2013 Land Rover LR2 fails to match brand's high standard

In addition to improving horsepower, the Land Rover In addition to improving horsepower, the Land Rover LR2's new engine boosts gas mileage from 2012's truck-like 15/22 mpg city/highway to an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg. Photo Credit: Jaguar Land Rover USA

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Compact luxury SUVs have flourished in recent years with better fuel economy than their larger SUV stablemates, while still providing premium touches in smaller, less-expensive packages.

Though a slight redesign helped modernize the 2013 Land Rover LR2, it doesn't achieve the premium experience you'll find in Land Rover's other SUVs.

Land Rover is on a roll with the stylish, compact Range Rover Evoque and its signature Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, which are new and redesigned for 2013 and 2014, respectively. The five-seat LR2 is an aging SUV, however, with few changes since it was introduced in 2008. Its age shows in its uninspiring interior and in how many features are lacking compared even with non-luxury small SUVs, like a power liftgate, for example.

Starting at $37,295 including an $895 destination charge, the LR2 is priced midpack among competitors like the BMW X3, Acura RDX and Volvo XC60, which you can compare here. For 2013, the LR2 borrows technology from the fresher -- and pricier -- Range Rover Evoque in the form of a more-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a new multimedia system.

How It Drives

Land Rover's additions for 2013 breathe fresh life into the LR2's driving experience. Teamed as before with a standard six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes more horsepower than 2012's six-cylinder (240 horsepower compared with 230 hp) and excels in making the LR2 a nimble, spritely small SUV. That's correct: A brand known for off-road capability has a spritely and nimble small SUV. The LR2 is fun to drive thanks to its agility, though it doesn't feel very sporty when pushed too hard, thanks to noticeable body roll.

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In addition to improving horsepower, the new engine boosts gas mileage from 2012's trucklike 15/22 mpg city/highway to an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg. While better than before, that still lags all-wheel-drive competitors like the BMW X3 xDrive28i and the Acura RDX, which are rated 21/28 and 19/27, respectively.

Land Rover sourced the new engine from the ultra-modern Evoque, which has higher gas mileage ratings of 20/28 mpg. This is the first of the LR2's shortcomings when compared with the Evoque, as both are equally capable SUVs -- though the Evoque is also more fun to drive and a much more interesting take on the compact luxury SUV overall, for $4,745 more.

The 2.0-liter gives the LR2 a superb driving experience, with the exception of accelerator lag from a standing start. The SUV crawls away from a stop even with the accelerator pedal to the floor; only after a second or two does acceleration pick up, which is often too late for comfort when making a quick jump into traffic and a massive truck is bearing down. Once the car is in motion, though, the LR2 jumps out of the way when the pedal goes down. Our LR2 test vehicle was a preproduction example, though, so pay attention to this aspect during a test drive to see if it mirrors our experience.

On the Inside

Some of what's new on the inside is also sourced from the Evoque: a multimedia system with an easy-to-use 7-inch touch-screen for navigation, radio and Bluetooth phone controls. The screen is standard, but navigation is a $1,750 option. The Range Rover LR2 with HSE Package that we tested adds HomeLink, high-intensity discharge headlights, a memory driver's seat, LED daytime running lamps and a backup camera.

The LR2 has an available heated windshield, which is one of the most annoying and questionable features available in many Land Rovers. The squiggly defroster lines run vertically in the windshield and create distracting halos of light at night. Even worse, the heated windshield is tied to a $1,000 Climate Comfort Pack that also includes heated seats and a heated steering wheel. If you want heated seats, you're stuck with the awful heated windshield. The multimedia system update is appreciated, but the dated interior is in need of more attention. We know Land Rover can do a proper interior; the Evoque and new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport all have rich interior experiences. The LR2 doesn't come close.

Unchanged are the LR2's overall size and dimensions, which work in some ways but definitely do not in others, especially when it comes to providing backseat room. It was a snug fit back there for my 6-foot-tall frame with the front seat positioned where I would drive. I was comfortable, but with not much room to spare. Up front, abundant monochrome plastic reeks of poor quality and is uninteresting compared with the Evoque. Soft-touch areas are too thinly padded; the armrest doesn't take much pressure to be uncomfortable.

The XC60, X3 and RDX exude more style on the inside, with interior opulence that makes sense at $40,000. The LR2, not so much. Also missing is a smart keyless access system, a feature that has been a staple of the luxury segment for years and is now common in non-luxury SUVs like the Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano, Jeep Grand Cherokee and more.

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The tall LR2 has great visibility, provided by tall windows. The ride height is tall enough to give a commanding view of the road, but it hampers access for older folks. It also provides plenty of off-road-friendly ground clearance. The LR2 continues to offer off-roading features like multiple terrain driving modes now activated by buttons on the center console instead of a dial.

Cargo

With 26.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat and 58.9 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, the LR2's cargo area is small compared with the X3, XC60 and RDX, which have 63.3 cubic feet, 67.4 cubic feet and 61.3 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, respectively. The LR2 does offer more cargo room than the Evoque's 51-cubic-foot maximum, however.

The LR2's cargo specifications tell part of the story of why the LR2 isn't the best-suited SUV for those who need SUV functionality. Perhaps the most offensive omission is a family-friendly power liftgate that the Evoque and just about every other luxury SUV offers -- and even non-luxury compact SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox also make available. The LR2's rear seats are a bear to fold, which also hurts the SUV's versatility. Creating a flat cargo area requires tilting the rear bottom cushions forward and removing the headrests in order for the seatback to fold flat. This style is quickly being replaced in other luxury SUVs -- including the Evoque -- by seats that fold flat considerably more easily, often with the pull of one strap or handle.

Safety

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The 2013 Land Rover LR2 hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags; front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags for front and rear occupants, as well as a knee airbag for the driver. The federally mandated electronic stability system and antilock brakes are also standard. 

Missing from the safety feature sheet are advanced systems like pre-collision warning, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning systems -- all of which are available on the competition and a sign of how poorly the LR2 is keeping up with the segment. 

LR2 in the Market

The redesigned 2013 Land Rover LR2 doesn't address the LR2's largest shortcomings: For the same money, there are small luxury SUVs that offer more modern technology, better gas mileage and an enhanced premium experience. That even includes other Land Rovers -- namely, the stylish and similarly priced Evoque. Consumers seem to agree: Evoque sales have significantly outpaced LR2 sales for the first six months of 2013.

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