Land Rover LR4 Review and Road Test – Off-Road Winter Driving in Vermont

By Jonathan Spira on 20 January 2011
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The Land Rover LR4 is for many the epitome of what a Land Rover should be.  Known outside North America as the Land Rover Discovery 4, the LR4 was first introduced in 1989 and, although based on the Range Rover, was designed to compete with less expensive Japanese offerings.  It reached U.S. shores in 1994.  As I found out, the LR4 is an amazing snowmobile as well.

New for 2010, the LR4 received a new interior and engine and a new, more aerodynamic and fluid front end as well as new LED lighting both front and rear. The arrival of the 2011 model year brought with it Hill Start Assist, Gradient Acceleration Control, and improvements to the Terrain Response system.

The LR4 retains traditional Discovery styling such as the high roofline and steeply raked windshield.  Indeed, the LR4’s tall greenhouse screams African safari and the car is quite at home in such environments.  The design brings other benefits as well: visibility from the driver’s seat is superb and I was hard-pressed to find a blind spot.

I had previously driven the LR4 on an off-road course so I was eager to see how the car handled on streets and highways and I found it to be surprisingly car-like.  But I also wanted to see how it handled in extreme winter conditions, so with a near blizzard in the forecast for parts of the northeastern U.S., I drove the LR4 up to the Equinox resort at Manchester, Vermont, where Land Rover operates the Land Rover Experience Off-Road Winter Driving School.

As I drove up to Vermont, I kept looking in my rear-view mirror, wondering how far behind me the winter storm was, but I needn’t have worried. It took me about four hours to get to Manchester and the snow didn’t arrive until much later that evening. In the meantime, I had more time to get acquainted with the LR4’s excellent road manners on highways and country roads and I was very impressed by its responsiveness and the extent to which it felt like a much smaller sedan. I had to wonder if I was really driving the same vehicle that climbed rocky terrain so easily.

The winter storm did bring a lot of snow with it, however.  Even though New York City only got 9”, I woke up to find well over a foot of fresh powder on the ground and it didn’t show any signs of slowing down.  This delighted the Land Rover instructors who, since its inception, have only cancelled the driving school once due to too much snow.

The next morning, I’m in the driver’s seat of a Range Rover Sport.  The temperature displayed on the car’s high-res cluster display is 0° C (32° F), yet I am warm and toasty inside the vehicle, thanks to the heated steering wheel and seats and the car’s powerful heating system.

For the first day, our instructors took us in groups of two first through the amazingly well-paved streets of Manchester, where our group of six Range Rovers were practically the only cars out on the roads. Of course, that was just the beginning.  We were then let loose to drive on trails through the magnificent Green Mountains and we broke some fairly deep trail in the woods until we could go no further.  Over two feet of fresh snow had fallen (on top of accumulated snow and ice) and this proved a bit too much – even after we fitted chains to the rear tires.  Our instructors tried to climb the hill and plow through the snow but we finally had to turn around.  As the instructors pointed out, we could have pushed the vehicles even harder and made it up the hill but, with falling temperatures and snow continuing to fall, the likelihood of getting stuck farther along the trail was high and it had already taken us over an hour to try to ascend the first incline.

At that rate, lunch would have been at dinner time (not that we were that concerned about eating versus off-roading) but we finally did turn around and arrived a mere two hours late at the historic Old Country Inn in Grafton for our lunch break.

The second day, I was behind the wheel of a Land Rover LR4 and the only student at the school. The plan was to drive the 80-acre driving school course, unplowed of course, since the snow had fallen.  In normal weather, the course is replete with ascents, descents, side tilts, and rocky terrain.  In the snow, everything looked rather white and the ascents and descents looked daunting to say the least.

My instructor, Tim, guided me through the course and we spent most of our three hours together driving through fresh powder on the course’s wooded trails. I was amazed at how exhilarating it felt to cut through the snow, albeit at a fairly low speed, and create our own trail.

We did learn that the LR4 runs into a bit of difficulty cutting through snow when it’s just about up to the side-view mirror of the car but, other than that, I was able to take the car through its paces without a problem, mostly thanks to Tim’s excellent guidance.

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