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2013 LAND ROVER LR2: Sister with'personality'

Less glamourous than Evoque, but same attributes and most of the allure

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Interior plastic on the dash and door panels has been upgraded with softer-touch material moving the LR2 further away from its bargain-basement roots.

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2008 Land Rover LR2 SE for $18,980

2008 Land Rover LR2 SE

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MONTREAL -- Unfortunately for Land Rover's LR2, it's the dumpy sister to the sexy Range Rover Evoque.

But there's really little objective difference between the siblings' talents, especially since the base 2013 LR2 inherits the Evoque's 2.0-litre turbocharged four that Land Rover sources from former parent, Ford. It also has a brand-new interior and an optional 825-watt Meridian audio system.

It's difficult to decide which is of greater benefit to the LR2's comportment, the new engine or the revamped cabin. The new powerplant offers the more easily quantifiable answer as it boasts 10 horsepower and 16 pound-feet more than the 3.2-litre Volvo-sourced inline six it replaces. It's also, as one might expect with the loss of two pistons and 1.2 litres of displacement, lighter than the big six and more frugal as well.

What's more surprising -- especially to me, who worships the inline six as the optimum engine layout -- is that the little four actually feels more sophisticated than the rather thrashy six. Not only does it seem smoother, but, because it's blessed with oodles of low-end torque, it needs far fewer revs than the comparatively peaky 3.2L it replaces.

The mark of a great SUV engine is that it never feels overwhelmed or harried. The LR2's 2.0L may lack the bounty of pistons and overwhelming power that is the Range Rover's 5.0L V8, but it shares the utterly unharried way of pumping out low-end torque.

Its only fault is the non-linearity of its throttle response. Initial throttle tip-in at low-speed can suffer a momentary delay and, occasionally, when you're calling for moderate power, the turbocharger gets all enthusiastic and responds as if you've called for warp speed. It takes a little adjustment, but then so do most turbocharged engines.

The view from the driver's seat, meanwhile, is much more pleasant than it used to be. Indeed, interiors have always be the LR2-née-Freelander's Achilles heel, the automaker only upgrading it after its competition had moved on. The 2013's revisions, then, are a preemptive strike by comparison, coming only a few months after the Evoque raised the ante.

The leather trim is now more sumptuous, there's a new seven-inch LCD touchscreen centre stage as the navigation and audio systems controller (now voice-activated) and the instrument cluster has been revised. Ditto for the terrain Response switchgear, which is now a more easily deciphered row of buttonry in the centre console.

Other highlights include the airy dual sunroofs and the aforementioned mega-watt sound system. As well, some of the plastic has been upgraded with softer-touch material moving the LR2 further away from its bargain-basement roots (the original Freelander had particularly cheap interior décor).

What remains is the storied marque's incredible off-road ability. No, the Freelander won't go as deep into the woods as an LR4 or even a Range Rover. The lack of dual-range gearset and massive amounts of suspension articulation see to that. But, thanks to its Haldex full-time four-wheel-drive system, Land Rover's trademark Terrain Response system and other electronic gadgetry like Hill Descent Control, the LR2 can venture fairly far into the unknown.

It may be, by Land Rover's standards, the least Sahara-worthy of the company's offerings, yet it still plunges down river banks with élan.

Despite the upgrades, I still suspect the LR2 will remain the sister with "personality," doomed to prove its popularity the hard way. However, if you do opt for the less-glamourous sister -- and with an MSRP of $39,990, some $7,005 less than even the cheapest Evoque, that might be easier than you think -- you still get virtually all the same attributes, abilities and, well, most of the allure.

-- Postmedia News

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