Land Rover is an iconic name amongst off-roaders. This British-built 4x4 conjures images of African safaris, European off-road trials, and Welsh farmers out checking on sheep in the rain. The latest LR4 is capable enough to do all three (though we may refrain from inviting a wet collie into a $60,000 SUV).
The new Rover has 5.0L (305.1ci) aluminum V-8 that offers great power and is followed by a six-speed automatic transmission. The LR4 is body-on-frame, yet the Land Rover people claim their vehicle's high body rigidity is akin to placing a unibody vehicle atop a strong truck chassis for even more strength.
The Rover frame offers more than just mounting points for drivetrain and body; it also acts as protection, with most of the mechanicals tucked up inside the frame rails. Skidplates add more protection, though oddly the gas tank skidplate is plastic (while the tank is steel?). The transmission pan is plastic but up high, away from obstacles. The Rover does have adequate front and rear recovery points.
The LR4 also has four-wheel independent suspension (4WIS) with 10 inches of front wheel travel and 12.9 inches of rear. The suspension uses air springs that can be adjusted for various heights depending on terrain, but unlike the Grand Cherokee the Rover plumbs the airbags from side to side so that the right front wheel is forced up while cresting an obstacle and the left front is forced down for added traction. The 4WIS offers great ground clearance under the axle differential and keeps the driveshafts tucked up for defense.
While many SUVs have started to blur together, the Rover still has a tall, boxy silhouette reminiscent of even the earliest of the Rovers (some judges found this styling old). The interior seating is high for great visibility and uses a short dash and stubby hood, perfect for off-roading or city traffic. The rear seats fold flat should you need to load antiques or sleep in the back while camping, and yet there is still seating for seven. The lower plastic cladding even hides rock scuffs quite well.
The 255/50 Pirellis on 20-inch rims worked well in the rock but died on the hillclimb. We ended up losing a valve stem to a boulder, and the tread took a puncture in the loose rock. That wasn't the worst of it. To lower the rear spare from underneath, you need to unload all your gear from the truck to access the drop crank bolt. That is an engineering snafu.
In the rocks the Rover was more Jeeplike than the Grand Cherokee (this is a complement from one of the Jeep-owning judges, mind you). The steering is great and, with the short wheelbase, allowed the LR4 to play in the rocks rather than just attempt to get through. The skidplates were tapped, but never seemed to trip up the Rover. It kept creeping along.
The high-speed testing allowed the Rover to shine as well. It's peppy V-8 and light unsprung weight had it shimmying across the rutted two-tracks and over whoops with aplomb. However, it was during the high-speed section that the Rover did have a slight episode. An ABS light sprung up on the dash, and the truck lowered to its street driving suspension height. Though too low for rockcrawling, it still performed admirably in the sand, street, and under speed. Even while at its limp-home height, the Rover impressed the judges enough in the sand dunes to rank neck and neck with the Grand. It had power, no wheelhop, a less jarring ride, and quick steering.
To sum up the Rover, we'll quote a judge: "Surprising, nay shocking capabilities both on-road and off. And comfortable too! Like a true English gentleman, it doesn't get ruffled."
•Great steering and visibility
•Tire and wheel combo