If the automotive landscape were to be metaphorically transposed onto a typical TV high school, the 2011 Land Rover LR4 would be the dumb jock. It is absolutely massive, as strong as an ox, and immensely capable when in its element. However, where cabin tech is concerned, it's not what you'd call intelligent. The Rover checks many of the boxes that we like to see filled on our list of available cabin tech options, but it only just barely meets our standards for what's acceptable from a modern tech car, and what's there can be difficult to use.
For example, while setting up Bluetooth hands-free calling, we ended up having to break out the user manual due to the system's complete lack of visual or audible prompts. For techies such as ourselves, having to dig for the manual is truly a humbling experience.
Off- and on-road performance
Forward motivation is provided by the LR4's 5.0 liter V-8 engine, which sends 375 horsepower through a six-speed automatic transmission before the 375 pound-feet of torque is split between its four wheels via its complex Terrain Response system. This system ties together the Rover's front, rear, and center differentials, four-corner air suspension, electronic traction control system, two-speed transfer box with high- and low-gear settings, and braking systems to provide the best possible traction for a variety of situations. The system features presets for sand, snow, mud, and rock crawling, but gives a good deal of flexibility in adjusting the settings to nearly any situation.
There weren't many off-road obstacles that we could find in the San Francisco area that could stop the LR4's forward progression. In its default drive-train mode, we were able to get the big girl to climb a loosely packed dirt hill at over a 45-degree angle of inclination. A romp in the mud was handled with similar ease until a patch of wet grass and standing water nearly froze us in our tracks with the SUV's wheels sunken up to the rim in mud. However, with a quick twist of the drive mode knob to the slippery-surfaces mode and a steady application of throttle, we found the LR4 was able to quickly pull itself free from this trap as well. We spent the better part of an afternoon romping around in the dirt and mud, climbing hill after hill until an attempt at a nearly vertical climb (we estimate it at a 65- to 70-degree angle of inclination) stopped the Rover in its tracks. Satisfied that the 'ute would handle much more than your average soccer mom or weekend warrior would ever run into, we turned our attention to the LR4's on-road behavior.
On public roads, the same suspension that soaked up the bumps when bouncing around in the mud combined with the SUV's tall stance, high center of gravity, and relatively stiff air suspension to create a good deal of body motion when traversing simple speed bumps and potholes. We found ourselves bouncing around in our seats considerably more than we were comfortable with. Fortunately, the seats themselves were quite comfortable, with their adjustable armrests, lumbar support, and heated and cooled surfaces. Jostling ride aside, the Rover LR4 handled fairly well for a vehicle of its size. Acceleration was good (the manufacturer estimates that 0 to 60 takes 7.5 seconds) and the Rover changed direction readily. Body roll was ever-present, but when driven within legal limits, we never felt that the beast was about to buck us.
In crowded San Francisco, we thought that parking would be more of an issue than it was, but thanks to front and rear proximity sensors with audible alerts and a rearview camera, we were able to easily parallel park the Rover, getting into and out of spots without a scratch. When it came time to take the LR4 overnight, we got a little panicked watching the low ceiling of our apartment building's parking deck. Fortunately, the Rover's 76.3-inch height ducked all obstructions. Later we discovered the air suspension's access mode, which lowered the vehicle height by 4 inches. Even though we knew that the LR4 would be OK at the stock height, we began to use the access mode every time we parked, mostly because it made climbing into and out of the vehicle much easier. In addition to the access mode, the LR4 also features an off-road setting that raises the vehicle by about 2 inches over the default height. Exceeding 10 mph in access mode or 30 mph in off-road mode caused the LR4 to reset to the standard ride height.
In the cabin
Overall, we found the LR4's fit and finish to be top-notch, capped off by an optional Lux package that, among other things, bumps the interior trim to premium leather, adds eight-way power adjustment to the front seats, and drops a small refrigerator into the hollow of the center console. However, not once during our entire week with the Rover were we able to successfully close a door or a hatch on the first attempt. Every time we went to close a door, it would catch just shy of full lock, requiring a reopening and second slam. The situation was the same for the rear hatch. Perhaps the doors were merely heavier than we thought they were, but more likely we simply weren't accustomed to brutally slamming the portals of a $60K vehicle, particularly the glass rear hatch.
With the doors firmly shut, the LR4's cabin proved to be quiet and comfortable. Most of the controls fell naturally within our reach, including the Terrain Response knob, the steering wheel controls, seat adjustments, and climate controls. The color touch screen that sits at the top of the center stack was a bit of a stretch, but we didn't anticipate needing to tap it too much while the vehicle was in motion.
Our infotainment features started with standard Bluetooth hands-free calling. As we mentioned earlier, this first bit of tech proved to be extremely difficult to set up. The system provides no onscreen and few audible prompts, so we were left taking stabs in the dark with spoken commands. Further complicating matters was the fact that the hands-free system used a unique four-digit PIN that was only documented in the owner's manual. After about 20 minutes of poking around, we finally got our phone paired. Fortunately, once paired, the hands-free system automatically imported our phonebook, allowing us to access and initiate calls with the touch screen.