ROLLING CASTLE: The straight sides and front of the LR4 conjure up some long-abandoned fort, hinting at the strength of its drivetrain.
ROLLING CASTLE: The straight sides and front of the LR4 conjure up some long-abandoned fort, hinting at the strength of its drivetrain.
GEORGE KENNEDY

Sometimes, it is good to be the middle child. While the parents are busy smothering the oldest and youngest, the middle child can carry on unnoticed. In the case of the 2013 Land Rover LR4, that means being the last to enjoy a major design overhaul, while inheriting sophisticated and refined improvements shared with new Land Rover vehicles across the lineup.

In Europe, the LR4 goes by the name of Discovery, but that name had been replaced with LR3 in 2004, and LR4 in 2009. While the LR4 bears a host of the latest Land Rover design elements, such as LED headlights and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, the three-row SUV is instantly recognizable as the descendant of the Discovery, with the raised roof section, and darkened area above the rear windows, meant to emulate the roof-corner lights of the predecessor.

Though the overall boxy shape may lead one to believe this is a staid and conventional SUV, don’t be fooled. The LR4 possesses some quirky features that truly set it apart in the Land Rover lineup.

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 CONTROL SWITCHES: While the series of terrain management toggles may seem overwhelming at first, they are a snap to use and come in handy.
CONTROL SWITCHES: While the series of terrain management toggles may seem overwhelming at first, they are a snap to use and come in handy.
LAND ROVER

These design anomalies include the stadium-style seating, complete with lift in the roof behind the front seats and the asymmetrical rear lift-gate. Both are rooted in functionality, as the seating setup provides for a wide variety of configurations, while the lift-gate is lower on the right side, making tossing bags in a snap.

The final major design quirk is the LR4’s flat front.While the rest of the lineup has followed in the steps of the Range Rover Evoque, with the bulbous front maw, the LR4 retains the stoic squared-off front fascia. The Range Rover may have gone visually soft, but the LR4 soldiers on as a four-wheel-drive luxury citadel.

Like some ancient Scottish castle, the imposing exterior of the LR4 gives way to an opulent and accommodating cabin. All three rows are bestowed in rich leather, and there is a trio of sunroofs. While only the front sunroof retracts, three rows of glass roofs is an impressive touch.

The key interior update is the LR4’s navigation system. The previous interface was dated and painfully slow; it would freeze up like an old PC. The latest version is far more responsive, as well as aesthetically pleasing, though the logic in the voice control system still leaves something to be desired. It requires too many voice command prompts to place a single call. This, at a time when other automakers’ voice control systems will let you place a call simply by saying the sentence “Phone: call John Smth on mobile.”

The chiseled, muscular outward appearance is backed up by equally robust mechanicals. Power comes from a Jaguar-sourced 5.0-liter aluminum-alloy V8; 375 horsepower and 375 pound feet of torque are sent through a sixspeed automatic transmission with tap-shift functionality to full-time four-wheel-drive.

The 4x4 system is the cornerstone of the Land Rover identity and is operable via the collection of toggles in the center console. Simply turn the Terrain Response dial to suit the road conditions, and the LR4 will adapt to Mud, Snow, Sand, Gravel, and Rock driving conditions. Get into real trouble, and the LR4 will get you out with Sand Launch Control. Rather than laying on the accelerator and digging into a rut, SLC will modulate wheel-spin.

This advanced drivetrain rides on four-wheel air suspension, which can raise the vehicle nearly five inches from standard driving height for improved ground clearance. The suspension system can also lower closer to the street for easier entry and exit of the LR4.The air suspension sops up all manner of pothole and bumps, making for an exceptionally smooth ride. The downside comes when taking a corner quickly, where the LR4’s narrow beam and tall stance make for a harrowing adventure.

Once again, the LR4 is unique in the Land Rover lineup, as the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport now have supercharged V6 engine options, making it the last vehicle to wear a Land Rover Badge that is only offered with a V8. It is a wonderful callback to the time when the Discovery replacement was being designed. We were young, naïve, and thirsty for gasoline in the early 2000s, and the V8 is a glorious and snarly celebration of all things lavish-yet-gluttonous, as evidenced by the city fuel economy of 12 miles per gallon. Highway mileage is not much better, at 17 mpg.

Base MSRP for the 2013 Land Rover LR4 is $49,995, while our HSE with several options featured a sticker price of $57,011, including $895 destination and handling.This pricing puts it in the same league as the Mercedes-Benz ML350 and Porsche CayenneV6, but only the LR4 comes with a standard V8.

And yet, only the LR4 can be seen participating in off-road endurance events such as the G4 Challenge. It is as rugged as an SUV can be, yet is as comfortable as the latest luxury limousine.The LR4¬—and the Discovery before it—have always been the practical entry in the Land Rover lineup. For 2013, this classic three-row SUV proves that (to paraphrase Pearl Jam) the LR4“changes by not changing at all.”While the rest of the Land Rover lineup has gone in a particular direction, the LR4 remains as a noble reminder of the muscular potential of a V8-powered luxury SUV.

2013 Land Rover LR4

THE BASICS Price, base: $49,995; as tested: $57,001. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 12/17. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 13.9 mpg. Drivetrain: 5.0LV8, 6AT, fulltime four-wheel drive. Body: 5-passenger, 4-door, full-Size SUV.

THE SPECIFICS Horsepower: 375.Torque: 375 lb.-ft. Overall length: 190.5 in.Wheelbase: 113.6 in. Height: 72.5 in.(including roof rails).Width: 79.6 in.Curb weight: 5,623 lbs.

THE GOOD Blistering acceleration. Go-anywhere 4x4 tech. Luxury worthy of an oligarch.

THE BAD Top-heavy in turning.Thirsty at the gas pump.

THE BOTTOM LINE A lavish,V8-powered, luxury SUV that can crawl over rocks? Does this vehicle really have a downside? ALSO CONSIDER Mercedes-Benz M-Class,Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 2