Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



By Justin Berkowitz

In 2001, Land Rover parachuted their not-so-cute ute across the pond. The Freelander landed with a splat. Gas was cheap and XXL SUV's dominated the landscape. What's more (or less), the 174 horse Freelander was technologically quaint, reliability challenged and forgot to show up for its federal crash test. And so Land Rover has redeployed the second-generation Freelander, the forgettably-named LR2, into the American market. This time, sales of big SUVs are in the toilet, there's a burgeoning compact SUV market and Land Rover's traditional entryway, the LR3 (nee Discovery), now costs a lofty $45k+.

To lure entry level prestige SUV buyers, Landy's pen people have conjured-up a Range Rover mini me. While the LR2's exterior continues the brand's venerable it's-hip-to-be- square clamshell bonnet brief, the LR2's designers finessed corners and smoothed edges to create a rugged yet svelte look. Chunky details abound: big wheel arches, solid headlamps and those gills. And its balanced proportions avoid the on stilts persona that blights so many of today's small SUV's (e.g. Acura's RDX). The LR2 could well be the best looking SUV on the road today.

The LR2's light and airy cabin adheres to and extends the Land Rover brand's luxury-in-the-wilderness design theme. Yes, its plasticky leather seats are up market simulacra, and the fit and finish is distinctly so-so. But the LR2's interior successfully straddles the line between mountain and mall. For example, the monolithic center stack provides all the off-road functionality Landy owners will never use, complete with a “set it and forget it” terrain selector and no-brainer bread crumb sat navery. It's festooned with enough e-gizmos– activated by grippy knobs and big ass buttons– to ford streams, descend slopes and withstand the endless rigors of parking lot traffic jams.

Although the LR2 is a utility player, M, L, and XL friends consigned to the [second row] bench will not be well pleased. Unless you fold the seats forward, the LR2’s cargo hole won’t stow enough gear for a softball team, never mind a Saharan sojourn. And the reasoning behind the LR2’s gimmicktastic insert-the-fob start-stop button is lost in the mists of BMW. The sooner it’s banished to the land of Altezza lights and chrome gas caps, the better.

The LR2's 3.2-liter inline six is good for 230 horses. On paper, that's not a lot of power for a vehicle weighing two-and-a-quarter tons. But the I6 generates plenty of low down grunt (234 ft.-lbs. of torque @ 3,200 rpm), the six speed autobox is a seamless cog swapper and the engine is as smooth as the Queen's ermine robes. The LR2 builds power with such seductive ease that you don't mind hanging around waiting for 60mph to arrive (from rest, nine seconds).

Even on optional 18 inchers, the LR2's fully independent suspension dismisses impacts from nasty pavement and giant boulders potholes. If you can cope with body roll, the LR2 will maintain reasonably tenacious grip during brisk cornering. Just as the interior’s splashed with Eau de Landy, the driving experience melds the best of the car and truck worlds. The LR2 is as easy to maneuver as a car, but still gives the driver truck-like heft and solidity. Even better, the LR2 helmsmanship imparts a premium feel, delivering the same laissez faire feel found in the rest of Rover's lineup.

The LR2 caters to more adventurous drivers with the aforementioned four-position Terrain Response™ doo-hickey, which works with various electronic controls– including a modified version of Volvo’s Haldex all-wheel drive system and Gradient Release Control (which helps the vehicle descend steep hills without driver skill/intervention). Still, determined off-roaders will cross this one off their list; the LR2 is shod with city slicks (235/60VR18 all-season tires) and doesn't have any low range gears.

Environmentally sensitive and fuel conscious buyers will also give the LR2 a pass. Like all its stable mates, the LR2 guzzles petrol punch; its official gas mileage is an egregious 16mpg in the city and 23mpg on the highway. That's slightly better than the big bro LR3's equally astounding (and not in a good way) fuel economy. But the LR3 can [almost] justify its prodigious thirst with its no-trails-barred off-road prowess. (Americans miss out on the diesel option that twists up tons of torque and gets 30+ mpg.) Reliability-oriented buyers will clock Land Rover's well-earned reputation for mechanical malfeasance and pull back their ten foot poles in horror.

Land Rover may be hemorrhaging Ford’s money (for now), but it does channel traditional British automotive spirit. The LR2 is not particularly fast, uses too much gas, cramps passengers and can’t match a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited off-road. Land Rover reliability may have improved in recent years, but it’s gone from “worst by a mile” to “worst.” The LR2 will be utterly crushed in sales by Asian, German, and even American competition. And yet it’s an utterly charming machine: a genuine Land Rover.


By admin

The Range Rover Sport arrived just as Britain's Parliament banned fox hunting. Call it fortuitous happenstance. At the precise moment Britain's shotgun-wielding aristocrats lost their main motivation for chasing each other over hill and dale, the Ford subsidiary came plying more on-road aggression. If these frustrated followers of British blood sports looked upon the new Landie Sport as an opportunity to blow off a little steam in less mucky surrounds, it's a goal they share with America's wealthier PTA MILFs. So, does the Sport have what it takes to get the blood pumping for aristocrats on both sides of the Pond?

The Land Rover Sport HSE looks like a top-shelf Range Rover with its hair slicked back. The Sport shares the exact same two-box profile with its big brother– complete with Rover's trademark 'floating' cantilevered roof. The more rakish Sport's canted greenhouse (both fore and aft) is the model's main distinguishing feature, and its only real attempt at a skosh of street cred. In the name of differentiation, Gaydon's designers replaced the Rangie's classy aluminum front-fender vent slat with a more traditional aperture, and substituted some overly ornate taillights in place of the bigger Rover's refined rounds. Details aside, the Sport remains the very picture of 21st-century shooting brakedom, albeit one rockin' a set of air suspenders.

Inside, there's plenty of timber and hides to remind urban hunter/gatherer types of pastoral pastimes, even when trundling about city centers. Equipped with Rover's must-have luxury package ($3k, my liege), silken cherry wood fillets grace the doors, dash and center console, lightening what would otherwise be a dour exercise in ebony. The main stack is capped with a touchscreen and carpeted in more buttonry than all the hunting jackets in Scarteen. There's a phone pad, switches for dual-zone HVAC supervision, seat heaters, parking distance control, navigation, and controls for the sublime harmon/kardon surround stereo. The list of electronic creature comforts is suitably comprehensive, but activating and tweaking any given feature remains as counter-intuitive as cricket, voice activation or no.

The SUV's omni-adjustable thrones sit a peg lower than Rover Senior, but they still provide a lofty perch from which to survey one's land holdings. As in the Rangie, elevated rear seat passengers are privy to magisterial views to port and starboard, but (available) headrest screens reiterate the Sport's urban marching orders. Out back, the lift gate opens to reveal plenty of room for vintage shotguns, Louis Vuitton shin pads, bondage gear, deceased quail, whatever. Just mind the electronic glass hatch latch, as the pull points are near-as-dammit the same.

The controls for the Sport's off-road prowess lie adjacent a small powered cooler (perfect for hunters' flasks of Glenfiddich, vials of deer piss, etc.), nestling underneath Ye Olde Screw-Type Armrests. Owners can manipulate their station in life via the air-suspension rocker switch, or muck about with the Terrain Response's Fisher Price-style controller, girding the beast for whatever topography lies ahead. If it's gravel, ice, precipitous inclines, mud– it's strictly press and play.

If the road ahead is paved, well, this beast may be Sport IN nature, but it's not Sport BY nature. In other words, despite strenuous assertions by Land Rover's marketing folk, the Sport's LR3-derived underpinnings do not a Nordschleif legend make. For starters, the Sport's 4.4-liter Jaguar-derived V8 develops just 300hp and 315 ft.-lbs. of torque. While that's not an inconsequential amount of oomph, it's hardly the kind of thrust capable of transforming a 5600-pound SUV into a bluff-faced rocket ship, even when equipped with a silken six-speed ZF tranny. Yes, Rover will sell you a Supercharged variant, but prices encroach on Daddy Rover and it still isn't intrinsically entertaining enough. More involvement courtesy a manual cogswapper or DSG-box would go a long way toward separating this Rover from the rest of the Range.

Turn a wheel in anger, and the Sport's steering is as vague as shoulder shrug (largely due to 19' M+S-rated Goodyears). Put your posse in the back, throw the Sport into a corner and you'll be rolling with the homies, big tyme. The [optional] active anti-sway bars would help matters, but it bears repeating: the Sport isn't as involving on road as it could be, or should be. At least the binders are up to snuff, hauling the Sport back from the brink without hesitation or complaint.

If the Land Rover Sport performed with more on-road élan, it would make an excellent case for itself as the city-bound sportsman and harried housewife's SUV of choice. But it is smaller and significantly pricier than its equally capable, luxurious and more practical under-skin twin, the LR3. It just goes to show: you can take the fox out of the woods, but you can't take the woods out of the fox.


By Robert Farago

There comes a point in every enthusiast's life when it's time to slow down– at least until some of the penalty points on their license expire. To avoid a complete loss of personal mobility, hamstrung throttle jockeys often find themselves transitioning into a slower vehicle. Not being attuned to The Ways of the Sloth, these once and future speed demons usually slide into some po-faced laggard. Bad move. The miserable car nut simply ends up thrashing the horseless carriage until it reaches extralegal velocities. If you have to go slow, there's only one way to go: the Land Rover LR3.

The LR3 is Oxycontin on wheels. Here's the pharmacology: command seating, a light and airy cabin, widescreen windscreen, superior sound system, silken slushbox, progressive brakes and roll-suppressing air suspension. Press the right pedal and the British-made SUV doesn't administer the G-force jolt pistonheads crave. Instead, it unleashes something just as intoxicating: a seamless surge of forward progress known to the luxury-class cognoscenti as "imperious wafting". Within minutes, driving slowly is as sensually satisfying as lying in a hot tub after a long day's work. Ten minutes later and the "go-faster" part of your brain goes numb.

The LR3's ability to inflict stately progress on unsuspecting hooligans stems from Land Rover's "integrated body-frame". This unique steel and aluminum platform combines the strength of a traditional ladder frame chassis with the rigidity of a hi-tech monocoque. It also weighs a bloody ton. Make that THREE tons. Even with a 4.4-liter, 300hp V8 chuntering away under the bonnet, the highly gravitational LR3 is significantly less than swift. The fact that it's shaped like a Sub-Zero refrigerator certainly doesn't help matters, but contemplating the LR3's aerodynamic deficiencies is like worrying about putting a teaspoon of sugar into your coffee after annihilating a piece of cheesecake.

Side effects: poor fuel economy. Land Rover's clinically obese SUV is one of the last true gas hogs. I can't remember the last time I saw "6.5" on a mpg display. OK, I generated the numbers during a crawl-blat-crawl through the urban jungle carrying a truck full of rug rats and six bags of cedar mulch with the AC on full blast. And I eventually managed to eke out 14mpg on the highway, sans sprogs and climate control, doing the double nickel (and not a penny more). Even so, the LR3's single digit fuel consumption matches the burn rate achieved whilst chasing a Ferrari Enzo in a Lamborghini Murcielago. Up a mountain. That's… awesome.

Prognosis: off-road nirvana. The heavyweight LR3 is robust enough to transform an Oregonian survivalist into a weekend commuter. The SUV's four-wheel-drive system (complete with four-wheel traction control) is a boat anchor for the sporting-minded driver, but it's utterly effective over slippery surfaces. When it comes to the genuine rough stuff, the LR3 boasts the kind of approach and departure angles that would terrify an aircraft carrier pilot. It's also equipped with enough traction, suspension, gearbox, braking and GPS gizmology to keep an airborne navigator occupied for a week.

Or not. Amateur adventurers need only program their destination into the LR3's sat nav– be it on road or off– and dial-in the appropriate terrain using the "set and forget" knob in the center console. The LR3's computer automatically keeps track of where you are and how you got there (in case you want to go back), and tweaks all the electronic systems to suit the surface conditions (or lack thereof). Pedants may get a bit twitchy driving over recently-sanded highways with drifting snow, but the rest of us will appreciate the de-skilling of the whole Mountain Man shtick.

I digress. While I'm sure plenty of people will use the LR3's brandatory off-road prowess to find an out-of-the-way place to smoke pot and shag, most LR3 buyers will probably be of the soccer Mom persuasion. The LR3 offers these domestic engineers a second row that's more accommodating than a Tokyo hotel room and fold-flat third row seats that don't demand anatomical origami. The LR3's cabin materials are perfectly practical, pleasingly tactile and totally intuitive. Inexcusably, the family-sized SUV lacks a rear seat DVD system. Land Rover's CEO should be barred from watching Manchester United soccer games until he corrects this glaring deficiency.

Speed freaks would probably prefer to give up their collection of widescreen TV's than consider helming a beast as fundamentally ponderous as the Land Rover LR3. In this they're wrong. Not only is the LR3 an acceptable form of automotive intervention for those who need it, but it also provides some the best four-wheeled feel-good factor money can buy. Of course, this is the worst of all possible times for Land Rover to be producing a gas-guzzling SUV like the LR3. Which means it's the best of all possible times to purchase one: a buyer's market, like none before. Enthusiasts would be well-advised to strike now, while their license is hot.


By Robert Farago

Evolution is a strange thing. You start with a single cell animal, wait a couple billion years and end up with Eminem. By the same token, you start with a rough and ready off-roader, wait thirty-four years, and end up with a luxury car on stilts. Evolution is not a good thing or a bad thing; it's just a thing. But the question remains: is the Range Rover fit enough to survive in an automotive environment teeming with first class competition?

The moment you heave yourself aboard the Range Rover, the British-built SUV asserts its exclusivity. The RR rejects the usual luxury car sports seat posturing in favour of a driver's throne, complete with leather arm rest. The view through the all-but-vertical windscreen reinforces the imperious vibe. You sit up high, master of all you survey - including about an acre of bonnet stretched out beneath you like the playing fields of Eton.

It's hard not to submit to the Rover's class snobbery. There's so damn much of it. From the elegantly restrained dash to the wonderfully tactile switchgear, the interior caters to your every need like a discrete, fastidious butler. Heated seat? Press here sir, in the centre of the climate control button. Satellite navigation? We use the old BMW system. It's so much more intuitive than iDrive. Cup holder? Allow me. I'll just push this little panel and… there you are. You see, it adjusts to any size beverage.

The Range Rover's cabin is ergonomically perfect eye candy. It's no surprise that corporate parent Ford copied the style for its revised F-150 pickup truck. Like Ford's best-selling behemoth, the Rover's interior offers the ultimate luxury: a super-abundance of elbow, leg and shoulder room. The Range Rover can carry a sham of professional wrestlers, and their bulbous belts, without cramping the grapplers' style.

Of course an off-roader this epic requires a gi-normous engine. The Range Rover's 32-valve, 4.4-litre V8 cranks out 282hp. Equally impressive, the powerplant unleashes a torrent of torque: 325ft. lbs. at a leisurely 3600rpms. Feel that? You will when you put your foot down. The engine bellows, the rear end squats and the Range Rover just plumb takes off. This stately home on wheels whooshes from zero to sixty in nine seconds, cruises comfortably at the ton and responds enthusiastically to most throttle inputs without resorting to kickdown.

And here's where we start to run into trouble. Do you really want to cane a vehicle that weighs 2,439kg and stands over 6 feet tall? To their credit, Land Rover has tried every trick in the book to make the beast handle on-road: monocoque construction, adjustable air suspension with terrain sensing software, cornering brake control, dynamic stability control, MacPherson struts with double-pivot lower arms and long-travel variable rate air springs (computer-controlled with cross-link valves) - the works. The result? As the visor says, "Avoid abrupt manoeuvres".

The steering doesn't help. The speed-sensitive rack and pinion set-up is lighter than a wino's wallet. While you can wheel the Rover through the urban jungle with one finger, there's nowhere near enough steering feel to tell you when the 19' wheels (20' optional) are stressing in the twisties. With 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, there's also a lot of slop in the system. It's all too easy to over-heave the helm. High speed driving requires a gentle hand and massive concentration.

If you're thinking, well, that's the price you pay for genuine off-road capability and why don't you just slow the Hell down anyway? I'm cool with that. But the handling issues bring us back to square one, wondering whether it's a good idea to build a luxury car that wants to fall over in every corner. I'm not so sure. I've seen three Range Rovers on flatbeds with the front left pillar squashed down to hip level. That's got to hurt.

Besides, real luxury cars are all about wafting. While the Range Rover is a veritable flying brick, it lacks the reassuring (if limited) driving dynamics of a similarly priced, equally sumptuous, spatially equivalent BMW 745iL or Audi A8L. Carve through a corner in one of those bad boys, and the machine will gently remind you that you're driving something titanic that prefers not to be hustled. Do the same in a Range Rover and the wake-up call is not so gentle. The sudden arrival of tippy-over trouble makes it difficult to drive a Range Rover in that luxury car auto-pilot psycho-bubble kinda way.

So where does this leave the £45k-plus Range Rover? The trend at the top end of the SUV market is towards on-road performance. Given Land Rover's evolving strengths, I reckon the brand will find the fitness it needs to survive. The next generation Range Rover is bound to be a real stormer.