2008 Land Rover LR3 HSE Review
By Kevin Miller
Land Rover’s mature Discovery was replaced in 2005 by the LR3 (called Discover 3 elsewhere in the world), and the V8 HSE is the top-of-the-line version offered in the US. Its as-tested price of $57,950 started with the base price of $54,025, and added a Luxury Package for $2750 (premium leather seats, adaptive front lighting system, cold climate package, and center console cooler box) and Sirius Satellite Radio for $400, and $775 for transportation. With its Terrain Response System, air suspension to control ride height, and electronically switchable low-range transfer case, the LR3 carries some big off-road credentials. Which are great for developing countries and war-torn districts where Land Rovers are popular for getting around, but totally unnecessary for most of the suburbanites I see driving them.
The LR3 I drove was Zermatt Silver, with Ebony Premium Leather and Grand Black Lacquer wood trim. The combination of ebony colored leather and plastic door trims, ebony leather and carpets, and shiny black wood (which may as well have been plastic) surrounding the center stack, in addition to the climate and audio systems being standard-issue gray, made the interior of the LR3 a somber place to spend time. My wife commented that the overall look was one of intensive black plastic, like one would expect to find in a much cheaper vehicle. The sobriety of my test vehicle was confirmed when I viewed some of Land Rover’s instructional videos online (to figure out how the second-row seats were supposed to fold) and saw a beige leather interior with nice looking wood trim, which made the video’s LR3 look like a much more inviting place to spend time. Seattle had a week of rain during my time with this dark LR3, and during the brief time the sun came out, it did lighten the cabin somewhat through the LR3’s standard three-row sunroofs.
The LR3’s styling is very square, shaped like the-box-it-came-in as much as any Volvo wagon ever was. That rectilinear styling pays big benefits with interior space, which is incredibly cavernous. One of the down sides of that big-box styling, however, is the LR3’s very vertical doors and door glass. When any of the four doors is opened when it is raining outside (as it did during the entire week I spent with the Land Rover), the rain mercilessly drenches the door’s interior trim, with water wetting the window’s switch assembly and speakers (and rear seat audio controls on the rear doors), running down the acres of soft-touch, nice-looking (if somber) ebony-colored trim. At the end of my week with the LR3, each of the four doors had significant streaks down its interior, from a week of use by my family climbing in and out. That drenching makes me wonder how the window and audio switches will hold up over time. I also experienced rain water running down the D-pillar interior trim when the tailgate was open.
Among the LR3 HSE’s standard features are (smallish-looking) 19 inch wheels, eight airbags including side curtain protection for all three rows, three-zone climate control with rear-seat controls, front and rear heated seats (courtesy of the cold weather package), sunroof for each row (opening over the front seats, fixed windows over the two rear rows), 6-disc in-dash CD, and in-dash navigation, which uses the same software as the Jaguar XJ, though with a much better quality display. The Navigation screen can also display the AWD settings. Notably missing in the LR3 was a rear-view camera feeding to the dash-top navigation screen.
The LR3 I drove was equipped with an electrically heated windshield, which has individual heating element wires embedded vertically in the windshield glass. These caught the light in odd ways depending on conditions, and could be very distracting. I didn’t have the opportunity to test its effectiveness.
The LR3 is equipped with Bluetooth phone connectivity, though the audio system’s small LCD screen is the only source display for the system. No audio system functions are displayed on the navigation screen. The audio system does have an integrated phone dialing pad, for easy number entry. The Bluetooth system does allow easy scrolling through the phone’s list, though some entries in the phone’s list mysteriously failed to show up on the LR3’s head unit. The head unit also has an AUX input capability, though the aux input jack is accessed in the car’s second row, on the back side of the center console. The audio system is a nice sounding, 550 W harman/kardon sourced unit, but its controls are incredibly complex. There is no separate button for selecting satellite radio (it is a toggle with the AUX button), and it was easy to get stuck in a Bluetooth submenu which prevented changing the audio volume or station/track.
The navigation system’s spoken directions are enunciated by a disembodied snooty-sounding gentleman with an air of importance and disdain. Every command he spoke sounded like an admonition. His commands were able to be heard over the Bluetooth speaker phone, and the parties on the other end of my calls who heard the navigation voice each laughed heartily when the “navigation man” spoke. The navigation system offered three routes to each destination: Shortest time, Shortest distance, and alternate. Each time I requested navigation, the system efficiently got me to my destination.
The navigation and audio systems can alternately be operated by voice command for certain functions. After pressing a button on the steering wheel, a command can be spoken, such as “Navigation, I’m Hungry”, which causes the location of nearby restaurants to be displayed. Other useful voice commands for the suburban LR3 driver include “Navigation, Shopping Center” and “Navigation, Gas Station”, though I imagine that most drivers of the LR3 already know where the nearest major mall is located, and will become intimately familiar with the location of nearby gas stations given the LR3’s alarming fuel consumption.
Every 2008 LR3 in the US comes with three rows of seating, for a total of seven passengers. All of the seats are upholstered in a very nice grade of leather. The front seats are comfortable, though are quite firm, as are the remaining rows. The 8-way adjustable seat has three memory settings (which include exterior mirrors and steering wheel position memory). The seat control buttons and memory buttons are lifted straight from a 1990s-and-later Volvo, with the exception of the lumbar control which is courtesy of a Ford of the same era. These small parts were among the few which betray the LR3’s Premier Automotive Group roots. The front seat cup holders have very large bases, causing smaller cups to suffer from a bit of instability during cornering. It is worth noting that although the third-row seats have cupholders molded in to the interior panels over the rear wheels, second-row occupants only have very large water bottle holders in their door pockets.
The second row provides LATCH connection in its outboard seating positions, and upper tether mounting for the center seating position. The third row has no LATCH or tether mounts, but every seat has a three-point seatbelt. The second- and third-row seats are perhaps the most over-engineered seats I’ve encountered in a vehicle, and certainly add to the LR3’s hefty curb weight. Each outboard seat in the second row folds and tumbles forward for access to the third row of seats. The seatback folds forward by use of a lever on the backrest, and then the forward-flip is facilitated by pulling a strap located below/behind the back of the bottom cushion. In the folded position the backrest doesn’t lay flush with the rest of the cargo floor, so an additional strap below the front of the seat bottom cushion can be pulled, and the folded seat assembly pressed straight down, to bring the seats level with the cargo floor. In order to make the entire cargo floor flat, the three sections of backrest must each be individually folded forward, then each of the three folded seats must be individually lowered by pulling on the front strap. This leaves a gap of several inches behind the back of the second row seat, which must be filled by the finicky retractable cargo cover. The forward-tumble for accessing the third row can’t be done if the second-row seats are in their lowered, flat-cargo-floor position. It was truly a hassle to configure the cabin as a flat cargo floor, and each of these steps must be repeated in reverse order to return the LR3 to people-carrying mode.
The third-row seats are forward-facing (unlike the side-facing seats in the old Discovery), and are able to be erected individually (either left or right side, or both). They are inconvenient to set up and to stow. A lever on the edge of the cargo floor, about three-feet forward of the tailgate opening, must be lifted, and the forward edge of the folded seatback cushion must be lifted up and pushed rearward. The lever is too far forward in the vehicle to operate from the tailgate, even if the weight and operating angle permitted such operation (they don’t). Therefore the third-row seat must be erected from inside of the vehicle, crouching behind a tumbled-forward outboard second-row seat. Each side’s backrest must be separately unlatched and flipped up, and its headrest unfolded, and then the seat bottom cushion must be separately unlatched and flipped backward into position. Flipping up both sides of the third row seat leaves a seat-support post in the middle of the floor right where you might hope to find a bit of foot- or ankle-room for third-row passengers. Stowing the third-row seat is essentially the reverse of setup, with separate motions for stowing each side’s bottom cushion and backrest.
Each of the third row positions, as well as the two outboard positions in the second row, has an audio system control with headphone jack, input selector/control, and volume control. Each of these audio controls can choose to listen to what the driver is listening to, or can select from any of the other choices (AM, FM, CD, SAT, AUX). The rear seat controls can change radio stations or CD tracks as long as they are not attempting to change the source that the driver is listening to. There is no way for the rear seat audio controls to override what the driver is listening to.
The LR3 lacks running boards, which made it tough for my three-year old to get into the LR3 herself, even when the adjustable-height air suspension was set to Access height. She did enjoy the commanding view out of the large windows when she was finally in place, though.
Because of its incredible curb weight (5796 lbs!) and size, the LR3 wasn’t really that much fun to drive, especially around town. For the typical suburban slog, the LR3 is a bit of a dinosaur. I use the word dinosaur both because the LR3’s weight approaches (or exceeds) that of a prehistoric creature, and because is a bit unwieldy in tight spaces. The 300 HP V8 was adequate for moving it around, though it and the brakes clearly labored to speed up the LR3 and slow it back down. Its handling was far from car-like, as much as it is improved from the previous Discovery. The LR3 has a good turning radius for a vehicle of its size, but it is a large vehicle to fit into those tight parking spots in front of Starbucks at the strip mall.
I decided that I needed to give the Land Rover a fair shake, and give it a chance to show its skills by taking it on a drive elsewhere than paved roads. That was easier said than done. My suburban town is bounded on one side by Washington’s Puget Sound and on the three other sides by adjacent suburbs. I couldn’t even find a gravel parking lot. Which continued to confirm my idea that all of the LR3’s complex four-wheel drive systems are overkill for most of the ones I see driving around town.
With the LR3 yearning to prove its mettle in the natural environment, I pointed the SUV east from Seattle in pouring rain, toward the Cascade Mountains, which are full of gravel or dirt Forest Service roads. Unfortunately, most of the Forest Service roads I encountered had gates across them, padlocked, each bearing a sign reading “ROAD CLOSED”. Finally, more than 40 miles outside of Seattle, I found the exit for USFS Tinkham Road. Surprisingly, the Forest Service road and the roads accessed off of it are included in the LR3’s navigation system map.
Tinkham Road starts as gravel and degrades to hard-packed dirt with monstrous pot holes, with low-overhanging trees and some small stream crossings. Setting the Terrain Response System knob to the Grass/Gravel/Snow setting was seamless and evidently helped the LR3 cover the not-too-challenging terrain. Tinkham Road led me to another Forest Service road which was also on the Land Rover’s navigation map. A few of the sections of this road were a bit more challenging, with muddy crossings allowing me to use the LR3’s Mud/Ruts Terrain Response setting with low-range, causing the air suspension to raise to off-road height. Finally, I used the Rock Crawl setting with low range to pull into a rock-strewn turnaround area, where I managed to back the LR3 into a bush, which unfortunately gently scuffed the rear bumper cover.
It was in the low-range gearing, with Rock Crawl and Mud/Ruts Terrain Response System settings that I finally saw the point of having the capabilities of the LR3. Of course, these capabilities aren’t needed by me in my daily life, but somebody who does regularly have to traverse roads in such conditions, whether for recreation or professional purposes, would benefit from the LR3’s extreme traction. I had to go far out of my way to find someplace where I could even try out these features of the LR3’s fancy all wheel drive system.
Prime competitors include the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Lexus GX 470, and Mercedes-Benz GL 450. Each is priced within about $1000, except for the $47135 Lexus, Also each has 300-350 HP with exception of the Lexus with 263 HP. However, the Lexus is the only one with a low-range transfer case. The LR3’s 5796 lb curb weight outweighs each of these vehicles by at least 300 lbs, and outweighs the Lexus by 900 lbs.
The LR3 has a fuel economy rating of 12 MPG city/17 MPG highway, and it requires premium unleaded fuel. During my week with LR3, I was able to get about 275 miles out of a tank before needing to refuel. At the end of the week, the LR3’s trip computer told me that I had averaged 14.9 MPG over 331 miles.
I seldom see any LR3s that are very dirty, let alone located somewhere other than a paved road or parking lot. Rather, I tend to see them outside of the Whole Foods market, parked at the mall near Nordstrom, or outside of Starbucks in the morning. Although extremely spacious, I found the heavy, thirsty LR3 to be poorly suited to a suburban, stop-and-go lifestyle. While some people see the Land Rover brand as a vehicular fashion accessory, I’m afraid it is better suited to English country estates and developing nations than to suburban America.