The Land Rover is rough, but sleek

Mary Welch | January 2, 2014

We bought a Land Rover Discovery in 1994 and was the object of curiosity every time we were at Publix, car pool or even driving on the highway. Of course, it was perfectly understandable. The car honestly looked like it could have been one of those cute little Chevron talking toy cars. It was boxy and had almost like a second story roof to it. Plus, there was the fact that the Discovery was only introduced into the U.S. market in 1989, so the puzzled looks and the mouthed “What is that?” were perfectly understandable.

And, we really loved the car. In fact, we bought another.

However, like all good things, Land Rover and its uppity sister, the Range Rover, seemed to have come to a fateful end. First the British manufacturer was sold to BMW in 1995, which took its luxury component up a notch; then a few years later, Ford took it on and failed.

Now, my quirky car favorite is owned by the Indian automaker Tata Motors and we held our collective breaths as we drove the Land Rover LR4.

And, we are in heaven!

At a base price of $49,100, the LR4 is back to its refined, British look and drives -- well, we don’t know what an Indian-made car is supposed to feel like -- but it drives like back in the days when England made great cars.

First off, it is sleek, classy and, frankly demands to be noticed in that upper-class understated sort of way. It would fit perfectly in a Ralph Lauren ad. But this is no prima donna. It mixes off-road capability with on-road refinement in a way that the BMX X5, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Lexus GX 460 can only aspire.

We drove the heavy duty package (which upped the vehicle’s overall price to $61,200) that featured HSE and climate control, premium leather seating, cooler box, ambient lighting, and a power steering column, 8-way power front. We could have lived inside the car. The leather was so supple that neighbors came over just to rub their hands over it. The seats were large with lots of headroom and legroom. Imagine rich wood trims and lots of little spaces to put keys, cell phones.

There are lots of extras such as a backup camera with front and rear sonar park-assist warnings, a navigation system with voice recognition, second-row climate controls, keyless access and start, power-folding mirrors, high-definition radio, power tilt/telescoping and heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated windshield, 17-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, cooled box in the center console, and driver-seat memory.

One of the first things one notices is how airy the inside is, and that is most likely due to three sun roofs. Yes, each row of seats has its own sun roof.

Personally, I prefer smaller cars so I was a bit hesitant to drive this one, but don’t fear. Even though it is 190 inches long, it doesn’t feel like a hunk of a machine. There is good rear visibility, lots of mirrors, the screen does a good job of looking behind for you; plus its turning diameter (37.6 feet) is tighter than many of its competitors (Audi Q7 comes in at 39.4 feet and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class at 38.8 feet). What that means is that you don’t have to do as many start, turn the wheel, back up, turn the wheel, go forward and repeat as many times getting in and out of parking spaces.

But the real beauty of this car is that it is a rough and ready off-road vehicle dressed like a prom queen. The LR4 delivers 375 horsepower through a direct-injection, 5.0-liter V-8 engine. The six-speed automatic transmission goes through the gears seamlessly and the ride is amazingly smooth -- especially for a car than weighs almost 6,000 pounds.

It is on the off-road driving that this car really shines. The Terrain Response System® effectively goes anywhere and everywhere with ease. A console switch lets the driver choose the environment (normal, rock, mud, sand and crawl) and then alters the calibrations according for technical things like wheelspin and suspension tuning. We once took a Land Rover class where the teacher told us to push the button, close our eyes and let the car get itself to the bottom of the hill. Remarkably, it did.

The LR4 is truly a great car and a welcomed addition to the market. Be aware, it’s gas mileage isn’t the best. It’s a combined 14 miles per gallon (12 city; 17 highway) and the annual fuel costs are about $4,000, which is $8,650 more than the average new vehicle over five years.

There are a lot of cars that can carry a lot of kids and gear and tow boats, but few can go through the North Georgia mountains off-roading as well as this one -- and look elegant doing it.