MANCHESTER, VT – The new ’10 Land Rover LR4 is a true dual-use vehicle, as confident on the highway as it is navigating some of the toughest off-road trails imaginable.

The passages traversed during a test drive here aren’t “trails” but carved-out sections of forest littered with massive boulders, wide streams, thick tree roots and various other woodland obstacles.

Dangling precariously close to toppling over, there are several times when it seems no vehicle could complete the course.

But like a sure-footed mountain goat, the LR4 finds its way, thanks to the updated Terrain Response system. With it, the driver can toggle between the “rock crawl” and “mud and ruts” settings, and it automatically applies precise amounts of power and braking, when needed, to individual wheels.

While the original Terrain Response system was no slouch, Land Rover engineers make significant improvements for ’10. The Hill Decent Control system, in particular, makes for a wholly controlled sedate ride, instead of a white-knuckled rollercoaster plummet.

New-for-’10 is the Gradient Release Control, designed to keep tension on the brakes once the pedal is released while the vehicle is descending. Pressure is relieved gradually to control the vehicle’s momentum and acceleration until the targeted off-road speed is achieved. It’s extremely effective.

Combined with other terrain-conquering upgrades, including a new Sand Launch program, the LR4 is one of the most capable off-road vehicles available.

The revised sheet metal better reflects its off-road prowess than the outgoing model. Although the design is awkwardly boxy and utilitarian, it suits the LR4, distancing it from suburb-bound SUVs.

Exterior changes include a more rounded front fascia, as well as headlamps and taillights that incorporate LEDs to give the vehicle a distinctive look. When viewed side-by-side with the outgoing model, the ’10 LR4 is far more pleasing to the eye.

Inside, notably fewer controls help counter Land Rover’s reputation for cluttered interiors and confusing, unsightly switchgear. For the new LR4, the brand whittles the number of switches from 50 to 29 by cleverly combining some controls.

While it’s a step in the right direction, further reduction in complexity is needed, particularly with the optional navigation system, which fails to guide us back to the hotel after 10 minutes of fiddling.

An owner of the vehicle likely would become proficient with the nav system, but pulling up pre-programmed destinations should be simplified.

The interior is surprisingly refreshed. Gone is the upright, workmanlike feel of the outgoing LR3’s cabin, replaced by smooth-flowing surfaces that improve comfort, while also complementing the exterior styling.

Center-console cupholders are better positioned for accessibility and easier operation of the gear shifter. Seats are soft and accommodating, yet well-bolstered.

’10 Land Rover LR4
Vehicle type Front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door SUV
Engine 5.0L DOHC all-aluminum V-8
Power (SAE net) 375 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque 375 lb.-ft. (508 Nm) @ 3,500 rpm
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 92.5 x 93.0
Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase 113.6 ins. (289 cm)
Overall length 190.1 ins. (483 cm)
Overall width 75.4 ins. (192 cm), 85.7 ins. (218 cm) with mirrors
Overall height 74.1 ins. (188 cm)
Curb weight 5,833 lbs. (2,646 kg)
Base price $48,100, including $850 destination and delivery
Fuel economy 12/17 (19.6-13.8 L/100 km) city/hwy
Competition Mercedes G-Class, Lexus GX, Audi Q5, BMW X5
Pros Cons
Dual-use vehicle Owners rarely go off-road
Reduced control complexity Perplexing nav system
Revised styling Still generic

Although the LR4 is not particularly large – 190.1 ins. (483 cm) from front to rear – Land Rover managed to squeeze in an optional third row, which offers merely adequate legroom.

The biggest upgrade is the all-new 5.0L DOHC V-8. Designed in-house by Land Rover and Jaguar engineers, it produces 375 hp and 375 lb.-ft. (508 Nm) of torque, besting the LR3’s 4.4L V-8 output by 25% and 19%, respectively.

Unlike the Jaguar engine, the Land Rover V-8 has waterproof belts, alternator, air-conditioning compressor, power steering pump and starter motor, in case a stream needs fording. It also is tuned for towing and off-road driving.

Land Rover says the all-aluminum 5.0L features an industry first, centrally mounted gasoline direct-injection system paired with twin high-pressure fuel pumps. The result is responsive power that comes on evenly, especially at low revs.

The layout also includes a unique new variable camshaft timing system, which works independently on all four camshafts. The new system responds 25% faster than the old variable valve-timing setup and allows for a downsized oil pump, saving energy and improving efficiency.

The engine is mated to Land Rover’s smooth-shifting HP28 6-speed automatic transmission, supplied by ZF Friedrichshafen AG and updated for enhanced power and torque at low speeds. The lock-up clutch can be engaged earlier in each gear, which reduces slip through the torque convertor, lowering fuel consumption.

During a test drive here on country back roads and highways, Ward’s averages about 11 mpg (21 L/100 km), well under the Environmental Protection Agency’s rating of 12/17 mpg (19.6-13.8 L/100 km) city/highway. Hindering fuel efficiency is a portly curb weight of 5,833 lbs. (2,646 kg).

On the highway, the ride is smooth and exceptionally quiet, with precise, responsive steering that gives no hint of the vehicle’s size.

Reflecting the new interior, exterior, engine and numerous engineering tweaks, Land Rover brass changed the model name from LR3 to LR4 to accentuate the upgrades. But this well-packaged combination of luxury and off-road performance comes at a price.

The LR4 starts at $48,100, including an $850 destination and delivery charge. For the well-heeled, it might sound like a bargain. But options quickly add up.

Third row a necessity? Add another $1,150. The top-of-the-line HSE LUX-plus package is another $11,115, driving the sticker price up to nearly $60,000.

In today’s economy, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, even for those of means.

bpope@wardsauto.com