Most small SUVs and crossovers do great on roads, but get them in the dirt and they'll perform about as well as your typical sedan. The 2009 Land Rover LR2 fits in the small SUV segment, but it manages to retain at least some of Land Rover's legendary off-road capability. At the same time, it's a comfortable on-road car.
Unfortunately, it also retains Land Rover's slapdash cabin tech. In previous Land Rovers we've looked at, even at the top of the model lineup, there is no unified interface for the various cabin gadgets. So while you can get navigation and a Bluetooth phone system, you have to jump from two different sets of controls and displays to use them.
On the road
Ford's sale of both Land Rover and Jaguar to Tata Motors seems to have brought the brands closer together, as the first thing we noticed about the 2009 Land Rover LR2 was that its navigation system used the same Flash-based interface that Jaguar developed for the XK. Onscreen buttons slide out from the side of the screen, letting you adjust your route or enter destinations. But otherwise, the LR2 isn't much changed from the vehicle produced under Ford's stewardship.
The shifter for the automatic transmission has a solid feel as we put it into drive, and the 3.2-liter engine pulls the LR2 along without strain. Positioned as a luxury vehicle, the LR2 comes with leather and power adjustable seats, but the base price is in the mid-$30,000 range, impressively low for a car that offers such a nice interior.
Driving around the city, we notice that the LR2 has an excellent turning radius. That can be a useful feature off-road, and it's the first indication that the car is made for more than trips to the grocery store. The six-speed-automatic transmission shifts quietly, never missing a beat as we drive. A hard push on the gas gets the transmission into low gear quickly, and the inline six-cylinder engine makes the run up to freeway speeds easily. Land Rover claims 8.4 seconds to 60 mph, not terribly fast, but still respectable.
There is no iPod integration, so we rely on the auxiliary input mounted at the back of the console. And we are blown away by the quality of the upgraded Alpine audio system. Beyond the standard A pillar tweeters and door woofers, the LR2 also has a set of surround speakers set into the dashboard along with a center channel. A subwoofer enriches the audio from this 7.1 system.
Out on country roads, a fast corner suggests holding down the speed as the LR2 leans hard. Unlike its bigger brothers--the LR3, Range Rover, and Range Rover Sport--the LR2 doesn't have an air suspension, so the ride height is set for its 8.3 inches of ground clearance. According to Land Rover, the LR2 will ford almost 20-inch deep rivers. Giving credence to the LR2's off-road capability is the Terrain Response System, a simple dial in front of the shifter that lets you set the car's handling program for four different types of terrain.
A short run down a gravel road, with the Terrain Response System set appropriately, raises up some dust and shows the LR2's capability to maintain grip on all wheels as torque is intelligently distributed fore and aft. Each wheel does its job in thick gravel on a corner and up a rise. Jamming on the brakes for testing purposes plows up some of the road as the LR2 uses its antilock brakes to keep the wheels from sliding excessively.
The LR2 looks like a great vehicle to take up to the snow or in light to moderate off-road areas.
In the cabin
Ever since Land Rover became a luxury brand, its challenge has been to outfit the cabin with luxury materials, yet still remind drivers that the vehicles are rugged. In the 2009 LR2, Land Rover uses leather on the seats and wood trim, along with staunch, rubberized dials. This combination achieves its goal, but gets let down by the matte plastic buttons for stereo control, which look cheap in any kind of car.
The touch-screen navigation system is wholly separate from the stereo and Bluetooth system, the two of which rely on the stereo controls and a small, monochrome display. We would like to see a more integrated interface that makes better use of the LCD. A future version of the LR2 should be better designed, as we've already seen a better interface in the 2010 Range Rover and LR4.