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2005 Land Rover LR3 Review
2005 Land Rover LR3 New Vehicle Road Test Review

by Penny Roethle

The long, softly waving grass of the savannah is undulating like fog drifting across the plains, and in the distance crane the long, spotted necks of a pair of giraffes. In my new Land Rover, my gear for the next few weeks surrounds me, and I grin happily at the thought of the safari as I check the caravan of the other 13 vehicles behind me in the rearview mirror…and look up just in time to hit the brakes as I roll up to a…stop sign?

My pleasant little daydream is interrupted by reality, and I'm whisked back to the present. I'm nowhere near Africa; I'm in Montreal, Quebec for a first-hand look at Land Rover's new LR3, which the company is touting as "the new generation of SUV".

2005 Land Rover LR3

Land Rover has launched only nine new models in its 56 years, and the LR3 is the first since Ford's takeover in 2000. It's taking the place of the now-defunct Discovery in Land Rover's vehicle line-up.

Discovery owners wanted better acceleration, better highway handling, more interior space and a more reliable vehicle, according to Larry Rosinski, Land Rover's communications director.

"We're simply not satisfied with the brand's performance today. We're moving in the direction of better quality products, and the LR3 is that," Rosinski said.

The LR3 boasts all-new technology, including the patented Terrain Response. It's operated from the center console, and has five different terrain settings. It has a normal driving mode, one for slippery conditions, and three off-road settings. Each different setting controls the vehicle's ride height, engine torque response, electronic traction control, and Hill Descent Control, which I experienced during the three-hour off-road course I participated in at the Land Rover Experience Driving School at Fairmont Le Château Montebello, a small town outside of Montréal.

On the way to Montebello, about a two-hour drive, one of the first things I noticed was how quiet the ride was. The LR3 has available seven-passenger seating, and with four people scattered through all three rows, we easily carried on a conversation. One passenger, a lanky 6'3", tried out the third-row seating and professed his amazement when his knees fit comfortably behind the second row.

Immediately apparent to drivers more familiar with Land Rover will be the ease of the highway drive. This model is the first with fully independent suspension, and precise steering contributes to a car-like ride without any wrestling for control as in some vehicles designed mainly for off-road use.

2005 Land Rover LR3 Exterior

I felt very comfortable in highway traffic and also appreciated the almost panoramic views of the green Canadian countryside afforded by the command driving position, tall windows, "alpine" roof and lack of noticeable blind spots.

The LR3 also looks great, with clean lines true to its heritage, and a new asymmetrical tailgate. It's lacking the classic spare tire usually mounted on the back of Land Rovers- it's stored underneath instead. Tim Hensley, a Land Rover rep, assured me that it's still easy to reach. It didn't look like something you could do in a dress on your way to a night on the town, but luckily I didn't need to see how 'easy' it was.

When I started stirring up dust on the gravel roads to the driving school, I also noticed the pollen/dust filters in action. As a veteran of less luxurious off-road excursions, I was thankful not to have my usual mouthful of mud and grit-encrusted eyes by the time we reached the school.

Our instructor for the day, Jeremy Craig, looked young and unsettlingly like some of the college-age crew I'd been off-road with before, but he quickly eased my fears with his calm direction and "spotting" from outside the vehicle on some of the rougher, boulder-strewn sections of the trail.

The passengers had many opportunities to grab onto the plentiful interior "oh-crap!" bars. They're mounted on each side of the front row seats, the roof and the door.

I mostly used the mud and ruts setting on the course, as recent rains had turned the dirt trail into a near-swamp. At no time did I feel unable to proceed, secure with the knowledge that I had underfoot a 4.4- liter 300 hp V8. It's derived from the engines used by Ford-owned Jaguar, and the six-speed automatic transmission is an electronically controlled 'intelligent shift'.

The most memorable part of the course was toward the middle, when I ended up on three wheels coming down a 90 degree angle (ok, not quite) covered with boulders and mud, anxiously watching Jeremy's hands as he directed my steering from the bottom of the giant cliff (ok, not a cliff).

2005 Land Rover LR3 Road Course

Before I knew it, I was at the bottom, after all the jarring and sliding, with Jeremy giving me a big grin and a "Good job!" I breathed a sigh of relief, and was ready to do it again. So, apparently, was the LR3, which had no problems on the course. The Hill Descent Control lets you take your foot off the brake, and brakes for you when it detects the angle of the hill.

Another innovation is the ability to shift into low range four-wheel drive and back to high while still moving. No stopping or locking hubs for a Land Rover! You have to drop to 24 mph, shift to neutral and you're ready to go.

One thing I didn't like at first was the absence of a traditional parking brake. I like depressing a pedal and feeling it engage. In the LR3, the brake is electronic. You simply pull the knob and it engages. It also disengages automatically when you put it in drive and hit the gas. I liked it a little more when we tested it out driving on the highway. The LR rep said, "Go ahead, just pull it," as we drove along at 60 mph. The driver at the time, another journalist, looked at him like he was out of his mind. "Now?" he asked incredulously. "Yep, go ahead," the rep said calmly, not even grabbing on to an "oh-crap!" handle.

When he did, an alarm sounded and the LR3 braked to an immediate, if less than tire-squealing, stop. It's one of the many safety features standard on the LR3, some of which include eight available airbags and ABS.

Marketing VP Sally Eastwood says Land Rover is seeing as good or better reliability with the LR3 as with Range Rover. If there are issues, all Rovers come with a 4-year warranty, and 24-hour roadside assistance.

Eastwood says women are a target market for the LR3, which has the functions of a sport utility and a minivan.

Pricing starts at $44,995 for the SE model and $49,995 for the HSE.

After all day in the LR3, my personal adventure quota for the day was definitely fulfilled. On the way back to the hotel, I couldn't help keeping an eye out for tawny fur in the underbrush, or listening for a roar in the distance. I didn't get to go on safari, but I did feel the pull of the outdoors and the satisfaction that if I needed to go off-road, I was in a vehicle built for it.

For More Information Click: LAND ROVER LR3