2011 Land Rover LR4: The Best 4x4xFar?


Although the fad of pavement pounders and soccer moms driving vehicles better suited for the Camel Trophy than the city playground is over, Land Rover continues to offer the LR4 for those who still demand the a vehicle with no compromises.  While Land Rover has never been known for quality, they have been known for their off-road prowess.  Jeep might be known for something similar, but Jeep doesn’t offer anything with the no compromises capability of the 2011 Land Rover LR4.  What other vehicle can move seven people off the beaten path in comfort and style and tow 7,000 pounds?

I had a chance to reminisce back to 2005, when I flew in to Chicago for a wedding and needed to rent a car.  Land Rover was under the control of Ford and Hertz was still under Ford’s umbrella for a few more months.  I got in to the Hertz bus and used a weekend upgrade to get something from the Prestige Collection.  It was my lucky day because I had been given the key to an LR3.  I hadn’t even made it to the wedding from the airport and I had already fallen in love with the throne-like seats, solid body structure, and interior room.

Fast forward to 2011 and now a Land Rover LR4 is proudly parked in the driveway for a week.  The LR4 showed up with about 300 miles on the odometer.  Immediately my heart began to beat.  My mind was racing with repeated trips to the gas station due to a not-so-Weight-Watchers-like curb weight and a V8 engine that might need a little breaking-in.  This truck was going to be thirsty.  Little did I know that I would be pleasantly surprised.  On the highway, with an average speed of 75 MPH I hit 17.1 mpg over 600 miles of driving to the northern reaches of Michigan on regular (premium is only recommended) gas.  The boys over at the EPA claim I’d get 17 mpg, well, I did.  It’s not too often you can say you achieved what the window sticker said you’d get, especially with a new vehicle.  I imagine if I slowed down a bit I could probably hit 19 mpg.  In the city I averaged 14.3 mpg, again beating the EPA number of 12 mpg.  Normally 17 mpg highway wouldn’t be something to get excited about but if you take into account the 5,617 pounds of mass to move, the full-time four-wheel drive and the less-than-wind-tunnel-friendly shape, well, it becomes more excusable.  I wouldn’t drive an LR4 to a ‘Save The Whales’ conference but it is respectable, given the circumstances.

What makes the LR4 such a comfortable cruiser is a multitude of things.  First, the seating position gives you the ability to make eye contact with heavy duty pickup truck drivers.  The view is vast from any seat and three sunroofs, help to bring a pleasant, airy feeling to the cabin.  The low belt line (the height of the doors) is so low that you don’t feel like you’re riding in a tank.  My two-year-old loved the fact that she could see everything without having to peer over a door panel.  This low belt line also helps with visibility while off-road.

Oh yeah, and when you’re off-road it is impossible to confuse the four-wheel drive system.  Not much is trickier than snow or mud.  I visited some very fine dirt that had just soaked up about an inch of rain.  I slipped the Terrain Response system into the grass/gravel/snow mode since this very finely powered dirt was basically like snow.  I could NOT confuse the LR4’s brains.  I couldn’t get it to fishtail or do anything else that would cause an “OH SH” moment.  With some archaic 4×4 systems, it can be impossible to make tight turns…not so with the LR4.  You still get full capability.  Venture off-road and the four-wheel independent air suspension can mimic a live axle with what they call cross-link valve technology.  There is so much engineering behind the 4×4 system that you just have to respect it.  The rack-and-pinion steering calibration was also noteworthy.  It wasn’t overboosted or truck-like at all.  In fact, it felt like a German SUV ready for 100 mph+ cruising.  Another unexpected comfort was the fridge in between the front seats.  Surely it was meant to keep my Ribena Blackcurrant or Lucozade cold whilst in the suburban jungle.

When you decide to venture farther than the maps of the navigation system, the LR4 will gladly assist with a breadcrumb feature and a vast array of off-road tools to assist.  The navigation system is not the worst I’ve seen but not the best.  The display is on the small side of things making the selection of music on an iPod tricky.  I could live with the display but I can’t live with the lack of charging capability with the iPod plug.  The navi and radio don’t seem to suffer from any lag or stability issues, which I have seen in systems from other vehicles.

The LR4 has a very tasteful interior true to English automotive traditions with plenty of leather, wood, and aluminum bits.  The leather wrapped steering wheel is free from scars and other natural markings, so you know it is high quality stuff, plus it feels substantial and solid.   The interior of the LR4 I had was almond leather.  It went well with the wood trim and the nicely stitched instrument panel.  The best feature of the LR4’s interior is the LOGIC7 audio system.  Fourteen speakers blow 550 watts of clean bass and treble to all seven passengers.  Land Rover finally has an audio system that you won’t be embarrassed to turn up.  There is plenty of storage to be found and even the the rear seats fold flat for easy loading of items in the rear.  All seven seats have a decent amount of legroom, even with the short wheelbase.

The exterior doesn’t appear to differ much from the LR3 but new lighting brought the LR4 up-to-date.  The taillights are all LED units while a LED strip is embedded into the headlights.  Sadly, these beauties only illuminate while the headlights or parking lights are on.  However, they do look very good.  Land Rover, are you listening?  Turn these into DRLs!  The Galway Green color of the LR4 I had for a week was perfect.  It could have been called Land Rover green because it was so handsome.  I do like some of the lighter exterior colors because the third row windows wrap into the roof and give the LR4 a very unique look.

Six years after I rented the LR3 from Hertz I can see the investment that Ford made in Land Rover finally pay off with the LR4.  Although Ford no longer owns Land Rover, the fruits of their labor have blossomed…for a new owner.  Electrical gremlins weren’t lurking in this LR4.  If things are going to go wrong they’ll likely do it in the first thousand miles and I can happily report that the LR4 I had for a week ran problem free.  With Land Rover’s quality ‘black eye’ finally healing, this should help give buyers more confidence in the brand.

I put together this table of other off-road capable vehicles.  I think once you compare the LR4 to other vehicles you’ll find that the LR4 is a SUV that can seat seven, tow with the best of other SUVs, has a modern and torquey powertrain, and offers true off-road capability in a handsomely wrapped package.  The LR4 has matured from the LR3 with an entertaining and modern 5.0L V8 and a ZF six-speed transmission, and a slew of electronic gizmos to help you instantly bypass amateur off-roader status.  The price might seem a little steep at first until you dig deep and realize the value and capability behind the LR4.  Sure, the Range Rover has all of the prestige but when you can get the same powertrain and suspension with two more seats for $20,000 less…I’ll gladly consider that a bargain for the LR4 and what is clearly the best 4x4xfar.

Table is in inches and pounds.

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