2006 Land Rover LR3 Road & Trail Test

2006 Land Rover LR3 Road & Trail Test

What an SUV was Meant to Be

If you're planning any spring or summer vacations for next year, I've got the perfect weekend getaway. Take your new Land Rover LR3,
If you're planning any spring or summer vacations for next year, think about the Land Rover Experience Driving School. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
providing you're fortunate enough to own one, or if not, arrange to use one of a variety of Land Rover models stationed at the luxury brand's Land Rover Experience Driving School, located in Montebello, Quebec, Ashville, North Carolina or Carmel, California, and have the 4x4 experience of a lifetime.

That's what I did, in Montebello, and by so doing was housed in the historic Fairmont Le Château Montebello, one of the most impressive pre-WWII destination resorts on the continent. Made of squared logs, the multi-story spoke-shaped building features a beautiful atrium-like lobby at centre, highlighted by one of the tallest fireplaces I've ever seen - Oregon's Timberline Lodge, constructed
Located in Montebello, Quebec, Land Rover's off-road driving school will give you the 4x4 experience of a lifetime. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
around the same time - also offers a spectacular "round" fireplace in what might be a cozier setting.

But Timberline, as fabulous as it is, doesn't feature a Land Rover off-road driving school attached to its ancillary buildings. The lobby area of the school is a combined Land Rover store, with some nicely displayed branded lifestyle items, such as clothing, coffee mugs and the like, plus cozy living room area ideal for briefing the small driving school groups that normally attend the one-day off-road trek. The LRE staff made sure I had everything needed for my day's journey, including a bag lunch, appropriate clothing, which, of course, included a Land Rover Experience Driving School baseball cap. My guide would be Catherine Lemieux, a young, amiable woman with a superb knowledge of all things off-road - a good thing.


Land Rover provided a nicely equipped LR3, not only one of the most capable 4x4s currently available but also my
Land Rover provided a nicely equipped LR3, not only one of the most capable 4x4s currently available but also my favourite by a long shot. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
favourite by a long shot, at least from a styling standpoint. Its tall, clean lines, utilitarian for sure, are oh so chic in an industrial design sort of way. Borrowing details from its more expensive Range Rover sibling, such as the general shape of its slab-sided body panels including the horizontal cutlines separating the hood from the fenders, plus similarities in the two SUV's complex headlight assemblies, the LR3 sports unique details such as its asymmetrical rear liftgate, taller, stepped profile, larger taillight clusters, and up front, a more commonplace bulging hoodline - older Land Rovers featured a reverse-bulge or indented hoodline. Overall, it's a handsome package.

The
The new LR3 is also miles more refined than the old Discovery inside, although not quite as impeccably crafted as the Range Rover. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
new LR3 is also miles more refined than the old Discovery inside, although not quite as impeccably crafted as the Range Rover - the latter is truly and exquisite piece of work that no SUV-maker has ever come close to matching. Granted, the top-line LR is priced in the low six-figure range and the LR3 starts in the mid-fives, $53,900 to be exact, $61,900 when the 4.4-litre V8 is fitted under the hood as was the case with my tester, so it can only be expected that hand polished planks of hardwood might not be standard LR3 issue. The general fit and finish of all interior panels is up to snuff in the entry-level luxury SUV segment that the LR3 competes in, mind you, and while some plastic surfaces aren't anywhere near "soft-touch", others, more prominently placed where arms and hands may rest, have a premium feel.


The LR3 cabin isn't particularly understated, due to large manly buttons and a general layout that puts functionality before aesthetics, but in
The LR3 cabin isn't particularly understated, due to large manly buttons and a general layout that puts functionality before aesthetics. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
that same industrial design motif it's an attractive interior. The front seats are especially supportive, something that I would appreciate even more when out on the trail, and those in the rear are not only comfortable, but also ingeniously flexible.

The LR3 comes with three rows of seats, and the big news here is the rear seat is actually usable by adults in a pinch. Getting in is also a breeze, merely needing a second row seat on either side of the vehicle to be flipped forward, opening up ample room for a moderately flexible passenger to climb aboard. I found reasonable legroom and enough headroom to accommodate my five-foot-eight
When the third row is folded flat the cargo area becomes among the more commodious in the industry. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press) 
frame - larger passengers might want to use their size and therefore negotiating strength to allocate a second row seat or, better yet, front passenger seat.

When the third row is folded flat the cargo area becomes among the more commodious in the industry, made especially useful because of the SUV's tall, square proportions. I like the tiny tailgate, not only handy for resting heavy items on before wrestling them into the back of the truck, but also for standing on if loading up gear on the roof. Of course, a suitable roof rack and/or lockable container would be needed to accommodate such stowage flexibility, and Land Rover will willingly sell you one. Just a note, the top half of the liftgate needs to be lowered while the bottom half remains down, if attempting to reach the roof.


That roof can be equipped with one of the largest sunroofs in the class - well actually three of them. In reality Land Rover's
The Alpine Roof option features a power glass sunroof up front and two fixed glass sunroofs over the second and third rows. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press) 
Alpine Roof option, which replaces the standard all-steel roof with a power glass sunroof over the driver and front passenger, plus two fixed glass sunroofs over the second and third rows of passengers, has to be one of the coolest options available in the SUV segment. Interestingly, from an aerial view the two rear sunroofs appear like one XXXL glass sheet stretching across the rear half of the cabin. It's an especially attractive setup from the outside, if you happen to be standing on a bridge or peering from the porthole of a low flying plane when an LR3, so equipped, drive by underneath, but most won't ever realize this.

Catherine and I left the Chateau grounds and traveled along the highway for a dozen minutes to an adjacent property, a rather large chunk of the Canadian Shield measuring about 65,000 acres. Believe it or not, this facility
From an aerial view the two rear sunroofs appear like one XXXL glass sheet stretching across the rear half of the cabin. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
is actually owned by the hotel, and, besides having a variety of high-end log cabins available for more adventurous travelers, delivers up some majestic scenery and truly punishing 4x4 roads.

No, to call these roads just won't do, but I'll get to that in a minute. First of all, the off-road school had set up a preliminary obstacle course that will no doubt be enough of an adventure for those in the 4x4 101 stage of their life. An elaborate maze of radical elevation changes and deep muddy ditches combined with some wheel articulation exercises, a stretch of "road" made up of uneven boulders, a solid rock hill climb, and other unique and, if it weren't for the LR3's air suspension system, punishing forays.


Being that the LR3 features an automatic transmission, a rather sophisticated six-speed unit by the way, equally suitable to
A preliminary obstacle course will no doubt be enough of an adventure for those in the 4x4 101 stage of their life. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
city driving, stretching its legs on the highway or, better yet, slow crawling over rocks and through mud, I was able to reacquaint myself with left foot braking. Using this method allows the right foot to remain on the throttle, ever so slightly, and the left foot firmly planted on the brakes. This keeps the engine at optimal revs for inching forward over more treacherous territory, kept in control by steadily releasing and applying the brake pedal. It takes some getting used to, but when mastered is the ultimate way to drive an automatic-transmission equipped 4x4.

During
During the initial off-road process I have to admit to falling head over heals for Land Rover's new Terrain Response system, which allows the choice between multiple terrain settings for optimal performance on all road surfaces. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
this process I have to admit to falling head over heals for Land Rover's new Terrain Response system, which allows the choice between multiple terrain settings for optimal performance on all road surfaces in any weather condition. Whatever wheel finds traction will bite into the ground and move the LR3 forward, even if there's only one gripping solid ground. And I truly wasn't quite sure what to expect from the new truck, being that its ground clearance was dropped from 208 mm (8.2 inches) to 185 mm (7.3 inches) in transforming from Discovery to LR3. Normally this is not a good thing when off-road, and to be fair to the old model which wasn't there for a back-to-back test, it may not be to the LR3's advantage either, at least when on the trail. But just the same, during this beginning stage, which was hardly light duty, and throughout the remainder of the day, I never touched ground a single time.


The LR3, as expected, made slight work of the obstacle course, and being that I had shown Catherine I was up to the task at hand,
The LR3, as expected, made slight work of the obstacle course. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
and wouldn't destroy Land Rover's shiny new 4x4, I graduated to the next level, but not until after lunch. We parked next to a working fish hatchery, a fascinating facility that showed the progression of various species from fingerlings to full-size adults, and then proceeded down to a picturesque lakeside covered picnic area, where my bag lunch, previously prepared by the chefs at the Chateau, was presented. Fabulous food, gorgeous surroundings, enjoyable conversation and the prospect of an adventurous afternoon creates a healthy appetite, and therefore we feasted, yakked and enjoyed the sights.

Soon we were once again traveling back down the same gravel road we'd used
Compared to the jagged rocks of the obstacle course, this grass was wonderfully soft. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
to get to the lunch spot, but instead of turning into the area designated for the obstacle course we went the opposite direction, further into the woods. The first section is filled with rich green foliage, seemingly blanketing every inch of soil underneath. We trekked across this wonderfully soft and comfortable terrain, at least when compared to the jagged rocks I'd traversed during the obstacle course, enjoying the resplendent beauty of this particular nook in la belle province, not realizing how quickly this playful romp in the woods would turn into a hair-raising battle of wits and machinery over nature.


Of course, to Catherine, who had driven the course personally many times, and guided a large number of Land Rover owners through
We immediately edged our way down an extremely steep embankment, so steep in fact that Catherine had to get out and guide me down. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
its many twists and turns, it was just another day on the job. But for me, who has done a fair bit of off-roading since my dad first purchased a Land Cruiser FJ40 and taught me how to pilot it from the ripe old age of (well, I'd better not confess so that I don't incriminate him), what I was experiencing was not for the faint of heart.

We immediately edged our way down an extremely steep embankment, so steep in fact that Catherine had to get out and guide me down, one rock face at a time. At
At some points, all I could see were her hands pointing which direction to turn the wheels, up over the lip of the hood. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
some points, all I could see were her hands pointing which direction to turn the wheels, up over the lip of the hood. While somewhat unnerving to be moving forward, the SUV canted sideways at a 30 degree angle and forward by at least as much, and simply trusting in the person walking ahead to know which way to position the wheels in order to find the most grip and best bring the vehicle down with the least amount of damage, hopefully that being none at all, it must even be more unnerving for the person facing 5,500 lbs of steel overhead and an intermediate off-roader at the helm, awkwardly attempting to negotiate the steering wheel while fumbling with his left foot on the brake and right foot on the throttle.


At one point, the pathway narrowing and banked inward as it turned to the left and plunged downward, corkscrew-like, at an
At one point all I could do was to give way to gravity, inching ever so carefully downward, keeping an eye on the right-side mirror, which was canted downward so that I could pay attention to the outside rear tire in its quest to find the rightmost edge of the road. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
alarming incline, a large tree planted right on the edge of the roadway, on the inside where it could easily tear a less attractive window into the LR3's passenger compartment, I truly hesitated, a lump forming in my throat and deep concern over damaging this top-line Land Rover, let alone any personal body parts, on my mind. Refocusing, I gave way to gravity, inching ever so carefully downward, keeping an eye on the right-side mirror, which was canted downward so that I could pay attention to the outside rear tire in its quest to find the rightmost edge of the road, left-side mirror canted upward to where the thick tree was ominously towing overhead, leaning out over the road and just narrowly missing the upper portion of the LR3's body structure, paint fortunately still glistening, sheetmetal unmolested and windows still fixed in place, knowing that a slip of my throttle, brake combination might cause a slide either way, popping the right rear wheel off of its track and into never land, or
No off-road trail is ever the same twice, as both 4x4s and natural erosion make the path different every time. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
slightly less disconcerting, scraping up Land Rover's SUV. Needless to say, we made it, thanks to Catherine's good judgment and my faith in her.

While she first gave me confidence that she knew the road like the back of her hand, so to speak, I knew and she later admitted that no off-road trail is ever the same twice. You see, as soon as four tires stir up previously embedded rocks, trudge through swampland or spew out dirt and gravel, the road's surface has changed. Add to that nature's own erosive processes, such as rain, snow, rock slides, etc, and no one can be sure what to expect from one time to the next. Such is one of the adventurous aspects of off-roading, and if like me you've never traveled a particular road or path before, the adventure is all that more exciting.


As mentioned a minute or two ago, the LR3's six-speed manual makes off-roading easier than piloting a similar manual
The LR3's six-speed automatic features Command Shift manual actuation, which allows the driver to lock into a given gear and then tap the lever forward to engage the next. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
transmission-equipped vehicle would be. It features Command Shift manual actuation, which allows the driver to lock into a given gear and then tap the lever forward to engage the next. The new gearbox is also "intelligent," adapting its shift patterns to a driver's personal style, either optimizing performance or efficiency.

While the previous scenario may seem nerve racking, it's actually a great deal of fun - at least from a guy who watches Kiefer Sutherland's 24 to relax. And to put things into perspective, that was only a snapshot lasting a few minutes in an afternoon that continued on for hours. As the day began to close, the slightly cloudy skies had turned to a light rain, and then toward the end into showers. This, of course, made the trail all the more challenging, at least when coming down off the mountain, which is mostly made of granite, and into grass and soil surfaces. The dirt mixed with the fresh rain to form a soupy mud, nothing near as difficult to navigate as Chilcotin gumbo, a
A few puddles had grown large enough to be better defined as ponds. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
fine silt found in the Chilcotin grasslands, located in mid-Western BC between Williams Lake and Bella Coola, that when mixed with water gets inside the treads of the tires and turns them into slicks, but still more enjoyable than merely riding over hard-packed earth.

A few puddles had grown large enough to be better defined as ponds, but like all previous terrain the LR3 simply pushed on, hardly breaking a sweat. A variety of wooden bridges, some low to the ground serving as support over bogs and others quite high, traversing ravines. Again, the rain made these more slippery than they would have been otherwise, but a careful, slow pace and making sure the mirrors were positioned to allow a good view of the tires, allowed for safe, steady crossings.


We came out the other end no worse for wear; at least I was feeling fresh and ready for the long drive back to Montreal's
Catherine had walked much of the way, and fortunately for me had the ideal vantage point to take the majority of photos when out on the trail. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
Trudeau airport. Catherine had walked much of the way, and fortunately for me had the ideal vantage point to take the majority of photos when out on the trail. She does this for most of the participants, an appreciated service I'm sure.

Paved roads are always especially smooth after a day off-road, making even Quebec's frost-heaved highway system seem like a dream come true. The LR3 makes up for road imperfections with a firm but sympathetic suspension setup, and manages high speed sections as well as tighter curves with uncanny
Another reason why the LR3 does so well on and off-road is its unique Integrated Body-frame architecture. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
stability. I suppose the low centre of gravity and electronically controlled air suspension combination that aids the SUV when scaling mountain passes also benefits high-speed agility, which is one of those rare "have your cake and eat it too" situations.

Another reason why the LR3 does so well on and off-road is its unique Integrated Body-frame architecture, which in regular language means Land Rover has sandwiched a traditional truck frame inside a car-like monocoque unibody, again for a best of both worlds scenario.


The LR3's 4.4-litre V8 feels smooth and responsive in any situation. It's a pretty sophisticated unit by the way, derived from the Jaguar
In order to make it off-road capable, Land Rover sealed the new 300-hp 4.4-litre V8 from dust and water, and revised its air intakes to allow deep river wading. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
4.2-litre but pumped up in displacement to benefit torque and therefore acceleration in its heavier SUVs application. It doles out 83 additional horsepower over the outgoing overhead valve, 2-valve per cylinder lump fitted into Discoverys, now making 300-horsepower. Its 315 lb-ft of torque rating beats the old engine by 15 lb-ft, but it needs to rev to 4,000 rpm compared to the outgoing model's 2,800 rpm in order to find that extra grunt. I think what will be more important to LR3 buyers, however, is the new engine's improved fuel economy and expected better reliability. Jaguar enjoys excellent third
While the vehicle we used for bushwhacking was merely an SE version, it was nicely equipped with most luxury features expected in this class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
party reliability ratings, unlike Land Rover, so the new LR3 should benefit from dipping into Ford's Premier Auto Group (PAG) parts bin. In order to make it off-road capable, Land Rover sealed it from dust and water, and revised its air intakes to allow deep river wading.

While the vehicle we used for bushwhacking was merely an SE version, it was nicely equipped with most luxury features expected in this class. In case you want something featuring more, a touch-screen, voice-activated navigation system can be included in the fully loaded HSE version, which also features a 600-watt audio system, 19-inch alloy wheels, Bi-Xenon headlamps and memory seats.


For me, the LR3 SE is just fine. It's one of the most civil SUVs on pavement or off-road, and one of the most capable true 4x4s when
The LR3 SE is one of the most civil SUVs on pavement or off-road, and one of the most capable true 4x4s when executing either task. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada) 
executing either task. And that brings me to my final point, and probably what I like best about the LR3 and for that matter Land Rover in general. These vehicles are purchased to be driven off-road, at least more often than most 4x4s ever experience soil between their treads. Land Rover owners have formed clubs that regularly get together on weekends, and sometimes for longer forays, to test their vehicles out in similar situations to what I did in Montebello. Some owners might get hooked to off-roading at Land Rover's off-road driving school, which is designed
What I like best about Land Rover is that there's a strong support group for owners who want to take their SUV off-road. (Photo: Catherine Lemieux, Land Rover Canada)
to accommodate any skill level by the way, while others may take part in a program sponsored by their local dealership. Heck, ex-racing champion turned team owner entrepreneur-extraordinaire Roger Penske owns a Land Rover dealership in Scottsdale, Arizona with a 4x4 course built onto the rear of the complex - I've been there and it's the real deal. Back to my original point, some LR owners will join a club and yet others might just venture out on their own and experience the joys of reaching the wild green yonder in a fully capable 4x4. It's a unique combination of driving induced thrills and peaceful serenity once you get to your destination that can rarely be found outside of God's country. I've enjoyed off-roading for most of my life, thanks to an adventurous Dad, and I recommend it to everyone.


Fortunately, when you buy into the Land Rover family, such opportunities are part of the package. Actually, Land Rover offers the first day at Montebello, or one of its other off-road schools free of charge, just so you can learn first hand how much fun the vehicle you purchased can be, and so that you can learn safe, environmentally conscious off-roading skills. Such owner appreciation is rare, and smart on Land Rover's part. No doubt, once initiated, few Land Rover owners leave the fold.

Specifications (V8):

Price Range (MSRP): $61,900 - $74,550 (base V6 sells for $53,900)
Body Type: 5-door SUV, integrated frame
Layout: front engine, 4WD
Engine: 300-hp, 315 lb-ft of torque, 4.4L, 32-valve, DOHC V8
Transmission: 6-spd auto with manual mode
Brakes (front/rear): disc/disc, ABS with EBD
Curb Weight: 2,461 kg (5,426 lbs)
Seating Capacity: 5 (opt 7)
Cargo Volume (behind second row): 1,192 L (42.1 cu ft)
Payload (max): 769 kg (1,695 lbs)
Ground Clearance: 185 mm (7.3 in)
Towing Capacity (estimated): 3,500 kg (7,716 lbs)
Fuel Economy (city/hwy): N/A
Warranty (mo/km): 48/80,000 comprehensive
Direct Competitors: Buick Rainier, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Infiniti QX4, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Lexus GX 470, Mitsubishi Montero, Toyota 4Runner
Web Site: www.landrover.com
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