The appeal of the 2014 Land Rover LR4 is not its cutting-edge design. Place the big box side-by-side with a 1990s-vintage Land Rover and you'll see that the LR4's aesthetic hasn't changed much since the days when it was first known as the Discovery. And although the Land Rover's infotainment isn't truly outdated, our example's tech was more dated than its boxy design.
Finding the appeal of the 2014 Land Rover LR4 is tricky, but it starts beneath the Alpine roof, on the inside of the box, where the spacious SUV boasts room for up to seven souls with all of its seats upright and occupied. The rear jump seats that fold up and out of the cargo floor are a bit awkward to access and take a bit of shoving and grunting to get locked into place, but were not too torturous for my 5-foot, 9-inch frame and offered a decent amount of foot room for short trips.
Fold the jumpers into the floor and fold the second row's bench flat as well and the LR4 presents its owner with up to 90.3 cubic feet of space for big and bulky cargo. The rear hatch is a two-piece clamshell job that opens by first lifting the rear glass and then lowering a truck-like tailgate. Some will be disappointed by the lack of a power-opening, hands-free rear hatch on what is ostensibly a luxury SUV, but I rather liked that you have to give the hatch a good slam when closing to make sure that everything locks into place. There's an old-school simplicity to it, and at the very least, it's one less motor you'll have to worry about eventually going out.
The style and function of the LR4 may be old school, but it has been updated over the years with a few modern amenities. I particularly liked the keyless entry and push button starter. Our model was also equipped with a $10,200 HSE Luxe package that upgrades the leather trim on the seats and dashboard and adds heating to the first and second row seats as well as the windshield, the washer jets, and the steering wheel. This package also adds a cooler box -- a little refrigerator -- to the center console to keep drinks and snacks chilly on long trips. Meanwhile, the audio system is upgraded to a 17-speaker, 825-watt Meridian Surround Sound setup.
Our model was not equipped with the latest infotainment that Land Rover offers on the LR4, but the standard navigation system gets the job done. It features modes for both on and off-road navigation and responds to a voice command that boasts a long list of available commands. However, it's one of the clunky old systems that puts the driver through a half dozen prompts for city, street name and street number, including individual digits just to input an address.
Audio sources include Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, USB connectivity with iPod compatibility, and an optional (and unreasonably expensive) $750 upgrade to add satellite radio and HD Radio tuning. Audio quality from the upgraded Meridian rig was quite good regardless of genre chosen and at moderate to high volumes.
The system's graphics are a bit pixelated, and the 7-inch touchscreen itself seems a bit small for the space reserved for it. That's our first hint that Land Rover does offer a bigger, better infotainment system; one that brings the tech into the 21st century with a new Land Rover InControl Apps integration. That system allows the driver to control a handful of vehicle-optimized smartphone apps from the dashboard touchscreen. Available apps include iHeart Radio, Parkopedia and Sygic GPS, with more on the way.
Charged with piloting such a big box around the crowded streets of San Francisco, I was pleased to find that the standard driver aid loadout included front and rear parking distance sensors. Our example was further augmented with the optional Vision Assist package, a $1,600 checkbox that adds blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert system, adaptive automatic high beams and a surround camera system that features multiple views. The curb view allowed me to peer at the road beside the vehicle when parallel parking, for example, and the T-junction view allowed me to view approaching traffic as I nosed the big SUV out of the blind alleys and driveways surrounding CNET's downtown offices.
Easing entrance and egress is the LR4's standard air suspension system, which features, in addition to the standard ride height, an Access height that lowers the suspension for easy entry and loading and for clearing low garage ceilings. The Lexus LX 570 offered a similar functionality and could be set to automatically lower to its Easy Access height when parked, but the Land Rover LR4 required that I remember to press a button every time -- which was disappointing but certainly not the end of the world.
More importantly for trailblazers, the LR4's air suspension also offers off-road and extended height settings that raise the ride height for better clearance over obstacles as tall as 12.2 inches and when wading in up to 27.6 inches of water. The elevated and lowered ride heights are only available at up to about 25 mph, at which point the Land Rover LR4 will revert to its standard 10.2 inches of ground clearance. The independent suspension also automatically levels the chassis when towing or loaded with cargo.
The suspension handles the ground clearance and keeping the wheels stuck to the road, but the full-time 4WD system keeps the LR4 moving forward, making the most out of the available grip. When equipped with the $1,350 Heavy Duty package, the LR4 is upgraded with a two-speed transfer case with high- and low-speed modes, a rock-crawling mode, and an active locking rear differential to go along with the standard locking center diff. Also standard is the Rover's electronic Terrain Response system -- an evolution of traction control that features five modes that automatically optimize the braking, stability control, transmission programming and engine output for a variety of surfaces -- road, low friction surfaces, sand, mud and ruts and rock crawling.
Around town, the ride is smooth and supple but not bouncy. Bigger bumps will toss the passengers around a bit, but the rebound is controlled, and the hard edges of potholes, construction plates and curbs are smoothed over by the air suspension's travel. I was also able to do some light trail driving and some dirt mound crawling, but nothing that was able to tax the LR4's off-road capabilities.
Working up the powertrain, we find that the LR4 is equipped with a single-option automatic transmission with eight speeds. It's a smooth gearbox with speedy shifts and features sport and paddle-shifted manual programs selectable via its motorized gear-selection knob, a hallmark of modern Jaguar and Land Rover interior design.
Finally we come to the engine, a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that send 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque through the gearbox. The 2014 model year marks the first appearance of this engine beneath the LR4's hood, replacing the older, more powerful 5.0-liter V-8.
Though the LR4 is down about 15 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque over last year's model, it still manages to not feel underpowered for its 5,655-pound curb weight. Zero to 60 mph happens in a stated 7.7 seconds, and the SUV doesn't feel sluggish at highway speeds or around town. The 3.0-liter is a modern engine that makes use of direct injection, high compression, and dual independent variable-cam timing to improve fuel economy.
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To this end, the powertrain also makes use of an anti-idling stop-start system that shuts down the V-6 at traffic lights to reduce wasted fuel. Unfortunately, this stop-start system is pretty terrible. The restarting of the engine was not the smoothest that I've tested and would lead to an annoying lag when pulling away from a stop. Around town, the engine would indeed shut down at traffic lights, but it would never stay stopped for long. Anything from the climate control system kicking in to a slight twitch of the steering wheel would have the engine coughing back to life without warning and with a noticeable lurch. Then the engine would stay running for the duration of the stop, which sort of defeats the benefit of having the stop-start system in the first place. I was so annoyed with the system that I turned it off, only to be met with a bright amber light in the instrument cluster warning me that Stop-Start was inactive. Yeah, I know.
For its trouble, the Land Rover will return an EPA estimated 14 city mpg, 19 highway mpg, and 16 mpg combined, which isn't much better than the V-8 powered Lexus LX 570 (14 mpg combined), Infiniti QX80 (16 mpg), or the Mercedes-Benz GL450 (16 mpg). For all of the bother of downsizing the engine and adding the obnoxious stop-start system, I expected a better gain.
In the UK and Australian markets, where it's known as the Discovery, the LR4 starts at £41,595 and AU$87,919, respectively. Here in the States, our 2014 Land Rover LR4 starts at an MSRP of $49,700 but with the optional packages, destination charges, and a California emissions charge, it bottom-lines at $64,625. That's thousands less than a similarly equipped seven-passenger luxury SUV, such as the aforementioned Lexus LX or Mercedes-Benz GL. While the updated LR4 may look and even feel like a much older-school vehicle than much of its competition, its cabin is no less luxurious, its light off-road abilities are no less capable, and its performance and economy (quirks aside) are on a par with those of its peers.