2005 Land Rover LR3: After the Death of the Disco, Land Rover Is Ready to Rock
Dan Carney for The New York Times
Turning a dial tailors the LR3's electronic systems to specific challenges like fording streams, rock-crawling or driving in sand.
Published: June 12, 2005
MOVIEGOERS are sitting through repeated viewings of the final "Star Wars" installment, trying to fathom their hero's unfathomable transformation from Anakin Skywalker, handsome good guy, into Darth Vader, disfigured villain. At Land Rover, an equally extreme mutation has occurred in the other direction: the coarse and disagreeable Discovery has evolved into a gracefully refined new vehicle, the LR3.
The Disco made sense mainly for hard-core off-roaders. As spry as a goat in the mountains and as hardy as a camel in the desert, it was often beastly in civilized surroundings. All the while, it treated its occupants with the delicacy of a police van, inflicting punishment even before charges were leveled or a verdict was rendered.
And the Discovery's abysmal reliability scores - confirmed over years of surveys by Consumer Reports and J. D. Power & Associates - brought to mind another film. In "The Gods Must Be Crazy," the protagonist struggles to counter his Land Rover's faulty parking brake as he tries to open a gate without losing his truck.
Any character that comes over from the Dark Side needs a new name and a new look to confirm its conversion to civility. Casting off the Discovery's armored helmet - its functional high-box design - the LR3 emerges as one of the sharpest-looking S.U.V.'s on or off the road. A box it remains, but it is a classier box. While it bears a distinct resemblance to the more expensive Range Rover, it is not an outright clone, lacking the gill slits in the front fenders, for instance. If the Disco dressed in khakis, the LR3 wears a pressed Armani suit.
The Discovery did not simply fall short in quality, it was saddled with old technology, including a V-8 engine that dated from a General Motors design of the 1960's. But Land Rover, which in 2001 found new a foster parent in Ford after a brief stay in the house of BMW, has benefited from huge investments in its engineering, design and manufacturing facilities, some of which predated World War II. Land Rover insists that the LR3's quality will reflect these improved operations.
That remains to be seen, but I can say that the fit and finish of my test truck seemed excellent. The only flaw I noted was a persistent buzz when the stereo was cranked up.
With so many changes, perhaps the new name was in order. But here's the thing: people who owned Discoverys liked them, and people who were unfamiliar with them didn't know much about their shortcomings. So the Disco didn't carry the strong negative associations of say, the late, unlamented Chevy Cavalier (recently replaced by a new car with a new name, the Cobalt).
The LR3 will still carry the Discovery name elsewhere in the world. For Americans, the new designation hardly seems an improvement. Why not leave those generic, meaningless alphanumerics for robots like C-3PO and R2-D2? Give us adventurous names that evoke Luke Skywalker's X-34 landspeeder zooming over the desert.
The LR3 will zoom, too, thanks to its 300-horsepower Jaguar-derived V-8 (which is itself related to the engines in the Lincoln LS and Ford Thunderbird) and six-speed automatic transmission. That power will cost you at the pump, though; the LR3's economy rating of 14 m.p.g. in the city, and 18 on the highway, is typical for an S.U.V. like this, but thirsty by any measure.
The 4.4-liter engine is enlarged slightly from its Jaguar specification, and it has special oil and water pumps designed to operate at extreme angles. The water-resistant air intake breathes through a vent in the right front fender. Ostensibly, the LR3 can ford water up to that level.
The technical showcase of the LR3 is its Terrain Response System, an ingenious means of adapting the various electronic systems to suit driving conditions. A knob on the console lets the driver select normal highway driving; slick surfaces like snow or ice; deep mud; sand; or rock-crawling. Each selection adjusts the height of the air suspension, the operation of the locking differentials (center and rear); the traction control and the transmission's shift points. Continue reading here