Driving Impressions

By December 9, 2006

Driving the Land Rover LR3 down flooded forest trails, curving mountain roads and high-speed freeways reveals a class-leading combination of capability, utility, luxury and style. The LR3 handles the toughest of off-road obstacles brilliantly, yet is comfortable on rush-hour freeways. Though far from best in class in terms of on-road handling dynamics, the LR3 is much better on paved roads and in daily driving than the previous-generation Discovery. Yet it gives up nothing in off-road capability.

Driving on paved surfaces, the immediate sensation is of security, composure and protected personal space. The driver is seated high above the average car, and insulated from outside noises, vibrations or intrusions. Steering is notably solid and progressive, and very little road vibration is transmitted through the thick steering wheel.

The LR3 is the first Land Rover built with what the company calls integrated body-frame architecture, which combines hydroformed steel frame rails with a rigid monocoque body shell. Rubber mounts and dampers between the frame and body provide isolation from noise, vibration and harshness. Premium materials such as aluminum, magnesium, and high-tensile-strength alloy steel are used in key areas to save weight. Outer steel body panels are two-side galvanized to prevent corrosion. The two-piece tailgate is aluminum for ease of opening and closing. This new approach accounts for much of the LR3's (relatively) light weight, crisp handling, and solid feel. Granted, the LR3 doesn't feel as taut as a BMW X5, but it's more comfortable than the X5 on dirt roads.

The LR3 will reliably hold a given line through a tight corner, but the air suspension allows some body travel. On corners, the body leans, but the grip of the tires is readily apparent, creating a feeling of hanging out over the edge of the road. Nevertheless, with rack-and-pinion steering, independent double-wishbone suspension at all four corners, stiff wheels, wide tires and the latest in electronic stability control, the longer we drove, the more confident we became of the LR3's capabilities at speed. It takes a set in corners and rewards smooth driving techniques. It's not as forgiving of poor driving technique as, say, a Lexus RX.

Braking is remarkable, both in terms of overall feel and sheer stopping power. The pedal is progressive, with no vibration coming through, and it always feels like there is more stopping power readily at hand. The brakes themselves on V8 models are large 13.3-inch discs in front and 13.8-inch discs at the rear, with four-channel ABS. (Brakes on the V6 SE measure 12.5 and 12.8 inches in the front and rear, respectively.) The anti-lock brake system is designed to work off road, as well.

An array of electronic systems help the driver to better control the vehicle in emergency stopping and handling situations. Among them: Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assist, Cornering Brake Control, and Active Roll Mitigation. Essentially, all of these systems track driver input at the steering wheel, throttle, and brake pedal and compare it to what is happening at each road wheel. When a tire loses grip or an emergency braking situation is sensed, one or more of these systems react to improve the vehicle's operating position. In many cases, these adjustments will be transparent to the driver.

Two brake-based systems, Hill Descent Control (HDC) and all terrain Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) work to enhance driver control off road in rugged terrain. The Hill Descent Control system, used to restrict downhill speeds on steep, slippery grades, is adjustable through the steering wheel cruise control buttons. It works amazingly well.

The LR3 offers strong throttle response, a departure from older Land Rovers. The 4.4-liter V8 rated at 300 horsepower is a stroked version of Jaguar's 4.2-liter, adapted to the LR3's particular requirements. The increased stroke lengt