For the last 26 years the “Discovery”, now known as the LR4 in North America, has been the quintessential Land Rover.
After spending some time with the new Discovery Sport, I really wanted to try my hand with the legendary LR4. It represents one of the most capable and widely recognized off-roaders in the world. In that time the definition of what an SUV is has been stretched to the max, along with the sheer number of competitors and options in the segment. Somehow, the LR4 still stands out as one of the few true SUVs on the market today that hold true to the boxy truck-like design and remains purpose built to tackle the worst terrain and elements out there. I got my chance to spend a week with a 2016 Land Rover LR4 HSE Luxury and determined for myself why this original, and now rather unconventional, formula still works.
I said it already, but boxy and purpose built is really the only way to describe the exterior of the LR4. Despite what that might imply, it is actually beautiful in its own distinguished way. While this general body style has been in production since 2004 (formerly known as the LR3), the designers have done a great job keeping it fresh with lighting upgrades, new body-coloured bumpers and thick fender flares, gorgeous 20” polished rims and exterior fit and finish that is unmatched by anything else in the segment at this price point.
To top it off my tester came in a perfectly fitting blood red color called Montalcino Red, clearly whomever picked the colors for Land Rover’s media test fleet has great taste. Beyond offering a strong hint at the LR4’s capabilities, there are also a few very functional details to note on the LR4’s exterior. I love the split rear tailgate, as it makes loading bulky items an absolute breeze, without the risk of scratching the rear bumper. When you need to reach something towards the back, the tailgate easily flips back up out of your way. The integrated running boards are also a very practical touch, especially in something with as much ground clearance as this beast.
Climbing up into the LR4 you’re greeted with the smell of the soft leather that adorns most of the interior, and settling into the driver’s seat you’re presented with a very upright driving position with visibility matched only by the likes of the Pope Mobile. Seriously, the low belt-line and flat sides make for huge windows all the way around. This means the driver has an almost-uninhibited 360-degree view from the driver’s throne. The three glass sunroofs, one above each row of seating, add to the bright and spacious feeling inside the LR4.
Those sunroofs however only have mesh covers, so there’s no way to block out the sunlight completely, something that I found a little annoying. The interior doesn’t just feel spacious though, the exceptionally tall roofline of the LR4 means massive headroom for everyone, even those in the third row, who will also find more legroom than in most seven-seat SUVs. Much like the exterior, the fit and finish of the interior is simply impeccable. My LR4 came equipped with optional Grand Black Lacquer wood accents. I personally would have preferred the standard walnut wood, but both are remarkably tasteful.
With an as tested price of $80,265, this LR4 did come with quite a long list of amenities that one would expect from a luxury SUV. From navigation to a 17-speaker Meridian surround sound system, heated steering wheel, heated seats and a handy rear view camera, it’s mostly all here. There are a few luxuries missing however, that I would have expected. Firstly, the rear lift gate is not powered, nor are the folding rear seats, there’s no remote starter or ventilated seats. These features might seem trivial to some, but those options are actually not available on the LR4, which means you’ll need to be willing to give up a few creature comforts in favor of the Land Rover’s rugged prowess.
Now, I am usually the last person to grin at the idea of snow, but as the first significant snowfall for the season hit the ground I couldn’t help but smile a little bit knowing that I had the LR4 sitting in my driveway ready for Mother Nature’s worst. The next morning the roads were a thick slushy mess with traffic sliding into ditches at every corner. Unsuspecting cars were also drowning in surprisingly deep standing water as the slush quickly melted. I used the LR4’s Terrain Response System to select the snow/gravel option, which tunes the AWD system to limit slip, and set off. As expected, the LR4 didn’t miss a beat and treated the messy day like it was just another Sunday cruise in the sunshine.
Interestingly, the LR4 also features a four-corner air suspension system that allows you to select different ride heights depending on the conditions. It lowers for better stability and economy on the highway, and raises itself for more ground clearance when you’re off the beaten path. While I resisted the temptation to take the Land Rover through any real challenging terrain, it made such light work of whatever I could throw at it that I am confident it has the capability to back up all the legendary stories associated with the LR4 lineage. Without a doubt, if I were embarking on some crazy adventure like crossing the artic or driving through a rain forest, this vehicle would be at the top of my list.
Back in the real world though, the LR4 is actually a pretty tame daily companion. Smooth and adequate power comes from a supercharged 3.0L V6 pushing 340 horsepower, and is fed to all four wheels through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. The drivetrain is smooth, quiet and generally non-intrusive. I do like the dual exhaust tips modestly hidden behind the rear bumper cover hinting that the beast does have some bite. The ride on rough city streets is fairly well composed for a bred off-roader, but it is bouncier than others in the segment. Steering is extremely light and on the wrong side of vague, and body lean is noteworthy around some faster corners. That’s all to be expected with a true adventure vehicle like the LR4, and I personally see it as part of the truck’s charm. On the highway things happily smooth out and the truck proves to be a very comfortable and refined cruiser.
Unlike most of my reviews, my week with the LR4 landed during the Christmas holidays, which meant that I did not get to task the LR4 with my grueling daily commute into the city. In fact, I took the opportunity to stay close to home all week. For that reason, I netted an average fuel economy of 14.3L/100kms, almost entirely city mileage, and much of it with a cold engine. That said, I feel fairly confident that if I were commuting in the LR4, the eight-speed and V6 would help me keep the numbers in the high 12s. Of course, the LR4 prefers premium fuel and its 86L fuel tank helps with range.
The bottom line with the 2016 Land Rover LR4 HSE Luxury is that it is everything you’d expect from a truck proudly wearing the Land Rover nameplate in terms of capability and refinement. However, you’re likely making a few concessions when it comes to luxurious gadgets and city manoeuvrability. The surprising part for me at least, and very likely the biggest reason the LR4 is still successful today, is that it actually offers a very strong value proposition, depending on your perspective. Those figures are still significantly lower than a comparable German competitor, and try as they might the Germans just don’t have the off-road credibility that the LR4 does. Perspective; that’s what has kept the LR4 alive, and I for one am very glad to have it.