Better Than Disco?
By Scott Corlett
Recently, we returned to our old stomping grounds in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When we lived on campus, we drove a 1985 Escort Wagon; this trip we had a spiffier Ford, a 2006 Land Rover LR3 HSE. We shacked with college buddies in wintry Ann Arbor and drove the 50 miles back and forth to Motown to cover the North American International Auto Show.
Remember Disco? No, not the Gloria Gaynor variety, but the Discovery, Land Rover’s former midlevel SUV. For us, the late Disco engenders the same warmth and nostalgia that bell-bottom jeans and polyester dance shirts do. With that in mind, we hummed the tune from “I Will Survive” as we first approached the Disco’s replacement, the LR3. The fulltime-four-wheel-drive LR3 is offered with three trims levels: V-6, SE, and HSE – the latter two sport V-8 engines while the HSE’s standard kit boosts more gadgetry.
When we receive a test vehicle, we inspect the exterior and interior, try out the seats, and fiddle with the toys. The LR3’s exterior stays true to its Rover roots, its interior is duly spacious and luxe, and its seating high and firm. Unfortunately, when we folded down the rear seat, we broke off the handle that operates the release latch. The weather was too cold to dwell on this disappointment, so we threw the under-engineered plastic lever into the cavernous rear cargo area and then climbed in for our first dance with the LR3.
We started the LR3’s ignition and then immediately cranked the heat and turned the heated leather seat to its highest setting – the LCD display showed an outside temperature of 29 degrees. We searched for a station on the 14-speaker, 550-watt harman/kardon stereo and lamented that the signal of San Francisco’s gay radio station, Energy 92.7, was not far stronger. We settled for NPR and then turned our attention to the LR3’s Terrain Response system, which adjusts the vehicle’s ride height, engine torque response, hill descent control, electronic traction control, and transmission setting. With the twist of a center-console knob, we chose the program for pavement driving – settings for snow, mud, sand, or rock would have to wait for another day.
We set the LR3’s six-speed ZF automatic transmission for sport mode and shifted into drive for a ride around central campus. As we tooled along city streets, the LR3 corned with minimal body roll despite its top-heavy, high-profile frame. We headed for our freshmen-year dormitory and did not need to rely on the LR3’s easy-to-use DVD navigation system to find the residence hall where we—and years earlier, Madonna—had once lived. When we stopped to grab a hot chocolate at one of our old haunts, the LR3’s Rear Park Distance Control was essential as we squeezed the 190-inch-long SUV into a tight parking spot.
Filled with warm drink and memories of all-night study sessions, we headed for the auto show at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. The LR3 shares its 4.4-liter 300 bhp V-8 engine with its cousins in the Jaguar branch of the Ford family and, when we charged down the freeway onramp, the V-8’s acceleration really kicked in once the tachometer hit 4000 rpm – just gotta keep that gas pedal to the floor. On the highway, the LR3’s steering was tight and precise while its electronically controlled air suspension was unfazed by Detroit’s uneven, potholed roadways. The electronically modulated ABS brakes slowed the 5300-lbs LR3 quickly and without deviation from the drive path. Because of the LR3’s ponderous frame, we would avoid the 4.0-liter 216 bhp V-6 engine option. But, the weight of the LR3 and the perversity of federal tax law also mean you skip the federal gas guzzler tax.
With a base price of $39k (V-6) to $53k (HSE), the LR3 goes up against tough competitors such as Lexus’s GX 470 and Volvo’s XC90. Just as we are thankful that our days of organic chemistry and coed dorms are history, the folks at Land Rover are undoubtedly glad that the days of the Disco and its quality- and reliability-issues are past. We enjoyed the mostly sturdy, yet totally plush LR3. As it ferried us in style along the cold byways of America’s car capital, our tuned changed to another ‘70’s hit, “You’re the One that I Want.”
Land Rover is a gay-friendly company.