– Good on-road ride quality
– Tons of interior room
– Excellent offroad abilities
– Excessively plastic interior
– Controversial styling
– Unimpressive fuel economy
Land Rover found a massive hit on their hands when they first introduced the Discovery more than a decade ago. Combining some of the luxury of the cushy Range Rover with most of the offroadability of the rugged Defender in a relatively well-priced package, it quickly caught on with outdoor-type men and mall-hopping women alike. Now in its third iteration, the well-rounded 4WD undergoes a complete redesign as well as a name change, while still retaining features that long-time Discovery owners unconditionally love.
Now called the LR3, this new Land Rover gains a face similar to the Range Rover, a slab-sided design similar to the Defender, and a stepped roof similar to the outgoing Discovery. While it looks exceptionally clean, with a slight helping of aggression, many feel that it is, to put it bluntly, ugly, especially from the back, which looks bare without an obligatory spare wheel to cover the odd rear window. Build quality is not perfect, but it is better put together than most American 4WDs.
Basically carried over from 2005, the LR3 receives a few changes for the 2006 model year. A new base model with a 4.0-litre V6 engine has been added to the line-up with the carryover 4.4-litre V8 available on the SE and HSE models. Last year’s third row optional seating is now standard on the HSE. Also standard on the HSE are a Harmon-Kardon 550W sound system with second and third row audio outputs, DVD based navigation system with voice recognition, and 19-inch alloy wheels, up from 18-inch wheels on the lower models. All models receive a number of airbags to enhance passive safety.
Stepping into this tall vehicle is made easy by an optional lowering air suspension system, while people having serious fitness issues can opt for extra-cost side steps. Passengers will be greeted by a well-built but largely plastic interior whose only saving graces are the good quality of the leather seats and the amount of audio equipment crammed into the doors. With multiple stereo speakers and audio controls on every door and window sill, the vehicle is set up for individual listening pleasure via headphones. That is a surprising amount of componentry in a vehicle retailing for much less than the Range Rover. Our range-topping HSE tester included a screen that was used only for the navigation system, while the audio and climate control were separate traditional units. There are a host of switches below the automatic shifter control settings for the air suspension ride height, hill descent control and what not. The leather seats, seating a total of seven, are tall and flat with little side bolstering, thus going for a spacious living room feel. This feeling of openness is enhanced by no less than three glass sunroof openings. However, passengers in the third-row seat will still complain of closet-like legroom. The dual-zone air-conditioning is very strong, and third-row vents are optional. Rear luggage room is limited with the third-row seat in use, but space becomes expansive with this seat folded down. Straight-ahead visibility is perfect, but almost nothing is visible through the back window thanks to multiple tall headrests. Back-up beepers help in parking, but on the road, tailgating cars disappear completely.
The road-going mannerisms of our V8-powered LR3 HSE tester were fairly good. With 295 hp on tap, the V8 obviously offers considerably better acceleration than the 215 hp V6. Aided by the air suspension system, the ride was smoothened out well enough, and the driving experience was peaceful at highway speeds of 100 kph. But this calm was broken as soon as the throttle was floored, when the six-speed transmission nastily downshifted after a brief moment of hesitation, the V8 engine made itself heard, and the wind started rushing harder onto the big upright windshield. We also gave out a slight sigh as we saw the fuel gauge needle start to move towards ‘Empty’ a little too quickly. Range is still good though, thanks to a large fuel tank.
Corners were met with a healthy dose of body-roll, though not as excessive as, say, a GMC Envoy, since the air suspension attempted to keep this tall 4WD level. Even sudden lane change manoeuvres induced wallowy behaviour, but four-wheel-drive traction kept the LR3 planted to the road. We imagine handling will be considerably worse without the optional air suspension. Braking was just about adequate, with enough feel to make the pedal easy to modulate even when wearing boots.
Land Rover heritage becomes most apparent when the LR3 is taken offroad. The V8 offers 425 Nm of torque compared with 360 Nm by the V6, so the bigger engine is the ideal choice for serious rock-climbing duty. While wholly capable of tackling dunes as is, the LR3’s capabilities are further enhanced by a host of electro-mechanical gadgets. One is the optional air suspension again, which can raise the ride height for improved ground clearance. Another is the Hill Descent Control that automatically applies the correct amount of braking while rolling down a slope, without driver intervention. Yet another feature is the Terrain Response system, which allows the driver to select the type of terrain so that the vehicle can adjust throttle response, ride height and other settings automatically according to conditions. We flogged the LR3 on some coastal mountains, covering it with so much dust that when we returned it to Land Rover, their representative rudely checked for damage while we twiddled our thumbs waiting for permission to go home. Needless to say, there wasn’t even a scratch, at least on the bodywork, as the capable LR3 took it all with ease.
The LR3 certainly is a huge improvement over the outgoing Discovery. It is also a very good 4WD, big in size and tough in looks. If you can live with its controversial looks, excessive plastic interior treatment, poor fuel economy and expansive size, it becomes easy to see it benefits–roomy interior, upscale badge, road presence and the ability to go offroad even if you don’t know how.