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The Range Rover is the archetype of the brand, but with the LR2, Land Rover signaled it's ready to build the kind of crossover SUVs most buyers want today. A mid-size wagon with all-wheel drive, good ground clearance and towing capability, the LR2's still more of a street driver than the heritage-steeped shape might telegraph to likely shoppers.
That said, the LR2 straddles the span between the fashion-plate Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover's larger, more capable LR4 ute. It's possible you'll see one plugging away at some muddy, moderately difficult off-road trails--but far more likely, you'll watch it pull tidily into a compact parking spot at the other, nicer shopping area in town.
There's no hardcore, off-road-ready two-speed transfer case, but the rugged-looking LR2 lives up to a lot of the macho promise baked into its crisply folded sheetmetal. While the Range Rover lineup of utes veers off into a styling ether all its own, the LR2 stands by the formal design and all-out SUV cues of the past. In its niche, it's a good thing: the LR2 still reads "sport-ute," something that can be said of the Mercedes GLK, but not nearly as much of the competition from Audi, BMW, or Cadillac. It's a rugged-looking shape, but one that benefits this year from a more carlike cockpit, a new interior with a big LCD touchscreen, softer-touch materials, and a big cutback in the confusion of buttons and switches that riddled the old cabin.The LR2 is sold in just one drivetrain configuration in the U.S. but the former in-line six-cylinder has been sent packing in favor of the same 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four found in the Evoque. It's less smooth, but way more entertaining--the flat, steady progress gives way to peaky power channeled well through a six-speed automatic. Getting to 60 mph is slightly less arduous, but it's nearly as quiet, since the engine brings some new underbody structure with it--a notable upgrade from the Evoque. The LR2 doesn't get other running-gear changes, but the lighter engine lifts weight from the steering. The ride and handling are pleasant and comfortable, even a little frisky when pressed into corners, with more sensation in its steering than its brawnier cousins.
Trail riders won't admire the lack of a true low range, but the LR2's traction systems are quite sophisticated, and let casual off-pavement drivers choose the right traction mode for the conditions at hand. In our experience, it's more than sufficient for the way these utes are used, anyway.
In balance, the LR2 sits more with the German luxury crossovers--the Q5, the GLK--than it does with Japanese hardware like the Acura RDX. It feels more substantial, and sits more upright, and gas mileage is improved, though still not a breakout in the class. It provides more back-seat space than the Japanese crossovers, and its cargo space is above the mean for the class, but there's no third-row seat--that's the province of the bigger LR4.
Despite its more traditional role in the Land Rover family, the LR2 reeks of its upscale heritage. It's not nearly as quick as the latest BMW X3 nor as efficient, and it's probably just as off-road-capable than the Benz GLK, not more so. But like those two utes and above all the other contenders, there's some real upper crust in the LR2's folded fenders and in its green-and-silver badge.