2008 Land Rover LR2

Land Rover would be very happy if we all forgot the Freelander ever happened. LR's first foray into the compact-ute arena, offered from 2002 to 2005 in North America, was unreliable and largely unloved on this side of the Atlantic.

  • Driver

Land Rover would be very happy if we all forgot the Freelander ever happened. LR's first foray into the compact-ute arena, offered from 2002 to 2005 in North America, was unreliable and largely unloved on this side of the Atlantic.

Things have improved considerably at Land Rover in recent years, and with the launch of the all-new 2008 LR2, the Ford-owned manufacturer should have no problem erasing the memory of Freelander.

As a bit of insurance here in North America, Land Rover wisely dropped the Freelander II handle this five-seater SUV carries elsewhere in the world.

Penned under the direction of design guru Geoff Upex, the LR2 successfully distills key elements of the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and LR3 into a smaller package. Most important, with its clamshell hood, tall greenhouse and distinctive detailing, it is immediately identifiable as a Land Rover.

For sure it's cute, but the LR2's chunky stance and short overhangs signal its off-road pedigree and suggest that, yes, this new little Landie is more than just a poseur.

Slide into the very comfortable standard leather front seats and the interior presents the airy, rugged and upscale ambience of its bigger brothers. The large buttons and rotary dials on the centre stack are glove-friendly and the dash design echoes that of the LR3. Materials and workmanship are top-shelf, although the phony wood strip across the lower dash looks a little self-conscious.

Starting at $44,900, the LR2 comes well equipped: seven airbags, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloys, eight-speaker (plus sub-woofer) 320-watt six-CD audio, two-section panoramic glass roof (only the front opens), dual-zone climate control, cold-weather package and park assist.

My tester was fitted with Bluetooth capability ($600), a $1,200 bi-xenon adaptive light package (which includes memory driver's eat and mirrors) and an upgraded 14-speaker Dolby ProLogic II 7.1 Surround System with rear-seat controls ($375). Navigation will set you back another $3,200.

The driver sits up high in the LR2 with a good view of the front corners – a welcome feature when negotiating narrow jungle tracts or the Eaton Centre parkade.

What I don't care for is the tedious start-up ritual that involves inserting a rectangular key fob into a slot in the dash, and then pressing the starter button above it. Shutting down is a reverse of that process. I like starter buttons as much as the next guy, but give us a proximity keyless system to eliminate the silly fob business.

The British-built LR2 uses a toughened version of the unibody platform that underpins a number of Ford-family vehicles, including the Volvo S80,

Under the hood is a transversely mounted aluminum 24-valve 3.2 L straight-six, producing 230 smooth horses at 6300 r.p.m. and 234 lb.-ft. at 3200 r.p.m.

It's the same engine that's found in the S80, although LR has beefed up the torque curve with variable intake runners, and said intake sits higher for those times when fording a swollen stream is unavoidable.

The six is coupled with a compact Aisin Warner six-speed manu-matic transmission. It's a refined powertrain, pushing the LR2 to 100 km/h in a drama-free, if not exhilarating, 8.9 seconds. Shifts are seamless and the balance-shafted engine goes about its business with a pleasant, yet distant thrum.

A big part of the LR2's sense of solidity comes from its weight. At 1,935 kg, it's on the hefty side. Over a week on mainly highway travel, I saw a respectable 11 L/100 km (premium recommended but not mandatory).

The LR2's obvious competitor is the BMW X3 ($50,900 in 3.0si guise) – one that has seen comprehensive upgrades for the 2007 model year.

While the LR2 can't match the on-road athleticism and urge of the 260 hp Bimmer, the small Land Rover offers a more compliant ride and relaxed attitude.

Lean on it too hard, however, and it comes back with a polite, "I say, old chap. If you're going to drive like that, buy the bloody German."

On the highway, the LR2 is a champion, gobbling up the kilometres in serene, luxurious and smooth tracking comfort.

Land Rover kept the LR2's dimensions tidy, coming in at 69 mm shorter than the BMW X3 (although it's taller and a tad wider). Rear seat legroom is good, and cargo capacity behind the rear seat measures a competitive 755 litres.

Where the LR2 trumps its competitors is in the boonie-bashing department.

Ground clearance and approach/departure angles are best-in-class, and while the LR2 runs essentially in front-wheel drive mode under most circumstances, the electronic Haldex centre differential will respond within just 15 degrees of front wheel slip, distributing torque front to rear as needed. Slip simply means spin or rotation. Dividing the wheel into 360 degress, 15 degrees means the Haldex system reacts very quickly.

Added to this is Roll Stability Control and Land Rover's Terrain Response System, which via a four-setting rotary control knob, adjusts the parameters of the traction control, hill descent, throttle sensitivity and gear selection to optimize traction in sand, grass/gravel/snow, or mud and ruts.

Unlike its big brothers, LR2 does not have a low range transfer case or height adjustable suspension.

For most buyers, the LR2's off-road prowess will be purely academic. Like me, they will enjoy its chunky good looks, extensive feature content and comfortable on-road demeanour.

But, damn it, if Avenue Rd. ever floods, they'll be ready.

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