- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

Over the years, Land Rover has built its reputation on building competent off-road vehicles. This off-road prowess has been chronicled extensively. I remember my first trip to Nigeria in 1983, and how impressed I was to see Land Rover Range Rovers and Defenders plying Nigeria’s then extremely poor road system with ease.

Which leads me to the dual feelings I have about the Land Rover LR2.

The legendary ability to go anywhere is still in its DNA, but times have changed. The Land Rovers I saw in Nigeria were all about utility, using tried and true mechanical methods to lock differentials and get you out of trouble. Big engines and their attendant high compression served to replicate today’s Hill Descent Control, which uses computers to slow hill descent in the same way engine compression was used on earlier, simpler models.

Land Rover has taken a beating in reliability polls, largely due to glitches in the reams of electronic controls now standard or optional across Land Rover product lines.

Now to be fair, the LR2 HSE has many good points. It has a compliant ride, supportive seats, and an attractive body style. HSE models are top of the line, so it’s also chocked with some features of bigger Land Rover cousins like the LR3 and Range Rover. It gets pretty good fuel economy. In a week of testing, I averaged 21 mpg with most miles being racked up on the highway.

And it is a Land Rover, which means it’s built for adventure. The LR2 features monocoque construction with high strength steel used in strategic places; front and rear subframes, and double sided outer body panels coated in zinc for enhanced corrosion protection. To get you where you need to go no matter the weather, a long travel suspension with permanent “Intelligent” all-wheel drive is standard, and features a continuously variable front-to-rear torque split. All kinds of electronic safety and stability aids are standard on HSE models, including four channel anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and cornering brake control, dynamic stability and roll stability control, and hill descent control.

Standard safety features include seven air bags (includes driver’s knee airbag), seatbelt pretensioners and emergency brake assist.

Inside is a mixed bag.

Room for front and rear seat passengers is surprisingly good considering the LR2 is not a large vehicle. A dual panel sunroof is a welcome standard feature. There are plastics of high quality, and there are plastics of very poor quality. The “wood” trim on the dash is particularly bad. You might expect cheap materials in a low-end base econobox, but certainly not in an upscale model with a base price of $36,150. The features label that came with the test vehicle said the steering wheel was wrapped in leather. It felt like hard plastic to me. I kept touching it wondering why they took so much effort to double stitch a “plastic” covering on the wheel.

On the center console, facing up, is a 12 volt power point. A great feature in a convenient location, but the cap that protects the outlet is not tethered. You’ll lose the cap quickly, then run the risk of an electrical short when a dime falls into the 12 volt outlet hole.

The stereo must be made for MENSA members, because in a week of testing, I never figured out how to operate it without a lot of foul language.

Armrests for the front seats are adjustable, but still use the same ancient roller system for adjustments that Land Rover should have ditched 20 years ago. Pushing a button to adjust the height is a prefer ed method that’s much easier to use.

To start the LR2, you must insert an electronic key into a slot before you press the “start” button on the dash. The key is accepted by an electric motor that pulls it into place before you can press the button. Most electronic keys in use today allow you to keep the key in your pocket or purse and still start the vehicle. I cannot figure out what the advantage of the Land Rover system is. I do know that it adds another level of complexity to a brand already known for a lack of reliability.

Pricey options can send the price of the LR2 HSE north very quickly. For example, the “Technology Package” features DVD based navigation, Dolby Prologic sound, Sirius Satellite Radio, rear seat audio controls and Bluetooth connectivity, all for the princely sum of $3,500. The full price of the tested Rover was $41,400. This is a very steep price in a segment with lower priced, more reliable contenders.

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