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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 navigation menu buttons look similar to that found in the Jaguar XK and XF.
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.
Surround speakers set into the rear pillars show the Alpine stereo system means business.
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.
The compass screen provides some help for off-roading.
The LR2's navigation system is pretty average, with its graphical menus the only standout feature. The system is DVD-based, so it can be slow at times to look up addresses. Route guidance is adequate, but there is no traffic information or other advanced features. It only offers minimal off-road help, with a compass screen, the capability to trace a route, and destination input by GPS coordinates.
A Bluetooth phone system comes with the Technology package, present on our car. We had inconsistent results trying to pair an iPhone to the car.
The LR2 offers minimal digital music features, with just an auxiliary input, a six-disc CD changer that can read MP3 CDs, and Sirius Satellite Radio. The monochrome radio display shows MP3 CD folders on a three-line display, as well as satellite radio information. We found this display difficult to read in bright sunlight.
The radio display proved difficult to read on a sunny day.
The only aspect of the LR2's cabin tech we particularly liked was the Alpine audio system, which uses Dolby Pro Logic II and 7.1 channel surround sound. Its 14 speakers, getting power from a 440-watt amp, bedeck the cabin, and include a center channel, subwoofer, plus four surround speakers to complement the usual array of woofers and tweeters.
Sound quality is excellent with this Alpine system, almost up to the level of our favorite THX audio system found in the Lincoln MKS. We noticed very distinct percussion reproduction and well-balanced sound throughout. Highs got to the verge of shrill, but never became painful. Vocals came through cleanly.
Under the hood
As with other Land Rovers, the 2009 LR2 makes off-road work easy with its terrain selection dial and hill descent control. We got the LR2 to easily traverse some gravelly hills, going up a steep incline then handling an even steeper descent, its wheels maintaining grip using the car's intelligent all-wheel-drive system. Normally, drive power is put to the front wheels, but almost all of it can transfer to the rear wheels when required.
Land Rover's Terrain Response System makes it easy to select a handling program for different types of terrain.
Land Rover manages to transversely mount a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine in the LR2. With 230 horsepower and 234 pound-feet of torque, the engine has no problem pulling the LR2's 4,255 pounds. The accompanying six-speed automatic transmission is supposed to have driver adaptive logic, along with sport and manual modes. Sport mode holds lower gears a little longer, but doesn't feel terribly different from drive mode.
Although the engine has a relatively small displacement, it doesn't do particularly well on fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Although the trip computer stayed between 19.2 mpg and 19.8 mpg the entire time we had the car, our tank average calculation showed 15.4 mpg for mixed city and freeway driving.
Despite a vertical stability program and antisway bars both fore and aft, the LR2 wallows in the corners, showing no capability for hard cornering. The suspension has a lot of travel, which normally means a comfortable ride. Over more serious bumps the car will float up and down, but mitigate any hard hits from the shocks or suspension.
The 2009 Land Rover LR2 comes in at a very reasonable base price of $35,375. Our car came equipped with the $3,500 Technology package, adding navigation, Bluetooth, and that very nice sounding Alpine audio system. Transportation and dealer fees ran the total price up to $40,525.
In our ratings, the LR2 does best for performance, earning points for its off-road capabilities and comfortable ride. However, it loses a little for its poor fuel economy. It only rates average for cabin tech, with the Alpine audio saving it from mediocrity. The design score suffers from the lack of cabin tech integration, only maintaining an average rating for the practical size and configuration of the LR2.