Because even suburban soccer can be an adventure.
My friend Lynnie longed for a classic Range Rover Defender, one with transom windows along the roof line and a spare tire strapped to the front hood. She’d seen them on the roads in Scotland and wanted one to scout the back roads of New England for antiques.
They’re the badge of true pioneers, expats who settle into a foreign land and adapt, never minding the muck and bugs, seeking the richness of life in the outback. Lynnie finally got her Defender, a vintage one purchased from a dealer in Africa and imported to New York.
Luckily, you can have a similar SUV with all the capabilities and muscle, but you don’t have to have it sent from a foreign country (well, sort of; Land Rover already did that part for you).
We spent a week in the 2016 Land Rover LR4 HSE and now, I see why Lynnie was infatuated and so are many of my neighbors: Space, light and complete technical competency give this car the ability to do almost anything you might ask of it (and probably a little more). And, we drove the HSE edition, which essentially means this model is loaded (HSE stands for High Specification Equipment).
Who this car is for:
- Drivers who drive off road (or on challenging roads)
- Families who need a third row
- Drivers who need confidence when driving off road
- Drivers who need flexible cargo space
- Buyers who want a car that feels more mechanical than technical
- Buyers who appreciate the light and headroom of the interior
- Buyers who love a clamshell hatch for hanging out, watching a soccer match or tailgating
A car that’s most at home off road
So here’s an interesting fact: Only about 10 percent of the SUVs that are designed to go off road actually do. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use those off road capabilities in town. We did. As it turns out, the week we had the LR4 we went to visit family whose house is at the end of a long dirt driveway that had been badly dented by winter weather. Dodging the huge rain soaked holes would have been impossible for my little sedan; I’d have found myself taking a muddy walk. But in the LR4 we just drove right up to the house.
We also found the LR4 to be very comfortable for on road driving too. It glides over potholes and ill-patched roads like a champ. Sometimes off road vehicles delight in jostling passengers; not the LR4. The ride was smooth and even back seat passengers were very comfortable.
This will make you want to take the LR4 off road: Automatic height adjustment and wading depth
Probably the biggest giggle we got from the LR4 was the automatic height adjustment. With the push of a button the car lowers or raises itself. The lowest-to-the-ground setting is access height, which lowers the car two inches from it’s normal seven inch clearance—great for getting in and out of the car, especially for those with super short legs (like toddlers), those who need a little more assistance (such as an elderly passenger) or if you’re entering a parking garage with low ceilings. Normal height is the LR4’s natural height (if you have the car set to access height, it will automatically reset when you start to drive). And if you need a little more clearance, you can put it in off-road height, which adds two inches to the normal height.
Oh, and there’s wading depth: the depth that you can drive into water without sinking the LR4, which is 28 inches. We didn’t try that out but it’s good to know if you ever need it. And considering the number of times a storm turns our streets into small creeks, it could come in handy (with a caveat: never drive through flash floods in any vehicle, and use caution when driving off road – even in a car as capable as this one).
Seating for seven, but a gazillion configurations
I loved all the seating configuration options. The LR4 has the standard center row bench and two third row seats. Unlike other SUVs, each of the center seats folds forward, with the left and right seat able to flip all the way forward to create a path to the rear seats. The center seat can fold flat independently, creating a space for skis or other large objects (or for separating passengers!). We love to split the third row with passengers and cargo, and having the second row center seat fold down offers even more possibilities.
Seriously considered luxuries: Never get your hands dirty or want for comfort
Driving down my cousin’s dirt road got the LR4 pretty dirty (it was nice to see mud on the running boards!). Often when your car gets dirty, so do you. But not here; we were able to step out of the car and onto the running board easily, then hop over the muddy driveway and onto the walkway without getting our shoes dirty. Love that.
Inside the car, we felt comfortable and elegant; the leather seating and beautifully polished wood panels give a feeling of refinement to the truck’s rugged abilities. But add in these features – the triple sun roof and side rear windows extend all the way into the roof line letting in a lot of light. If it’s too much, each sun roof has its own shade so passengers can screen out the light if they want to; however, the first sunroof can stay open to let the wind in your hair.
Great technology, but more USB ports please
The LR4’s technology was intuitive and easy to use. I was able to pair my phone with the Bluetooth and make calls. I also loved that when I turned on my phone’s Bluetooth after getting into the car, it immediately synchronized (I leave Bluetooth off because it drains my phone battery).
Land Rover has re-engineered some things in its cars in recent years, and the benefits are multi-layered:
- The gear selector is electric and controlled by a dial that retracts into the center console when the car is off. Electric gear selectors are small compared to the old-school mechanical shifters, so you benefit by getting back some nice space in the center of the car, giving the LR4 an even roomier feel.
- The 4 wheel drive selector has been re-engineered too. Instead of the old school “4 high 4 low” selector (I never really understood which setting was appropriate to use and when) the LR4 gives you actual situations for your off road needs. Snowy? Pick snow mode. Driving on gravel and rocks? There’s a gear for that. Need extra braking for a steep downhill decline? You can pick that, too (this is really helpful if you’re towing a trailer). Traversing hills and rocks? There’s a true off road setting too. This lets the LR4 do what it’s best at: letting you challenge the land and give your crew hours of giggles and guffaws.
- One thing I would want more of is charge outlets and USB ports. There is one USB port in the upper glove box which has a shelf above it for holding small items – so it’s easy enough to plug in your phone and store it. However, it’s not easily (or safely) reachable while driving. There are several other power outlets, including a cigarette lighter on the center console, one in the back seat and one in the rear cargo area. There was not a household plug in the model we drove and for this car, I’d love there to be one.
That clamshell hatch: Brilliant!
My friend Joy loves her Lexus with a clamshell liftgate. She’s used it for tailgating, baby-changing, camping, soccer watching and more. The lower part of the rear gate folds down creating a flat surface that makes loading things into and out of the LR4 easy, and can serve as a seat, too. The upper gate opens to make it easy to reach things in the back without opening the entire gate (or letting things spill out) and also, it provides a nice cover from rain or sun.
- Multiple off road settings
- Loads of seating configurations
- Clamshell liftgate
- Easy to sync Bluetooth
- Elegant interior touches
- Triple sun roof and lots of light
- Comfortable ride
- Running boards
- Reasonable leg room (and foot room) in the third row
- Adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control and blind spot monitors
- Land Rover’s fantastic warranty and service plan: 4 years/50,000 mile warranty and scheduled maintenance; 24/7 road side assistance includes (limited) expense reimbursement and/or mobile technician service
- Complimentary off road lesson included with purchase
- Starting price, about $50,400; price of the model we tested: $62,145
- Built in Solihull, UK
- All time 4 wheel drive
- 15 MPG city/19 MPG highway; we averaged about 16MPG
- Premium fuel recommended
- Yes, there’s a spare tire; it’s stored under the rear cargo area
Disclosure: Land Rover provided the LR4 for my review; opinions expressed are all my own.