Land Rover will give the compact SUV market another try for 2007 when it replaces the slow-selling Freelander sport-ute with a new entry that grows bigger and more powerful but alphanumerically shorter into a new nameplate, LR2.
The outgoing Freelander has been a problem child in the U.S. Land Rover lineup from the day it joined up in 2001. Already out in Europe since the late 1990s, the Freelander went on sale in America halfway through its life cycle, seeming dated and small next to the grand Range Rover. Worse, no market really existed for premium compact SUVs, and Land Rover lacked the marketing clout to convince shoppers that smaller, richer SUVs were a reasonable alternative to mid- and full-size utes in an era of $1-a-gallon gas.
Now, with gas prices rising, SUV buyers are shifting their sights to smaller crossovers. And as it hits the market, the LR2 will have some high-profile competition to help it draw attention to the whole notion of downsized utes with full-sized off-road capability. The compact-luxury SUV segment is predicted to grow as large as 500,000 units a year in short order with the arrivals of the LR2, the new Acura RDX, yet-unnamed Audi and VW compact utes, and the continuing presence of the BMW X3.
Big brother at work
2007 Land Rover LR2
The Range Rover Sport cues come from details borrowed and reinterpreted: front fender “buckles,” a steep windshield and tailgate rake, and upturned bumpers that lend a sporty stance unlike that of the more stolid Range Rover or LR3. “Fast” cues like the wraparound glass on the rear end are balanced with large windows and a thick, flat shoulder line. The LR2’s dynamic look is best from the head-on view, where the filigreed grille is framed with a shape like a weightlifter’s curl bar, and the headlamps are composed of Range Rover-like staggered lamps.
The Range Rovers aren’t the only big brothers the LR2 leans on, though. Volvo’s S80 played a large role in rearing the new SUV — no surprise since the entry-level LR2 has to suit on-road driving duties as well as off-road ones. The LR2’s architecture shares some structure with the new S80, as well as the new Ford S-Max and Galaxy MPVs sold in Europe.
The front independent suspension shares some stamped pieces with the S80, and the front crash structure was developed by Volvo engineers. Also in front, hydroformed tubes help protect the underbody from impacts as well as contribute to the LR2’s tight structure. The rear suspension is an entirely new design from Land Rover, though, with tubular lateral and trailing links that can withstand off-road impacts and struts with long travel for off-road control. No air suspension is available, unlike larger Land Rovers.
Engineers say the LR2 is the stiffest SUV on the market save the Porsche Cayenne and their own Range Rover, and 40 percent tighter than the outgoing Freelander.
In-line six goes east-west
Also common to the S80 is the LR2’s 3.2-liter in-line six, which Land Rover believes is the first transverse installation of a six in an SUV. The engine makes 230 hp, 234 lb-ft of torque and uses premium technology like cam-profile switching and variable induction to give it a more SUV-like power profile. To ensure smoothness in a transverse application, it also gets twin balance shafts. Why not a conventional V-6? Engineers say a wider, longer “vee” engine would have unbalanced the LR2’s look and off-road characteristics because it would have required a longer nose and a higher roofline.
2007 Land Rover LR2
The 3.2-liter six promises 30 percent more power and ten percent better fuel economy than the Freelander’s 2.7-liter V-6, and is mated solely to a six-speed automatic with CommandShift controls and a sport mode. With this sole powertrain for the U.S. (a 2.2-liter turbodiesel will be offered in other markets), the LR2 will push to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds and will reach a top speed of 124 mph, Land Rover claims.
The LR2’s all-wheel-drive system bears plenty of relation to another Volvo, the XC90. Made by Haldex, the system is outfitted with Land Rover’s latest off-road technology, from Terrain Response (minus the rock-climbing mode) and Hill Descent Control, to the new Gradient Release Control, which gently preps the LR2 for a descent using anti-lock control.
Seven airbags are fitted to the new Land Rover’s interior, including a driver-side knee airbag. Anti-lock braking and stability control are standard, as is roll stability control.
The second-row seat benefits most from the increase in length. Passengers have real knee room and headroom, though there’s not much foot space beneath the front seats. Two adults and a child can fit easily. The front seats felt very comfortable as well, and the cargo area is usefully shaped and large. Land Rover says, in fact, that the cargo bin is among the best in its class, with 59 cubic feet of space when the rear seats are folded down.
2007 Land Rover LR2
From the driver’s seat, the LR2 grants a great view of the road ahead with a low dash, a simple set of gauges, and a neat center stack dominated by a navigation-system screen and an audio system. The touchscreen-enabled navigation system uses an interface similar to that on the Jaguar XK, one of the best we’ve sampled. And the radio comes with CD changer capability, an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, and available Sirius satellite radio.
Other features that will be offered on the LR2 include a standard twin-panel sunroof; keyless start; and an upmarket Dolby Pro Logic stereo system.
The LR2 goes on sale in the fourth quarter in the United Kingdom, and reaches the U.S. by spring of 2007 priced “competitively,” which likely means around the $35,000 mark. Stay tuned for a full review later this year.
2007 Land Rover LR2
Base price: $35,000 (est.)
Engine: 3.2-liter in-line six, 230 hp/234 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): N/A
Safety equipment: Dual front, side and curtain airbags; driver-side knee airbag; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control with Roll Stability Control; Hill Descent and Gradient Release Control; Terrain Response Control
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD player; power locks/ windows/mirrors; air conditioning
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
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