Land Rover's capable and rugged LR4 mid-size sport utility vehicle is more fuel efficient for 2014 and has refreshed exterior front styling and new standard features such as a rear-view camera.
But thankfully, the upper-crust ambience of this British-built, well-stocked, middle-range SUV in Land Rover's lineup remains.
The base LR4 still comes with its iconic and dated boxy shape, oodles of headroom, air suspension system and power sunroof over the front seats with stationary glass panels farther back that are all standard.
Full-time all-wheel drive continues to be standard, too, though the revised single-speed transfer box for 2014 is lighter and adjusted for more efficient on-road travel.
There are important changes: Fuel mileage is up a bit, rising from a combined city/highway rating of 14 miles per gallon in 2013 to 16 mpg in the new model. The LR4's 375-horsepower V-8 has been replaced by a supercharged V-6 delivering 340 horses. A more fuel-efficient eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the LR4's old six-speed automatic, too.
And an automatic stop-start system is added to turn off the LR4 engine in most circumstances when the vehicle is at a stop and idling.
Buyers who want Land Rover's famous off-road performance can opt for a two-speed transfer case on the LR4. It includes low gearing for strenuous rock climbing and other off-road maneuvers.
Though not as much a status symbol as Land Rover's higher-priced, Range Rover, the LR4, nonetheless, conveys to onlookers that its owner is a person of means. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for 2014 rose above $50,000 to $51,725 for a base, five-seat LR4 with the single-speed transfer box.
The twin-speed transfer box comes with an option package that adds $1,350. For an additional $1,250, buyers also can select an optional third row of seats that allow a maximum of seven passengers inside the LR4.
Some competitors in this luxury mid-size SUV segment have lower starting retail prices and offer models with and without four- or all-wheel drive.
For example, the 2014 Acura MDX that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $43,460 for a front-wheel drive model and $45,460 for an all-wheel drive model. All MDX models come standard with seven seats and a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter, naturally aspirated V-6. The 2014 MDX carries a federal government fuel economy rating of 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving. This is 31 percent higher than the fuel mileage rating of the 2014 LR4.
Meanwhile, the five-passenger, 2014 BMW X5 sDrive35i SUV has a starting retail price of $53,750 with 300-horsepower, three-liter, twin-turbo, inline six cylinder and rear-wheel drive. A 2014 X5 xDrive35i with all-wheel drive starts at $56,050 and has a combined city/highway mileage rating of 21 mpg from the federal government.
Part of the appeal of the LR4 is its tall, boxy shape that harkens back to its predecessor SUVs traversing Africa's Serengeti. There is something safari-like in the LR4's exterior looks that's unique in today's SUV crowd.
But inside, the LR4's smartly stitched leather seat coverings, high-riding seats front and back and rich-looking interior trim pieces set a high-brow tone.
It's a split personality, for sure, but it works, especially for buyers who want something unique.
They certainly won't find themselves driving past a lot of LR4s in this country. Just 7,093 were sold here last calendar year. Sales this year are on pace to be lower than that.
The test LR4 was an HSE trim level and came with a good amount of luxury appointments.
But even the base LR4 has standard dual-zone, automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition, 7-inch, touch-screen display screen in the middle of the dashboard, 19-inch wheels and tires, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a British Meridian audio system.
The standard rear-view camera is especially useful because it is impossible for a driver to see what is immediately behind the 6-foot-tall vehicle.
The tester felt solid but also weighty. Indeed, the 5,655-pound LR4 had noticeable weight transfer when moving through corners.
The ride off-road was relatively smooth, thanks to the adaptable air suspension system. On the road, the LR4 soaked up most all bumps and kept passengers feeling they were above it all — way above it all.
The interior was notably quiet, and passengers enjoyed great views over neighbor's fences that they don't get in lower-riding SUVs.
But the LR4's start-stop mechanism, which operates via a twin-solenoid starter, did not operate smoothly. It sounded and felt like the vehicle was coughing each time it restarted at an intersection where it had stopped.
While not as powerful as last year's V-8, the new engine in the LR4 was strong in the test vehicle and moved the vehicle well. Peak torque of 332 foot-pounds comes at 3,500 rpm, and sounds of the supercharged engine come on during hard acceleration.
Fuel mileage still lags that of many other SUVs; premium gasoline is required.
The LR4 seats were comfortably supportive but short-stature passengers sometimes struggled to climb up and into them.
The two-piece tailgate, where someone has to unlatch and put down the bottom section, is clumsy compared with other SUVs' one-piece, power liftgates.
Maximum towing capacity for the LR4 is 7,700 pounds.