Discovering the LR4 [Courtesy Rovers Magazine January 2014]
By Jeffrey Aronson
My Series II-A will get really annoyed when it hears this, but I truly didn’t regret leaving it at home and jumping into a 2013 LR4 for a 450-mile drive in a snowstorm. While I would not want to attempt a field repair on an LR4 - truth be told that would be unlikely - this latest iteration of the Discovery brought me across interstates, two lane country roads, dirt lanes and off road across hilly, snowy fields with a complete disdain for all weather conditions.
This road test arose out of the need to travel from Maine to Vermont to write another article for this very issue. Land Rover Scarborough, Maine’s sole Land Rover dealer, had generously loaned the magazine an LR2 [see Spring 2013 issue –ed] for a road test. I contacted them with some trepidation; after all, if the request went through the Financing Manager, I was doomed. Fortunately, Dan Raab, the Service Manager said, “Sure. Just tell me when you want it.”
Once we set the December date I made the two hour drive to the dealership in my 1966 Corvair, which I parked in the service area between two Range Rovers. “Is it ok if I leave it there,” I asked? “That’s fine,” said Dan, “no one can see it.” So much for Christmas cheer!
The LR4 (still known in the UK as the Discovery 4) came to the USA in the 2010 model year. It featured the monocoque structural architecture of the Range Rover which gave it tremendous rigidity for longevity and control. The 2013 one selected for me sat in the customer pick up bay, newly valeted inside and out. There’s no confusing the LR4 for any other marque on the road; all of its styling cues scream “Land Rover.” In an abstract way I understand the demands on stylists to accommodate aerodynamics, drivetrain needs, overall weight, advanced safety systems, contemporary consumer expectations, seating requirements, highway stability and off road ascent/descent needs. Emotionally the LR4’s brutish styling didn’t engage me the same way as the simple barrel roll of the Series II/III and the Defenders. At the same time I realize I’m not the primary market for the very successful LR4 model. The LR4 comes in 16 different paint colors, 12 of which seem to be shades of grey or white. Wheel options run to six choices in either 19 or 20 wheel sizes; at least Land Rover warns that “larger diameter wheels and lower profile tires may offer certain styling or driving benefits but may be more vulnerable to damage.”
As I stepped into the LR4 my reactions warmed up considerably. The huge greenhouse provided superb visibility from anywhere in the vehicle. The seating position is the classic command view so beloved by Land Rover owners of every model. Land Rover expects you to care about driving and it places everything, from tachometer and speedometer to transmission, lighting and climate controls, within easy view or reach. The seats provided the right mix of comfort, support and safety, while still enabling the driver to turn and see what’s behind you. If I had passengers on this trip they might have felt a bit tight on rear leg room but I know they would have been refreshed after the trip. I know this because my 4 hour and 6 hour drives in the LR4 did not result in any fatigue whatsoever.
As a Series owner I know I’m a sucker for any interior refinement; still, this Land Rover had the right mix of luxury and durability in all the fitments. Where I expected soft touches, it provided them – yet the fascia, door panels and rear load area had the right materials for a vehicle you might want to keep for a decade or so. I also swooned over the analog clock in the center of the dash, above the climate controls and the Terrain Response control knob. A clever feature allows you to adjust the angle of the center armrest by just turning a knob. The navigation/entertainment system in the center of the dashboard proved easy enough to use for even a Series II-A Luddite – but, why or why, does the ethereal voice giving me directions sound like Megan Fox instead of Kate Middleton? I couldn’t fault the sound system with its 11 speakers and 380w of output. If I had chosen to, I could have plugged in my iPod or MP3 device into the center console. The rear view camera, required by federal law, worked fine until road crud obscured its bumper lens; by that time the blurry view on the screen made me think I had a hangover. However, given the great sight lines and minimal rear overhang, turning my head and looking out the back window [cleared by the wiper/washer] worked even better. Speaking of the rear, the split asymmetric tailgate is not a gimmick. It really does make loading anything into the spacious rear compartment an easy task. If you do a lot of towing with your LR4 (it will pull up to 7,700 lbs.) there’s an optional feature on the touch screen console that will observe your trailer and assist you in maneuvering it.
From the inside the LR4 appears much friendlier, more compact and easier to handle that it does from the outside. The exterior styling emphasizes its road stance and security, but once inside you feel as though the Land Rover’s ostensible bulk is just an illusion. It’s surprisingly easy to maneuver or park (you can actually find the rear of the Land Rover using the inside or outside mirrors, and it actually feels nimble and lithe from the driver’s seat. Above all else Land Rover remembers that their vehicles must fit their home country narrow country roads, where there’s just no room for excess width or bulk. Combined with its outstanding road feel it becomes a joy to drive no matter what the width or condition of the road or trail.
Paul Sprague, a long time Sales Guide and genuine enthusiast, walked me through the LR4’s many systems. There’s no ignition key, just a radio fob that energizes the electronic wizardry to prepare the car for its start up. In fact, it’s so good that Land Rover dealers remind owners not to leave the fob in the car for fear of slowly draining the battery. The steering wheel on my II-A performs three functions: it turns the car right or left, cancels out the directional and houses the horn button. The steering wheel on the LR4 does all that and houses all the controls needed for the information/entertainment center, to activate my smartphone, or to engage the cruise control – plus it’s heated.
The smooth thrum of the engine never became intrusive but with its glorious sound, always stayed with you. Its standard engine was a 5.0 liter, 375 hp, 375 ft lb torque aluminum V8 with 32 valves and direct injection. If you need to accumulate penalty point on your driver’s license, Land Rover claims the LR4 top out at 121 mph; 0 – 60 requires but 7.5 seconds. With the engine’s variable cam [4 of them] timing and 11.5:1 compression ratio you experience remarkable responsiveness whether you’re accelerating at 60 or 6 mph. Land Rover still pays attention to off road demands; the alternator, starter, electric power steering pump, air conditioning and drive belts are all waterproofed.
Once again the US market missed the more efficient diesels that have become the standard fare for UK buyers. If you drove the North American model gently and steadily you could achieve 17 mpg highway; during my days with this LR4, I averaged 18 mpg on two lane and highway driving – ironically, about the same as my ’66 Series II-A. What did take some adjustment was carrying around some Benjamins to fill the 22.8 gallon fuel tank with its recommended premium gas.
The transmission offers 6 speeds that change engagement depending on the driving conditions selected through the Terrain Response Knob on the console (general driving, sand, mud/ruts, rock crawl, snow/gravel/grass) or through the sensors built into the Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Roll Stability Control (RSC) systems. A Gradient Release Control works through the hill descent system in first gear or reverse to help control in those tricky off road situations. If you need to hold it on a hill, the parking brake is now an electric switch, too, although I understand there’s a fail-safe release mechanism in the event of an emergency.
You still get a two-speed transfer case that’s a cinch to engage [for 2014 Land Rover offers an optional single speed transfer case “for those customer who do not need to fully exploit the LR4’s off-road capabilities” –ed.] You can also control ride height for an additional 2 inches of ground clearance (7.3 - 9.4 inches). Wading depth, likely set by the legal department, is 27.56 inches, or about the top of the tires. The approach angle is a useful 37.2 degrees; the departure angle is 29.6 degrees, and the ramp break over angle is 27.9 degrees.
The brakes are all ventilated discs, 14.2 inches in the front and 13.8 in the rear. Coupled with an excellent four channel, all terrain anti-lock braking setup, electronic stability control and a brilliantly designed suspension, they slow the LR4 very effectively in emergency situations - such as when a Toyota Camry cut suddenly in front of me at 65 mph on the Massachusetts Turnpike. As I swerved and braked to miss the errant driver the LR4 simply moved where I told it to without drama; certainly its heart did not seem to be pounding as rapidly as mine.
Off road the LR4 proved as nimble and capable as you’d expect from a Land Rover. Mine didn’t have the optional 9,500 lbs. winch or waterproof seat covers, but it proved itself capable of off road use immediately – even with its road-oriented tires. Yes, it weighs 5,600 pounds [compared to the 3,000 pounds of my Series II-A –ed.] but its weight did not create problems on this off roading. It crossed snow covered fields and climb snow covered hills easily in low range, never seeming to dig into the snow despite its weight. At one point on a 30 degree hill, I deliberately stopped at the steepest point and released the brake; the Hill Start Assist and Gradient Acceleration Control systems moved the Rover forward as if it were not stopped on a snowy and icy slope. This LR4 came with street-oriented tires, too.
The LR4 gets overshadowed in the US market by the marketing prominence given to the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Range Rover Evoque. Remember that it’s the latest iteration of the Discovery, now in its 25th year of production. If you follow Land Rover’s corporate history you know that the Discovery’s success provided a huge boon for Land Rover’s finances and has remained very important to the company’s current standing. With the LR4 the Discovery lineage took another leap forward, and just as the Discovery I/II become the most popular models for Land Rover enthusiasts, I predict that you’ll see more LR4’s on the trails, just as you see them now on the pavement.
Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers Magazine
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."