By Al Vinikour
It has often been said that Land Rovers are the Swiss Army knives of the automotive world, albeit it ones with a British accent. You can rock climb, go for a leisurely drive, wade through bodies of water or listen to classical music through orchestral hall-quality speakers in your own driveway. This was emphasized recently when I went to Montreal and northern Quebec to test out the 2013 Land Rover LR2.
Completely updated for the 2013 model year, LR2 joins the Range Rover Evoque in the evolving premium compact SUV market. However, the two vehicles are both similar and yet very different. Similar in that they are both built on the same transverse all-wheel drive platform bits, but so different in the way that they look and the buyers to whom they appeal. You may remember the LR2 by its old name—Freelander—and the fact that the first-generation vehicle was begun when the Rover Group was partnered with Honda. Except Honda wanted to do a small SUV on their own, and created the similar CR-V. Rover had to wait until BMW bought it before it could build the Freelander, and launched it within months of the original CR-V.
However, BMW dumped Rover in 2000, selling Land Rover to Ford, which added it to its Jaguar holdings. Ford replaced the original Freelander in 2006 with a model built off its European Focus platform, and built it alongside the Jaguar X-Type. (These are the same pieces Ford’s European operations used to build its Kuga small SUV.) And while Land Rover kept the Freelander name (adding the number “2” after it) for Europe, the vehicle was launched as the LR2 in North America. If that isn’t confusing enough, India’s Tata Motors now owns both Jaguar and Land Rover, having bought them from Ford in 2008. Ford has since moved the Escape and European Kuga small SUVs to its latest Focus platform, making them cousins of the LR2 and Range Rover Evoque, which are still built on their Ford-sourced platforms.
Divorce is so hard on the kids, as proven by the fact that Land Rover counts among the LR2’s competitors the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Honda CRV, Volvo XC60 and VW Tiguan, but not the former spouse’s Escape/Kuga twins. (Lincoln is planning its own small SUV, built off the Ford Escape/Kuga platform, but it will be aimed more at the Range Rover Evoque than the LR2.) Nevertheless, Land Rover has to feel confident the LR2 has what it takes to compete in that arena.
The design is gorgeous, although this description probably wouldn’t make a vehicle that’s as capable as the LR2 happy. Perhaps it would be better to describe it as aerodynamically-rectangular. By that I mean it obviously couches its occupants in a squared-off cocoon-like structure, but the body design slices cleanly through the wind. There is minimal wind noise. Its grille and fog lamp bezels now sport a bright finish and paint detailing changes to the front grille surround, insert bars and fender vent harmonize the different elements. Xenon headlamps combine with LED front and rear lamps, giving the LR2 a new look set off by a fresh signature design graphic in the front running lights.
The narrow A-pillars make for excellent all-round visibility, while the short front and rear overhangs and high underbody are essential for the vehicle’s off-road performance. Body-side protection guards against stone chips and helps keep the sills clean. Maximum rear axle ground clearance is 10.5 in while the front axle’s is 8.3 in. As if the vehicle isn’t dressy enough, Land Rover has added three new body colors: Aintree Green, Havana and a beautiful Mauritius Blue.
As handsome (probably a better choice of words) as the 2013 LR2 is, it’s the mechanical side that really makes this a force to be reckoned with. It’s powered by a revised, Ford-supplied 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque (at only 3,200 rpm). The powerplant is 10 horsepower and 16 pound-feet of torque more than the Volvo-designed (the Swedish car maker also used to be owned by Ford) 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated inline six-cylinder engine that it replaces. Furthermore, the new engine is 88 pounds lighter than the larger six. Mated to an Aisin AWF21 six-speed automatic transmission, engineered with advanced neutral logic control to reduce internal drag when the vehicle is stationary, the LR2 has an EPA-estimated mileage figure of 24 miles per gallon (highway). The transmission is coupled to a full-time four-wheel drive system featuring a Haldex rear differential.
Whether it’s over the river or through the woods, the LR2 will get you there, thanks in part to the Terrain Response System; one of the core Land Rover technologies that gives the vehicle its outstanding range of capabilities. It adapts the response of the vehicle’s engine, gearbox, center coupling and chassis systems to match the demands of the terrain within 150 milliseconds of changes in grip levels. This optimizes drivability and comfort as well as maximizes traction. Even though Terrain Response works continuously, the driver can select special programs such as General Driving, Grass-Gravel- Snow, Mud & Ruts, and Sand. Also, the LR2 has a full safety net comprising Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Traction Control (ETC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Roll Stability Control (RSC) and Engine Drag Control. And if you want to “play boats,” the maximum water wading depth is 19.7 inches.
On top of all this, the LR2 has one of my favorite technologies: Hill Descent Control. It automatically restricts speed downhill using the anti-lock brake system to improve driver control on slippery descents, and is automatically engaged on appropriate Terrain Response programs. One thing to always remember is to never use the brake pedal when descending a hill using HDC. It’s always easy to spot someone who’s not totally conversant with HDC; they’re the ones flying down a hill like a P-47 Thunderbolt strafing a rail yard. Veterans of the off-road wars know enough to let the technology do the work as intended. When reflecting on the capabilities of the LR2 the first thought that comes to mind is a paraphrasing of an old adage: “You take the high road and I’ll take NO road; and I’ll be there safely before ye.”
Another neat technology, and one that liberated interior room by eliminating the parking brake lever, is the electric parking brake. It adjusts braking force based on the slope the vehicle is parked on. It even takes into account whether the brakes are hot or cold, and periodically ensures clamping force isn’t lost as the brakes cool down. Despite operation via a single switch, the electric parking brake can still be used as an emergency brake. When used in this manner, it automatically selects the most stable braking method, and utilizes skid prevention techniques. Plus, the emergency brake can’t be released unless the driving seat is occupied. Yes, Mr. Foxworthy, it is smarter than most 5th graders.
Hand-in-hand with the capabilities technology is the driving dynamic. As remarkable as the LR2 is when there’s not a civilized road in sight, it’s just as good on paved roads. It offers an all-day ride, so the prospect of driving it for hundreds of miles per day isn’t daunting whatsoever. It has a fully-independent suspension system with struts at each corner, front and rear anti-roll bars that offer high levels of body roll control, a 2.6 turns lock-to-lock turning ratio and it standard 18-in alloy wheels and tires.
The 2013 LR2’s upgraded interior boasts a host of new features, including vastly upgraded materials and a new instrument panel design. Every trim level (LR2, LR2 HSE and LR2 HSE LUX) comes standard with grained leather-covered power seats, dual sunroofs, and a five-inch color screen that primarily displays vehicle-related information. It sits between the dials and is complemented by steering wheel toggle switches that operate the clearest of drop down menus and vehicle set-up details I’ve ever seen.
A new “Say What You See” voice activation system prompts the driver visually with commands needed to speak in order to control functions in the audio, optional satellite navigation and phone systems. Prompts are displayed in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step format on the screen. As good as the navigation system already was, it’s now been vastly improved by this addition.
The “orchestra hall” mentioned at the beginning comes via two Meridian audio systems. The standard unit is a system equipped with a new 7-inch color touch screen, 380 watts of power and 11 speakers. (Entry-level vehicles use the five-inch screen and are mated with an upgraded 80-watt, eight-speaker sound system.) Audiophiles will think they’ve died and gone to Indiana with the optional system. It’s made up of an 825-watt, 17-speaker surround sound system with Trifield technology. It provides a natural, enveloping concert-like experience for all occupants. There’s also plenty of space to bring your stuff; with the rear seats folded there’s 58.9 ft3 of cargo space.
Considering its massive content the pricing on the 2013 LR2 is in the ballpark. MSRP for the base LR2 is $37,250. That jumps to $39,750 for the LR2 HSE and $42,350 for the LR2 HSE LUX. An increase in the level of standard equipment accounts for much of the increase, which averages $700. Even so, the LR2 is a good $4,500 less than its more stylish, but mechanically similar, Range Rover Evoque cousin.