With just a few cosmetic changes for the '09 model year, the LR3 continues its position in the Land Rover lineup below the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, ahead of the LR2. Although smaller than a similarly priced Tahoe or Expedition, the LR3 has three rows of seats and room for seven, but a whole lot more off-road capability. Ok, so the third row is considerably tighter than in the fullsize SUVs, but for carrying four passengers most of the time, the size is just about right.
We had the LR3 for a week and let several members of our staff drive it. The most common reaction was to fall in love with the harman/kardon audio system. The busy center stack, with its plain square black buttons, belies the high-end audio system it controls. We played an audio test CD and were just blown away by the clarity. It was easily the best-sounding factory audio system we'd ever heard. The rest of the interior was impressive, if a bit tight for some of our taller staffers, with the center console intruding into knee room. Road handling was smooth, with the fully independent suspension absorbing giant potholes and nasty railroad crossings better than anything we've driven in recent memory. Off road, the Terrain Response was able to tailor the ride height and transfer care ratio for the road or trail conditions. A knob in the center console has selections for snow, sand, mud, and rocks, allowing the Terrain Response to adjust accordingly.
We only had two complaints about the LR3, one minor, one that ended up costing us. First, the 4.4L DOHC V-8 required premium fuel to put out 300 hp. The power was sufficient, although it seemed to like higher RPMs. Considering that larger vehicles with larger engines can make more power on regular fuel and return better fuel economy, we expected more than the 14 mpg we managed with the Land Rover. Second, our test vehicle came equipped with 19-inch wheels and tires. For a vehicle that is built to be off-road capable, the tire is its Achilles heel. On a trail rated for stock 4x4 vehicles, the LR3 did well to climb and descend steep sandstone while in its rock crawling mode, even though it did make some odd, ABS-like noises when using its Hill Descent Control. But, on one rocky hill climb, the 255/55R19 Goodyear tire met its end via sidewall puncture. If the tire had more sidewall, airing down would have been an option, but it was surely a compromise to look good and handle well on the asphalt, which it did. It turns out that 255/55R19 tires are hard to come by, and when you do find them, they're not cheap. Our advice: if you plan on taking your LR3 off-road (which you should, it would be a shame not to), opt for the standard 18-inch wheels, or, better yet, have a more-aggressive set of tires mounted up to some wheels meant for bashing off-road.