2010 Land Rover LR4 - Click above for high-res image gallery

Wanting to sample the latest iteration of Land Rover's middle-management cruiser, we set off in search of the 2010 LR4's natural environment. Minutes later, the Rover's new 5.0-liter, 375-horsepower V8 led us to Nordstrom. What? You expected Monument Valley?

With the wallet-denting expedition complete, we took solace in the luxuriously updated interior during the homeward jaunt. Sybaritic pleasures and tried-and-true off-roading abilities are the extremes of its range, so how does the LR4 fare in the middle?

Photos by Dan Roth / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Unmistakably a Land Rover, the LR4 comes in for an exceedingly subtle outward metamorphosis. Look (very) hard and you'll notice the reworked grille and fascia. There's also a larger intake in the restyled front bumper, which itself has been reshaped to enhance aerodynamics – not that the LR4's squared-off look screams "wind tunnel-tested." New headlamps, LED taillamps, a trio of new paint colors and new 19- and 20-inch wheel designs round out the exterior tweaks. No one's complaining about the conservative approach to the visual facelift; iconic styling is an asset changed at your own peril.

Inside, Solihull has lavished substantial attention on the LR4 accommodations. The dashboard and center stack have been cleanly restyled and simplified, exorcising many of the buttons that used to clutter up the space. Much like the exterior, changes to the dashboard and controls are refinements rather than revolutionary alterations. Things are generally where they were in the LR3, but the materials and design are vastly improved. Some elements, like the new piano black accent that extends from the lower center stack and extends back to surround the shifter, may be in vogue, but it's dastardly to keep free of smudged fingerprints.

The relocation plan moves the controls for the updated Terrain Response into a more logical location by the shifter. Thanks to the upgraded materials, Range Rover drivers will feel right at home when they get an LR4 loaner at the service department. Front and second-row seating is revised, and HSE buyers can choose the Premium Leather Pack and its electrically-adjustable seat bolstering. The third row is still coach-class, largely the domain of priveleged brats, but grown-ups do fit more easily than in some other three-row vehicles with a similar footprint.

The interior refit pays off by improving the LR4's driving experience. Were it not for the obscene amount of fuel required to shove a tall, blocky, heavy thing through the air, this would be a nearly ideal vehicle for long-legged journeys. The seating position is high, and visibility is fantastic. The front and middle-row seats are fantastically comfortable, and a heated steering wheel feels decadent on subzero mornings. Equally sublime is an electrically heated windshield, though the squiggly grid can be initially distracting.

The LCD that serves as command center and navigation display is the lone quibble in the interior, and our gripe centers around the software. The user interface is tedious and non-intuitive, though at least the speed of the system is improved over past implementations. A flattening of menu structures would be more welcome, though. Beyond usability complaints, the audio system sounds great and chats nicely with iPods or thumb drives, as well as offering satellite radio. Premium automakers, with their longer development cycles and niche sales numbers, seem to be more afflicted by obtuse electronics than bread-and-butter brands. Land Rover's entire lineup would benefit from a wholesale electronics update.

All in good time, perhaps, as the engine and chassis have just received that kind of fine-tuning, turning the sow-like LR3 into the responsive, nimble LR4. Anti-roll bars have been enlarged, dampers stiffened and a new steering rack is also part of the remix, which perks up the LR4's tiller and makes it respond attentively to driver inputs.

One quick boot of the accelerator pedal delivers results of the most significant upgrade to the LR4. The new 5.0-liter V8 speaks with authority and pushes the LR4 with the assertion to match. With 375 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, the new NA mill puts out nearly as much as the old supercharged V8. Despite the robust gain in power, direct injection allows a ULEV2 emissions rating, and there's more bandwidth to the power curve. Efficiency is improved too, though the weight of your right foot will be the main determinant in achieving good fuel economy. Variable camshaft timing and a squeezy 11.5:1 compression ratio are directly responsible for the attentive throttle response and refined manners. This new 5.0 is an engine that's Johnny-on-the-spot, has a musclecar-worthy exhaust note and offers a significant power increase over its predecessor without any economy penalty, even with more than a half-liter of extra displacement.

There's also a feeling of solidity to the LR4's structure that comes from its unique mix of monocoque and ladder frame that Land Rover calls Integrated Body Frame. It adds to the curb weight, but building the passenger compartment and engine bay like a unibody vehicle while bolting the drivetrain and suspension to a ladder frame pays off. Doubtless, the weight makes for a comfortable ride, especially since the air suspension is so adaptive and the T-Square bodywork doesn't jiggle or flex noticeably.

As we've described it so far, you might be thinking of the LR4 as a British interpretation of the '88 Caprice Classic wagon. Obviously, that would be patently wrong. Even without attempting the Rubicon, the LR4 lets you smugly comfort yourself with the thought you could go rock crawling if you wanted to. Both on- and off-road, the ride is impressively cloud-like. Off the blacktopped path, the structure doesn't turn into an oscillating chamber of horror, either. Everything stayed put, with just the Jaguar-sourced V8 providing the main soundtrack as we sipped our coffee and tried to avoid high-centering.

In most cases, selecting 4WD while on the fly will suffice, though Land Rover hasn't rested on its serious off-roading laurels. Terrain Response has a new "Sand" mode, as well as tweaked calibrations to account for the new engine and improve its prowess on different surfaces. A lap of the deep snow around the backyard swingset showed off the capability of the system in low-range with the differentials locked. The neighbors were not amused.

A $57,000 family truckster that sucks fuel at the rate of less than 20 miles per gallon isn't always the right choice. There are those that need three rows of seats along with four-wheel drive that's capable of conquering the Himalayas, but all three of those people already have cars. The luxury and style of the LR4, along with the new powertrain and sharpened reflexes are what's going to close sales. It's not the most logical family vehicle, but it's one of the most capable.

Photos by Dan Roth / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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