Brands like Jeep, Land Rover and General Motors' now-defunct Hummer all come from rich military backgrounds, with their forebearers having proven their ability to tackle just about any terrain, from desert to jungle. Each has faced the difficult challenge of evolving from battle-tested off-road vehicles to civilian-ready status symbols. For Land Rover, which is arguably to New York City and Miami what the Toyota Prius is to Los Angeles, this is especially true. Yet even so, the British automaker still relies on rugged capability to sell products ranging from Range Rovers with six-figure price tags right on down to the LR2 shown here.
Positioned in a class full of vehicles with nicknames like "cute ute" and "soft roader," the 2013 LR2 – known as Freelander 2 in other markets – stands out even more for its respectable off-road abilities in spite of its car-based underpinnings, so Land Rover has focused its attention on refining its entry-level product as a midcycle refresh for 2013. The 2013 Land Rover LR2 still rides on the proven Ford/Volvo EUCD chassis also shared with the Range Rover Evoque, and rather than killing off the existing model when its sleeker, more street-minded relative arrived, Land Rover has done just the opposite, incorporating most of the technology developed for the Evoque into the 2013 LR2.
So how successful has Land Rover been at improving the finer aspects of its gateway model without messing up the off-road ruggedness that defines its brand as a whole? We spent a cold, snowy day near Montreal testing the limits of this baby Land Rover to find out.
Now aimed at more traditional buyers who shy away from the avante-garde Evoque, the 2013 LR2 carries an old-school, boxy design broadly similar to the iconic Range Rover. Much like the styling updates made to the LR2 in 2009, the differences incorporated into the 2013 model might only be noticeable to keen eyes. The most obvious elements are fresh headlights with unique new LED running lamps, and taillights with dual light pods that resemble figure-eights when illuminated. A must-have for any midcycle update for new models these days, the LR2 also gets a restyled front fascia and fresh wheel options. Considering this design is going on seven years old, we think Land Rover has done a fine job of preventing the LR2 from looking boring or dated.
Our biggest gripe about the LR2 overall might be the seating positions.
As much as the boxy exterior can get away with mimicking the classic lines of Range Rovers of yore, the interior is by far the LR2's biggest downfall. We realize Land Rover might be going for a simple yet chic look inside the LR2, but the instrument panel is deeply dated – this even factors in despite all of the changes, including an updated center stack, gauge cluster and center console. Our biggest gripe about the LR2 overall might be the seating position for the front and rear seating. Land Rover is pushing a command seating position for the front occupants and a stadium-style view for the rear passengers, but it ends up feeling like you're sitting too high inside the vehicle – especially true for the driver's seat, which can only be lowered to a point that still feels unnecessarily high. Such a lofty perch might be advantageous for visibility when negotiating objects off-road, but in day-to-day driving, it feels unnecessarily tippy.
Once you overlook the aesthetic issues of the LR2's cabin, then you can really start to enjoy what the LR2 offers, ranging from top-notch materials to updated technology. The chunky Terrain Response knob has now been replaced by simpler buttons (take that Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer), and the gauge cluster is now cleaner, with a more informative five-inch display centrally located. Another new feature is the standard seven-inch touchscreen display with Land Rover's optional new "Say What You See" voice-controlled navigation system, as well as an interesting take on the maybe-soon-to-be-standard rearview camera. Most backup cameras have trajectory lines that bend when you turn the wheel or weird boxes, but the LR2's optional camera displays a single line in the middle that it calls Hitch Assist, which is aptly named to help make hooking up to a trailer easier. We're not sure how many LR2 owners will be towing trailers, but this is a practical idea nonetheless.
The Ford-sourced engine is effectively an EcoBoost four-cylinder found in various Blue Oval vehicles.
Speaking of towing, the new LR2 is still able to tow the same 3,500 pounds as the outgoing model, despite now coming standard with a smaller engine. Smaller, yes, but in in no way less powerful or less capable. Land Rover has ditched the heavy, Volvo-sourced 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine and replaced it with a lighter and more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four found in the Evoque. This Ford-sourced unit is effectively the EcoBoost engine found in various places in the Blue Oval kingdom. The deletion of two cylinders also helps drop 88 pounds from the LR2's curb weight while adding 10 horsepower for a total of 240 and 16 pound-feet of torque (250 lb-ft) to the LR2's spec sheet.
The EPA now rates the LR2 at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway – increases of 2 mpg each over the 2012 LR2. The added power and lower weight help to modestly improve the 2013 performance over the 2012 model, but despite using the same basic components as the Evoque, the LR2 is still about a second slower to 60 mph, turning in a time of 8.2 seconds. One thing that hasn't changed is the LR2's carryover transmission – a six-speed automatic.
Despite using the same basic components as the Evoque, the LR2 is still about a second slower to 60.
Behind the transmission is a four-wheel-drive system sourced from Haldex that is front-wheel-biased in most driving conditions, but when the terrain gets messy, a majority of the engine's power can be diverted to the rear wheels to help keep the driver out of trouble. One of the best features that Land Rover uses in all of its models is the aforementioned Terrain Response system, which lets the driver select how aggressively the system acts based on the type of surface is being traversed. Since most LR2 drivers aren't likely to be doing any serious off-roading, Land Rover also made sure to give the vehicle a refined ride quality that includes a library-quiet interior. In fact, the only noise that routinely got our attention while driving was the annoyingly loud rear wiper motor, but that was easily drowned out by the optional 825-watt Meridian surround sound audio system.
After testing the 2013 LR2 in a little bit of both city and highway situations, we spent most of our time behind the wheel off-road. Set up as a Land Rover Driving School, the trails we took near Montebello, Canada were literally tailor-made for these vehicles, but they were still raw. How raw you ask? At one point, the LR2's side mirror nearly scraped along a beaver dam that prevented the trail from being washed out by about four feet of water, and for most of the afternoon the LR2's skid plates were getting a workout that would leave most CUVs in need of new oil pans. This course also showed off the LR2's water fording abilities (19.7 inches), suspension articulation and frame rigidity.
The LR2's skid plates were getting a workout that would leave most CUVs in need of new oil pans.
Another new feature on the 2013 LR2 is its electric parking brake. Normally, a parking brake wouldn't get much notice on a new model, but the LR2 uses the parking brake to double as a downhill assist control to make off-roading a little easier. This works in conjunction with the Hill Descent Control that can be set to various speeds. The best part is that the HDC settings are easily seen on the color screen in the gauge cluster to let the driver know what speed he or she has the system set to – and if the vehicle is traveling too fast to use it at all.
In a segment that includes luxury crossovers like the Mercedes-Benz GLK350, Volvo XC60 and BMW X3, the 2013 LR2 is priced competitively starting at $37,250. All of the vehicles we drove were the nicer HSE trim levels, raising the price point to just under the $40,000 mark. With all of its competitors being much newer and far more modern, the LR2's price premium is staked on its superior off-road ability and Land Rover heritage. Do we think that the average LR2 buyer will do any more off-roading than driving down a gravel road or fording a modestly flooded intersection? Of course not. But for these buyers, it's an easy way to distinguish – and possibly even brag about – their vehicle in an overcrowded segment.
This small utility's appeal lies in its traditional Land Rover look and feel.
Being the second refresh of the current LR2 design, there probably isn't much life left in this vehicle to fully compete against newer, more advanced rivals, but its new engine, styling and refinement should help keep it close to up-to-date until an all-new replacement comes along. Besides, most buyers probably aren't looking for a truly modern Land Rover if they're checking out the LR2 – that's what the $43,995 Evoque is for – and while the LR2's off-road abilities are probably more of a bonus than a major selling feature, this small utility's appeal lies in its traditional Land Rover look and feel. In this regard, even more so than, say, Jeep, Land Rover has had to struggle to maintain its heritage while simultaneously building its upscale credentials. Yet despite all that,the LR2 readily illustrates that "small," "rugged" and "luxurious" are not mutually exclusive terms.