NEW YORK – In a U.S. market flooded with SUVs, Land Rover North America is hoping a “polarizing” design will serve as a key differentiator for its new midsize, body-on-frame LR3 that replaces the Discovery in the company’s U.S. lineup.

“The goal for the new LR3 was to design a vehicle that would be instantly recognizable as a Land Rover,” says Geoff Upex, director of design. “It is a very single-minded piece of work…the right thing to do.”

Land Rover predicts LR3 will disrupt conventional design tastes.

Upex and Land Rover Managing Director Matthew Taylor salted presentations at an LR3 world debut here with terms such as “bold, iconic, architectural, geometrical, thoroughly modern,” even “polarizing” to describe the LR3’s boxy, asymmetrical design. Still, both insist the LR3 borrows heavily from the Discovery, including the airy greenhouse that employs ample glass.

“We like to think the LR3 is a piece of product design, not car styling,” Upex says, revealing that the final design differs only slightly from original sketches. “Everything you see was done for a reason, not for decoration.”

He insists the auto maker “avoided the latest trend” in order to ensure timelessness over Land Rover’s unconventionally long vehicle lifecycles.

Upex says many SUVs are styled as “caricatures of toughness,” but Land Rover wanted to “question convention” with its next-generation Discovery. Discovery is the moniker the LR3 will wear in other markets, including China, where the vehicle will be unveiled at the Beijing auto show in June, a spokesman tells Ward’s.

The functional design starts with the stepped roof, which is carried over from the previous generation and is a design element integral to the entire Land Rover lineup in order to increase passenger headroom in all three rows of its stadium seating.

Bolder departures from convention include an interruption in the line running across the vehicle’s beltline. The crease dresses the rear and front panels, but does not extend through the doors.

“(The line) is not necessary. My designers and I thought it superfluous,” Upex explains.

In addition, Land Rover only included what was necessary as far as external hardware is concerned. No spare tire dresses the 2-piece tailgate and designers only included one air intake on the vehicle’s passenger side, instead of including a second to balance the design.

“There’s actually only one side air intake when popular prejudice wanted placement of two. Why? Very simple – it only needs one,” says Upex. “Another sign of asymmetry is the rear tailgate. It’s actually a 2-piece setup like the Range Rover, rather than a single rear door.”

Upex says the doors allow for only the top portion of the tailgate or the entire tailgate to be open, therefore making loading easier.

Although Land Rover is focusing heavily on justifying the LR3’s design in the early stages of the vehicle’s global introduction, it promises to be a technological advancement over the previous model. (See related story: Land Rover LR3 Tames Technology with Terrain Response)

The vehicle is based on a body-on-frame construction but will have a suspension and chassis control system that mimics the driving characteristics of a monocoque architecture, such as the Range Rover, a spokesperson tells Ward’s.

The LR3 gets only the 300-hp Jaguar V-8 in the U.S., while other markets also will have the option of a 2.7L common-rail V-6 diesel, which will be unveiled at the at Birmingham (U.K.) Auto Show in May.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com