Going downmarket is always risky for a premium European brand. Go cheap enough to hit an affordable price point, and people could view the result as inauthentic and even downgrade the image of the entire brand. The first front-drive-based baby Land Rover, the Freelander, didn't sell well in the U.S. With a cheaply outfitted tight cabin, it didn't fit the brand's image in the U.S.
For 2008, Land Rover has thoroughly redesigned its entry level model. Called Freelander 2 elsewhere, it's called an LR2 in the United States. I took one for a test drive recently to judge whether the new compact SUV has what it takes to succeed.
Though the LR2 is based on Ford's European midsize car platform, and so shares absolutely nothing with the also recently redesigned Ford Escape, the two look more than a little alike. Clean, square, and chunky, it's not a bad look for an SUV. That said, various cues (e.g. clamshell hood, rectangular honeycombed grille, fender-mounted air inlets) effectively convey that the LR2 is a Land Rover. The standard 18-inch wheels are much larger than those available on the Escape, and make the LR2 look smaller than it actually is. Both front and rear overhangs are minimal, so the approach and departure angles won't limit off-road capabilities.
Hard black plastic from a bygone age comprised much of the old Freelander's interior. The center stack and door pulls of the new LR2 remain hard black plastic, but the material is ungrained for a hyper-functional, high-modern look. And the larger, more expensive LR3 makes far more use of the stuff.
Unlike that of the LR3, the LR2's interior employs wood trim (fake, but sufficiently convincing), upholstered armrests, and a modest amount of metal-look trim to provide a warm atmosphere. (Don't like fake wood? "Pixel Metallic" trim is available with the black interior.) Where the LR3's interior styling is severe and hyper-functional, that in the LR2 more closely resembles the cabins of the hyper-expensive senior Land Rovers.
Like other Land Rover's, the Land Rover LR2 combines a high seating position with a relatively low instrument panel and acres of glass to provide excellent visibility all around. The front seats are moderately firm and well-shaped for long-haul comfort. But they do have one major limitation: like that in the last LR3 I drove, the power seat in the LR2 only adjusts six ways. So the tilt and height adjust together: as the seat is raised, it tilts forward. In just about any other car with a power driver seat, the height and tilt of the seat cushion are separately adjustable. Why not in the LR2? The cost savings can't be over $50.
The rear seat is on the tight side, with knee room especially limited. I suspect that the LR2 is aimed at people whose kids are either small or non-existent.
Cargo volume is on the low side, even among compact SUVs, but should still be sufficient for most purposes. The front passenger seat does not fold.
On the Road
The Land Rover LR2 shares a new 3.2-liter straight six engine with various Volvo models. In the small Land Rover it's good for 230 horsepower. The only transmission available is a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic. This powertrain provides adequate but less than thrilling acceleration, as it must contend with 4,255 pounds of mass. (For a compact SUV, the LR2 is heavy.) As in the Volvo XC90, at low speeds the engine feels a bit soft. I recall the six sounding better in the Volvo, perhaps courtesy of a less restrictive exhaust.
I've found the handling of other Land Rover models, even the "Sport," to be squishy and vague. Perhaps the relatively compact LR2 would deliver sportier handling? Well, no. The LR2's steering is vague, with little in the way of feedback, and its responses are slow and imprecise. Especially at speed, the body leans much more than in competitors from BMW and Acura. Reactions to quick steering inputs are far from confidence-inspiring, with much more "wobble" than I expect in a European vehicle. Perhaps the suspension must be soft for best compliance when off-roading, but if this is the case then the trick "terrain response system" needs to include adjustments to the shock absorbers.
My LR2 test drive did not include an off-road segment. The LR2 includes no transfer case with low range gearing, but Land Rover promises impressive off-road capability nonetheless. A "terrain response system" lets the driver adjust the traction, stability, ABS, and throttle controls for different types of terrain. The electronics include a downhill assist control, which automatically maintains a slow, steady pace down steep declines. The ground clearance, approach angle, and departure angle are up to the task. And skid plates have been fitted, though I cannot attest to their adequacy.
The flip side of the soft suspension is that ride quality is much more absorbent than in an Acura RDX or BMW X3. Relatively low noise levels also contribute to driver and passenger comfort.
Land Rover LR2 Price Comparisons and Pricing
Equipping the Land Rover LR2 up to the base level of an Acura RDX yields a list price about $2,800 higher than the Acura's. Adjusting for feature differences (larger sunroof, steering-linked headlights, keyless access and ignition) narrows the gap to about $1,000. So these vehicles are nearly tied.
A BMW X3 must be fitted with about $3,000 in options to bring it up to the LR2's base level. There it is about $7,600 more, both before and after adjusting for feature differences.
Prices change frequently, and differences will vary based on feature level. To quickly generate these and other comparisons with the specific features you want, visit my Web site, www.truedelta.com. (It's the only site that provides true "apples-to-apples" price comparisons.)
TrueDelta's page for the Land Rover LR2:
I was disappointed with the Land Rover LR2's handling, and it's powertrain performance is just adequate. But it rides more smoothly than the competition, and now looks very much a Land Rover both inside and out.
All in all, the LR2 will appeal much more to those seeking luxury than those seeking sport. It's less a competitor to the Acura RDX and BMW X3 than an alternative for those drivers seeking a cushier driving experience or greater off-road capability.
A Note on Land Rover LR2 Reliability
I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.
Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy an LR2 rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Land Rover LR2 reliability comparisons.
Before I can report results, I need reliability data on all cars--not just the LR2--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.
For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.
A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.
Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
Acura RDX review
BMW X3 review
Land Rover LR3 review
Lexus RX 330 review