Four-wheel-drive vehicles are for driving in dirt. Period. I don't care what they say. So when this LR3 showed up in our parking lot, I went to find some-dirt that is.
As far as off-roading goes, Land Rover has a bit more credibility than some of the late-comers to the truck/SUV market. In fact, it's the only European marque I would identify as constructing a true purpose-built off-road vehicle. We live in an age when you can have a Volkswagen, a Mercedes-Benz, even a Porsche, that's been engineered for off-roading, but really, how many of these vehicles actually do go off road? Unlike other European manufacturers who cut teeth in the premium touring car markets and decided, for whatever reason, to build something utterly dissimilar, Land Rover made its name building 4x4 vehicles, like Jeep or Hummer, two of the more respected nameplates in the off-road business (Hummer H2 excluded).
To really experience it in its element, I took my Land Rover to the desert south of Blythe, Calif., where I meet my dad and some friends every year for the September dove season opener. The desert in this region is hot and dusty, the terrain is brutal, and in late summer the place makes a perfect hell for four-wheel-drive testing.
This LR3 was equipped with cold weather and tow packages, which went unused during my trip. The air conditioning and rear climate controls were perfect in temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees, however, and the optional rear seat package included a set of fold-flat third row seats and related safety equipment to extend the LR3's passenger capacity to seven people. The floormats are rugged textured rubber so they guard the floor from sand and mud. The seats were quite comfortable, although clad in black leather they were prone to scorching one's ass if the car was parked in direct sunlight for any length of time.
On the worn trails and levee roads crisscrossing Palo Verde Valley, the LR3 performed with stoic confidence. We did our share of fording deep, sand-choked washes and roads that were broken and scored by the torrential winter rains that inundated much of Southern California this past year. One levee had nearly given way in a section, the Land Rover's rear end slid sideways and lost traction. One rear tire became slogged in deep sand and the other wedged in a crevice bisecting the road. The full-time four-wheel drive allowed the front wheels to pull it through, while locking the rear differential gave the rear axle the maximum amount of torque in a situation where traction came at a premium. The LR3's 4x4 controls allow you to select your four-wheel drive mode according to the type of surface you're driving over-general, snow, mud, sand, rock crawl-and to lock and unlock the center and rear differentials at will.
In spite of its built-in off-road prowess, the Land Rover lets even the crustiest dirt enthusiasts cruise in high-end comfort when the roads turn smooth. In this respect, its European roots are really evident. At the end of the day, my pop, who drives a new Ford F250 Super Duty and is seasoned by more than four decades of off-road driving experience, summed it up: "It's the nicest hunting rig I've been in."
2005 Land Rover LR3
Price as Tested: $54,245
Longitudinal front engine, four-wheel drive
4.4-liter V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder
Six-speed automatic w/ CommandShift
Independent front and rear, four-corner auto-leveling electronic air cylinders
Peak Power: 300 bhp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 315 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 14 city/18 hwy