Born in the U.K, Built for the U.S. Combining traditional Land Rover elements with a boxy, new shape keeps the LR3 recognizable as a Land Rover while distancing it from its predecessor. By D. John Booth Date Posted 07-14-2004 "We're sacrificing domestic and European sales to make this vehicle more popular in the United States," says Matthew Taylor, Land Rover's managing director. "The new LR3 is actually too big for the Continental market. But it's ideal for North America where we want to increase our presence by some 35 percent by 2009. "That's why there's a 14-inch increase in wheelbase compared with the outgoing Discovery," continues Taylor. "And why the LR3 is one of the first SUVs to have as much head- and legroom in the third row of seats as the first and second." The LR3 rides on an all-new "integrated body frame" chassis that will form the basis for several other new models in the years ahead. If Taylor's passion is anything to go by, Land Rover also aims to reverse the Discovery's reputation for middling performance and questionable reliability in one fell swoop. Heady ambitions, but if the technical presentations here in Gaydon, Warwickshire, England, are anything to go by, there's a chance the LR3 might indeed live up to Taylor's expectations. Heck, judging by all the new gadgets the English engineers have stuffed into this latest Land Rover, they want to take on the Japanese techno-wizards head-on. Take something as innocuous as the key fob, for instance. Land Rover claims that the LR3's will still work after being submerged in 75 feet of water. And to prove its point, it had one sitting in a column of water that it fished out for a demonstration (this from a company that used to have problems making its electronics work when there was a morning mist hanging overhead). The company also claims that the electronic fob can be dropped 30 feet without impairing its function. And that it'll never need replacement batteries because it charges itself when inserted into the LR3's ignition barrel. But the triple-coolest thing of all is that the fob's third button (the first two are, of course, for opening and closing the doors) is programmable. Just hold down the button and perform the desired task and presto, change-o — instant customized key fob. You can program it to turn on the lights as you approach the car, lock the windows and even lower the suspension after you've maneuvered your trailer under the LR3's trailer hitch. This bird's-eye view of the LR3 shows just how much more space efficient it is versus the cramped interior of the previous model. But people don't buy Land Rovers for key fobs. They fork over their greenbacks for the ultimate expression in adventure and despite what you may have read elsewhere, the LR3 doesn't look to compromise its off-road ability one iota. Contrary to early reports, the LR3 is not based on the Explorer platform, though the company initially investigated sharing its chassis with the Ford product. Instead, the LR3 rides on what Land Rover calls its "integrated body frame" chassis that will form the basis for most of the company's upcoming new models. Integrated body frame is just a fancy way of saying that the LR3's traditional ladder frame is aided in crash-worthiness by a body that has almost unibodylike strength. In most typical body-on-frame designs, the frame provides all the strength while the bolted-on body simply holds the passengers. The LR3's body, though, has extra strong sills that literally envelope its frame. So closely does it wrap around, in fact, that in the case of an accident, the body is forced into the frame rails greatly adding to its strength. Land Rover says that this significantly increases resistance during offset crashes, the common bugaboo of body-on-frame designs. The LR3 chassis does pick up some innovations from the aforementioned Explorer, however. Like the Ford, the LR3 goes from an archaic rear live axle suspension to a fully independent system and its rear driveshafts run through large holes cut out of the rear frame rails so that ride height isn't forced sky-high. And Land Rover made the best use of its recent acquisition by Ford by liberating the double-wishbone system from the Jaguar XJ for its rear independent system. The front, similarly independently suspended, is sourced from the current Range Rover. Yet the chassis' off-road bona fides are impressive, even more so than the Discovery's, says Land Rover. Thanks to that long wheelbase and short overhangs front and rear, it's got a 37.2-degree approach angle. A 29.6-degree departure angle and can drive sideways on a 35-degree incline. And for those who like to get muddy and wet, the LR3's wading depth is 40-percent greater, at 28 inches. Suspension travel is an impressive 10 inches in front and 13 in the rear. Besides the all-independent suspension, the LR3 gets Land Rover's new Terrain Response permanent four-wheel-drive system that takes the guesswork out of when to engage the LR3's standard locking center differential and optional rear diff. With a rotary knob controlling five settings (general; snow-grass-gravel; mud and ruts, sand; and rock crawl), the LR3 optimizes everything from throttle response, traction control, electronic stability control and ABS to the differentials for the conditions. For instance, "snow-grass-gravel" is intended for slippery surfaces so traction control and ABS kick in early to prevent tire spinning. "Sand" locks the center differential, among other things, to equally divide the engine's torque to prevent any wheel from getting bogged down. And "rock crawl" is the only one of the settings to work only in four-wheel-low (the others work in both high and the 2.93-to-1 reduced low range) for ultralow-speed use. With an even 300 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque the LR3's 4.4-liter V8 is a substantial improvement over the previous model's meager V8. A six-speed automatic transmission is also new, helping to make the most out of the engine's available power. On to the engine, then, and the LR3 gets a beaut. Based on the AJ-V8 that powers the Jaguar S-Type and XJ, the LR3's double-overhead camshaft V8 gets 2 millimeters bigger pistons for a displacement boost to 4.4 liters. Peak power gets a bump to 300 horsepower while peak torque is up to 315 pound-feet. Just as importantly, the power band is oriented toward low-end torque with the power peak arriving 500 rpm earlier and 85 percent of that peak torque available at 1,500 rpm. It's hooked up to the same six-speed autobox as used in the big Jag. The transfer case is all new, however, and 66 pounds lighter. Making a return appearance is the automanual CommandShift function also available on the Range Rover. Back inside the LR3, the surprise is that Land Rover may have out-Hondaed Honda with convenience features. There are no less than 11 fluid receptacles and cupholders which Land Rover says will hold no less than 37 pints of Slurpees, Big Gulps and bottled water. There's an optional center console-mounted refrigerator that'll keep four more sodas or Evians cold. And the console's cover flips over 180 degrees to make a tray for second-row passengers. Additionally, it's possible to listen to three different sources of music with the front two seats getting blasted by up to 600 watts of music power (that's the optional system; the base system has 300) while outboard passengers in both the second and third row can listen to headphones hooked up to the radio, CD player, the auxiliary input and, later in the year, an optional DVD player. With the ability to fold both the second- and third-row seats completely flat, the LR3 is one of the more flexible luxury SUVs on the market. But the coup de grâce for many SUV intenders will be the optional seven-passenger seating that allows all of the second- and third-row seats to be folded (individually or collectively) flat into the floor like a minivan. Land Rover claims a whopping 90.3 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the front seats. It may not be of Land Rover's heritage, but its ability to double as a minivan may get Taylor that huge boost in sales he wants.