I just got my first look at the 2006 Land Rover LR3 HSE, which arrived in our garage yesterday. The HSE trim level comes with plenty of goodies at its base price of $53,450, including satellite navigation, Bluetooth cell phone integration, Harmon/Kardon Logic 7 stereo, leather seating, terrain controls, and a big 4.4-liter V-8. The base LR3 uses a 4.0-liter V-6 and starts at $38,950. Our test vehicle included two of the only three options available, the Luxury and Heavy Duty packages, running the total price up to $56,075. The coolest thing about the Luxury package is the small refrigerator located in the center console, which might be tall enough for a bottle of champagne--something I'll have to test out.
The exterior of the LR3 keeps the utilitarian boxy look that emphasizes Land Rover's history of making tough, off-road-worthy vehicles. A slight rise in the roofline toward the rear makes it look like it can hold cargo for a month in the wilderness, and particularly, large rear side windows behind the C-pillar seem suitable for hauling tourists around the savannah to view lions. In reality, the rise doesn't add a lot of room, and the third-row seats are small and uncomfortable. Both second- and third-row seats fold flat, so a lot of cargo could fit in, and the high roofline and large windows all the way around aid visibility.
The exterior looks very different from that of the 2006 Range Rover Sport, which we are currently reviewing, but the interior is very similar. The navigation and stereo head unit are the same, and while the terrain control looks slightly different, it's the same system. Like the Sport, the LR3 plays MP3 CDs but doesn't display ID3 information and has no auxiliary inputs to the stereo. It's quick and easy to pair up a Bluetooth cell phone using the PIN in the manual, and dialing is easy with the keypad on the center stack.
On this initial cruise, we set out for Lake Merced, a little bit of wilderness in San Francisco's urban jungle. The nav system took a few minutes to realize we were on a road, surprising because Land Rover's pretty proud of this unit. Once route guidance had us going, a male voice with an English accent told us which turns to take. My colleague Kevin Massy pointed out that the voice sounded like an RAF commander from World War II. "We'll be flying over anti-aircraft guns here, and here, so it could get a bit nasty." Once on track, the guidance was good, giving very adequate warning on turns, although it doesn't have text-to-speech capabilities for street names.
I generally have a lot of respect for the Harmon/Kardon brand, but I wasn't so impressed with the implementation in the LR3. The problem mostly has to do with speaker placement. We cranked up some test tracks, and while it had decent separation, the audio wasn't immersive. Each front door has a tweeter, a mid, and a woofer on its leading edge, with a similar arrange on the rear doors. A couple of subwoofers round out the 14-speaker arrangement. It's powered by a 550-watt amp, so it can get loud, but the sound doesn't spread through the cabin well. The majority of the sound hit me from the closest set of speakers, overwhelming the stereo effects from the other channels. Also, there is no integration between the nav display and the stereo head unit, which also shows phone information. The center stack could be consolidated if Land Rover used the LCD for nav, phone, and stereo.
We joke a lot about the rough roads in San Francisco making for a good off-road course. They aren't that bad, but they test a car's suspension. The LR3 handled the potholes well, absorbing the initial shocks and damping aftershocks, much better than the Range Rover Sport. Because of its height, it's very wobbly around corners. Running it over Twin Peaks, the 4.4-liter V-8 showed good power up the hill, but the moderately windy road caused a lot of body roll. Some people would probably find the engine underpowered for the car, but I think it's a good size. The acceleration isn't impressive, but the power holds continuously uphill. In our full review, I'll look forward to testing out Land Rover's terrain control system.