REVIEW: Lean machine makes a good case for survival

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AURORA | Let’s get personal for a minute: Most of my life has been a series of accidents, I can admit that now. Between me, you, you and you, I’d like to pretend that this was all part of a well-designed plan, but I can’t even pick my nose.

I offer the 2014 Land Rover LR4 as proof that it’s neither better to be good or lucky — it’s better to be on purpose. My dad judged life all wrong.

At this point, I may seem all too dramatic and unnecessary, but I’d put forward, so is the snowstorm I’ll drive through tonight. From the beginning, Discos (as they’re lovingly called by those who refuse to adhere to the new naming convention of “L-R-4” and refuse the old name for the car “Discovery” for having too many syllables) were purpose built to punish the earth. Much like the older Range Rovers, Land Rover offered the Discovery, LR4 or whathaveyou, as a reasonable alternative to a no-compromise off road machine that was becoming too expensive (see Range Rover, all of them).

And yet the LR4 still feels like an indulgence. What with all the lower gear ratios, one-speed transfer case — more on that later, body-on-frame construction and Land Rover badging. What Land Rover did with the LR4, very few other automakers have done since: democratized luxury off-roading.

Getting into the 2014 Land Rover LR4 still feels like an event. This year, the six-speed automatic transmission is gone and has been replaced with a ZF eight-speed automatic with rotary gear knob instead of serpentine gated shifter. What the eight-speed takes away in lever-pulling fun, it gives back in roughly 15 percent better gas mileage. Call it a wash. The EPA estimates leap from 12/17 mpg city/highway last year to 14/19 mpg this year, so you’re not saving any whales just yet.

All new for this year too is the single engine option, a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 that produces 340 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque. The incoming engine replaces a naturally aspirated V8, and marks the first year that Land Rover hasn’t offered a full-bodied SUV without a V8. The times are a changin’, man.

The super-six is really the best option here anyway. The LR4 has always been about capability and the smaller engine this year is every bit as potent without being overly thirsty. The torque kicks in a little later than last year (5,000 rpm versus 3,5000 rpm last year) and the power band doesn’t peak until you’re close to redline. For most, that may read like a watered down version of an off-roader, but with 7.3 inches of ground clearance (9 inches if you’re in off-road mode) the LR4 isn’t watered-down anything. The LR4 is still a capable, mud-mashing machine. And who are we kidding anyway? Most of these will live their life in domestic servitude, shuttling runs between work and school.

The LR4 sheds a two-speed transfer case this year in favor of a one-speed machine. Purists will decry the loss of a real gear-grinding transfer case option and the switch to a mechanical Torsen center differential instead of locking center and rear differentials. Purists can also opt for the heavy duty option ($1,350) that restores every bit of those.

Where the LR4 really makes hay is the brute-force capability packed into every machine that starts at $50,345. Yes, there will be some that will lump the rigid suspension and chassy as “boxy” and “old school” but there’s value behind that. See, this week Land Rover unveiled a concept for the new “series of Discovery vehicles” in the states that included a unibody version of the veritable rock crawler. It’s inevitable that Land Rover will succumb to the mileage requirement and necessary specifications of the federal government, and the LR4/Discovery may not exist any longer as we know it. You see snorkels strapped on to Discos for a reason: these things will ford a river and traverse a mountain, in that order. Few body-on-frame SUVs are sold anymore, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Xterra and Jeep Wrangler are the few that come to mind, and none offer the same kind of refined pedigree that Land Rover does.

So say it has the aerodynamic qualities of a barn door. Call it thirsty and call it old. But the Land Rover LR4 represents a no-compromise way of getting from point A to B in a straight line that won’t be replicated any more. The stiff seats are there to remind you of the privilege of driving a legend. Or something.

Rather, the 2014 Land Rover LR4 is a machine that’s purpose-built in an increasingly complicated landscape of fuel mileage requirements that will mean that more of our SUVs are asked to do myriad tasks, including off-road driving.

The LR4 has a task and completes it well. I wish I could say the same.

 

Aaron Cole is managing editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at [email protected]