CC/Driving Impressions: 2008 Land Rover LR3 – My Re-Discovery Of SUV Empowerment

(first posted 12/7/2017)       If I were the kind of person who wrote my thoughts down in a journal, my experience with this 2008 Land Rover LR3 would go something like this:

“It was a feeling of satisfaction I had never felt before — sitting all high and mighty up in the thrones of this leviathan, leaning my torso into the inboard armrest with my left hand firmly grasping the wheel and my right elbow resting on the armrest, near vertical as I finessed my ring-clad ring finger around my thumb in a circular motion, reveling in all my empowered glory. I felt bougie, I felt posh, I felt as if I were somehow better than everyone else riding below me in their “SU-wanna be” crossovers…”

Okay, maybe I’m getting a little full of myself here, especially considering the Land Rover I’m referring to is not a new Range Rover but a decade old, beater-status LR3. But have you ever driven a car so different from your personal tastes in vehicles and been immensely shocked by how much you liked it?

My previous experience with Land Rovers was very limited, and I can’t say that I’ve ever even driven one of the various pre-owned ones we’ve had at South Shore BMW-MINI off the lot before. It’s not like many people trade in large three-row SUVs for MINIs either, though we do get one every now and then.

As it happens however, previous clients of mine who had traded their 2009 Saab 9-3 in for a brand-new MINI Cooper S Clubman All4 back in June reached out to me about replacing their other aging vehicle, a 2008 Land Rover LR3. When they were getting the Clubman, they mentioned that they did plan on replacing the LR3, which they no longer needed as their kids were all older, with something smaller, and specifically a new or gently-used BMW 3 Series. When I informed them that I was able to sell them any pre-owned BMW we have, they said they would like to work with me again, as they’d rarely received the same level of respect that I’d given them from other dealers in the past.

I actually ran into the wife one day at the gym back in September, and she informed me that they were planning on doing something in November. Sure enough, mid-November they came in and I sold them a like-new 2017 BMW 320i xDrive that had been traded in with just 1,300 miles on it for different 320 with some specific option this one was missing.

With a tick over 102,000 miles on the odometer, apart from the cracked passenger’s rear-view mirror, this ’08 LR3 appeared in good cosmetic and mechanical condition to my non-mechanical eye. I knew this couple took good care of their vehicles and kept up with major maintenance, and when my friend Adam informed me was interested in buying it to keep as a second vehicle at his parent’s house up in Maine, I arranged to take this otherwise wholesale trade-in home for a weekend to show him and have a little fun of my own with it.

Based on my two days and some 250 miles driving it, this Land Rover, while not perfect, seemed surprisingly sound on a mechanical level, something which is no doubt a reflection of its caring owners who lovingly maintained it. The engine ran smooth whether driving or idling, with no knocking, harshness, or any concerning noises. The transmission shifted silky through its six forward gears, and rather shockingly, the height-adjustable air suspension worked.

This LR3 had also recently been treated to new tires, which were properly aligned for a polished ride and accurate sense of direction. Even at highway speeds, there was little to no vibration felt from the steering column. Steering provided excellent feedback, and most notably, a very tight turning radius for such a large vehicle. Brakes were nearing the end of their life, but I never felt unsure as long as I gave the pedal a firm kick.

Unfortunately, upon running it through the shop after I returned it, the Land Rover’s mechanical health went from alright to concerning. As anyone could anticipate from an aging Land Rover the code scan summary revealed 35 fault codes detected across 15 systems, ranging from three cylinder misfire detections to invalid data received from transmission control module to lost communication with tire pressure monitor module. Inflictions also shared by Importamation’s LR4, the information screen kept reading “bonnet open”, even though it clearly wasn’t, and the alarm liked to go off within minutes of locking to car.

Additionally, it was reading catalyst system efficiency below threshold, a.k.a. a new catalytic converter was needed. Its brakes were in far more dire need of replacement than even I imagined, and following about 12 hours or so in South Shore MINI’s level parking lot (versus my inclined driveway), it became clear by its droopy nose that the front air suspension was failing. At least the heated seats worked superbly, as did the bumping 14-speaker Harman-Kardon stereo.

Regardless of all its maladies, the overall driving experience of the LR3 came as rather a delightful surprise. Most large SUVs I’ve driven over the years handle terribly, providing an incredibly vague “good luck everybody” driving experience that I can only describe as school bus-like in nature. The LR3, however proved remarkably agile, gliding down the road with precise confidence and unwavering grace.

It cornered remarkably well for such a tall vehicle, provided a supple yet not floaty ride fit for Queen Elizabeth, and ate up all the bumps and potholes for breakfast, all while keeping road and wind noise to a minimal. While our off-road experience with it was limited to a few dirt roads (and a tree stump in our friends’ driveway), the LR3 expectedly soaked them up like a camel at a watering hole.

Although its Jaguar-sourced 4.4-liter V8 is factory rated at 300 horsepower and 315 lb-ft torque, tipping the scales at around 5,400 pounds and only operating on 5 of its 8 cylinders, this LR3 was by no means a sprinter. Of course, sprinting is not what the LR3 is intended for. A similar-vintage Jaguar XF or XK with the 300 horsepower/310 lb-ft 4.2L version of this engine is better suited for that. In spite of this, the LR3 still had acceptable get-up-and-go when needed, effortlessly cruising down the highway doing 70 mph at low-rpms.

Sitting behind the wheel of the LR3 gives you a sense of empowerment that few other vehicles can match. There’s just something about being that high off the ground, sitting very upright in its leather-clad thrones of dignity that I very much find a guilty pleasure. It’s not my preference for a daily driver, but I totally understand why so many people find large SUVs like this so appealing.

Additionally, the beltlines are low and the glass area is large, making for excellent all-around visibility and the sense that you are not sitting in a cave, as is the case with most modern SUVs/CUVs. When it comes to large vehicles, this is how it should be! But let’s talk more about those seats, or “thrones” as I more appropriately called them. Offering eight-way power adjustments plus power lumbar support, the Land Rover’s thrones provide maximum comfort and support in what I’d describe as a natural seating position.

Furthermore, the inboard front armrests are a talking point of their own. Once a common feature in many cars from the Dodge Caravan to the BMW 5 Series to the first generation Toyota Highlander I owned, they’re an overlooked comfort feature which is now rarely offered by any other brand than Land Rover. Especially as one who likes to drive with just my left hand in the 12-o’clock position and right hand on the armrest, having an armrest precisely at elbow level was a savory experience.

(The requisite parking on the stump at Zach and Tim’s) 

And indeed, “savory” is how I would sum up my experience with the LR3. I totally could see myself owning a similar type vehicle at some point, certainly not in the near future, but maybe down the line. Needless to say, despite my friend Adam’s continued interest in it, I talked him out of it. Any older Land Rover is a high-risk investment, and buying this one would just be unwise.