, a high-tech bushwacking SUV loaded with innovations lost on the typical suburbanite, a luxury vehicle in name only, a status symbol that gives its owners a false sense of invincibility in foul weather and on challenging terrain.
After all, how can you be invincible when your equipment cannot be counted upon to deliver accurate information?
Test Vehicle: 2005 Land Rover LR3 HSE
Price of Test Vehicle: $52,245 (including $665 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 4.4-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 300 at 5,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 315 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with two-speed transfer case and center differential lock
Curb weight, lbs.: 5,426
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 14/18 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 14.1 mpg
Length: 190.9 inches
Width: 75.4 inches
Wheelbase: 113.6 inches
Height: 74.5 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.4/37.6 inches
Head room (front/rear): 40.4/42.4 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Seven
Max. Cargo Volume: 90.3 cubic feet
Max. Payload: 1,695 lbs.
Max. Towing Capacity: 7,716 lbs.
Ground Clearance: 9.5 inches
Competitors: Acura MDX, Audi allroad, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti FX, Infiniti QX56, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus RX 330, Lexus GX 470, Lincoln Aviator, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Saab 9-7X, Toyota Land Cruiser, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90
2nd Opinion – Blackett
The 2005 Land Rover LR3 just goes to prove – a dollar doesn’t go very far these days. And, apparently, neither do more than 50,000 of ‘em. With horsepower and torque ratings in the 300 range, you’d expect this boxy ‘ute to move with authority. That is, until you consider the nearly three tons the 4.4-liter V8 is charged with motivating. No wonder we only got 14.1 mpg during a week of driving. Matching the lack of efficiency was the LR3’s dearth of luxury appeal. Aside from the Land Rover badging, leather seats, and upscale features, nothing about this Rover suggested it was the cream of the crop. The handling was typical of most old-school SUVs, the numerous ill-fitting plastic interior bits loud, and as mentioned by Wardlaw, the electronics could be bloody well fussy. If dealing with these issues is what it’s like to be a luxury SUV owner, I’ll gladly remain po’. Unfortunately for Land Rover, not all luxury SUV owners choose to saddle themselves with such distractions, opting instead for vehicles like the Lexus GX 470, Porsche Cayenne, or maybe the Lincoln Navigator. Shoppers interested in a capable four-wheel-drive SUV with a touch of luxury may find themselves better suited with a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited or a Toyota Land Cruiser. To varying degrees, each of these competitors matches or beats the 2005 LR3 in terms of quality, prestige, and utility. Some even come close when comparing off-road ability, a factor that is realistically of little value to the majority of owners, though there are those few who push their SUVs to the limits.
Owning the most capable four-wheel-drive vehicle in a segment is important to any off-road enthusiast, but as most mud lovers and rock crawlers know, that ride needs to be equally capable and enjoyable for where ninety percent of owners spend ninety percent of their time – on paved roads. That’s especially true when you’re shopping the luxury market. Sadly, that’s the one hill our $52,245 LR3 just couldn’t climb. – Thom Blackett
Photos courtesy of Land Rover