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Exploring the world in a wall of car

ANDY STONEHOUSE
Special to the DailyThe 2005 Land Rover LR3 offers everything you'd find in competitively-priced luxury sport utility vehicles along with agility,performance and trail-blazing prowess.
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Few things in the world – bad weather, tough terrain or even annoying drivers – will get in the way of those lucky enough to score a key to one of this year’s most acclaimed new sport-utility vehicles, the impressive and imposing Land Rover LR3.Designed as a replacement to the venerable Land Rover Discovery, the seven-passenger LR3 offers everything you’ll find in competitively-priced luxury SUVs (the LR3 begins, bare-bones, at about $45,000 and reaches nearly $54,000 with options) and backs it with agility, performance and the kind of trail-blazing prowess that could take you literally anywhere.At least that was the concept as we rolled the new LR3 through Land Rover Roaring Fork’s backyard proving ground, setting the vehicle in low gear and crawling sideways, ever so nimbly, along a 35 degree incline that likely would have flopped most competitors’ vehicles onto their sides. We discovered that Land Rover truly walks the walk.Later, sucking up the washboard and muddy ruts on the rural and bumpy Dry Park Road, a wild shortcut between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, the LR3 rode comfortably with perfect balance and poise. Flat out on the highway, the Jaguar-sourced 300 horsepower, 4.4 liter V-8 roars like a race car and delivers smooth acceleration and cruising power.

Is there anything the LR3 can’t do well? It’s hard to find fault in Land Rover’s new multifaceted beast, with the possible exception of raw dimensions and exterior styling that make the vehicle look like a slightly more bad-ass version of the already imposing Range Rover. With flat, clean lines, enormous windows and a blocky rear configuration, that borrows from Volvo’s XC90’s tailgate design and becomes a work of asymmetrical sculpture, the LR3 is a chunky machine – almost 5,800 pounds, 74.5 inches high, 75.4 inches wide and rolling on a 114-inch wheelbase. Up front, the take-no-prisoners wall of grille and metallic bumper is accentuated by frighteningly bright bi-xenon headlamps and piercing fog lamps. The rest of the body design (including large, rectangular side mirrors) looks like cars of the future you’d see in some 1950s sci-fi paperback, with only slight clues of its relation to the old Discovery.Beefy six-spoke, 19-inch alloy wheels ride on grippy 255/55 HR19 all-seasons. Examine the trim around the rear wheel well and you’ll see the rear fenders are literally built into the rear doors, in an interesting design twist.Climb in – unlike the Discovery, you won’t need a running leap to do so – and the LR3 offers a welcoming, thoroughly modern interior that strikes a perfect mix between functional and luxurious. Smooth, clean features, wonderfully adaptable seating for up to seven passengers and ample storage (and tie-down points) for all of your gear gives the LR3 a decisively practical leg up on other, more suburban SUVs. The Discovery’s stadium-styled seating arrangement carries over to the LR3’s third row, which features full footwells for passengers, two rear sunroofs and head-curtain airbags. Rear passengers even get heated seats and full air controls; oh-my-god bars built into the front seat headrests will give riders something to hold onto while you’re traversing those 35 degree slopes in Moab. Seating is universally supportive and leather-luxurious with especially tall seatbacks in the rear rows.

Up front, the high “command” driving position provides clear, tall views of the road, with an enormous, leather-wrapped, electronically telescoping steering wheel loaded with fingertip controls. The angular, narrow, truck-styled dash sports industrial-inspired air vents, austere white-on-black instruments and a nicely designed panel of air and audio controls. The entire array is complete with soft, rubberized switches like those you’ll find on a marine walkie-talkie. The clean, rounded lines and entire setup look like a high-end Scandinavian hi-fi system which just happens to have an amazing four-wheel-drive vehicle attached to it. And with hopes that more LR3 owners will actually subject their vehicles to the rigors of off-road travel than those driving the tony Range Rover, the LR3 carries an evolved package of its high-end sibling’s high-tech driving and stability controls. Those include computerized four-wheel traction control, dynamic stability control and Land Rover’s trademark hill-descent control, which allows you to easily crawl down steep slopes without burning out your brakes. The piece de resistance is the new terrain response system, a multi-mode control on the center console which allows you to automatically wade through sand, traverse boulders or stick to snowy slopes like a magnet. The LR3 also borrows the Range Rover’s electronic air suspension, raising the vehicle as much as four inches or dropping it closer to the road for more highway stability. A new version of the Range Rover’s voice-activated, touchscreen DVD navigation system will easily guide you between on-road destinations.

Best features:Luxurious, futuristic interiorAstounding agilityGood blend of rigidity, comfort

Worst features:Hummer-worthy gas mileageHeavy weight and dimensions make highway cornering a bit tippy

2005 Land Rover LR3 HSEPrice as tested: $53,695Includes: 300 horsepower 4.4 liter V-8, six-speed automatic transmission with CommandShift manual mode, four-wheel traction control, electronic air suspension, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, hill-descent control, bi-xenon headlamps, heated front windshield, DVD navigation system with voice control, third row seating, permanent all-wheel drive, 10-spoke alloy wheels, 9-speaker harmon-kardon stereo system, terrain response systemStated mileage: 14 city, 28 highway


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