Here is Land Rover’s riposte to the anti-SUV brigade: the long-awaited baby Landy – a hybrid 4x4 so small it shares a footprint with a Ford Focus. The LRX will be shown at the Detroit Motor Show in January 2008 and presages a new, compact Land Rover due on sale in the next decade.
Think shrunken Freelander coupe and you’ve got the LRX in a nutshell. It’s just 4351mm long (149mm shorter than a Freelander) and 1535mm high (-205mm). Land Rover calls it a ‘cross-coupe’ and in the metal this car looks surprisingly compact – every inch as small as a Focus or Golf.
Smaller dimensions won’t bring smaller prices, however. The LRX will be pitched as a replacement for the three-door Freelander and priced accordingly. This is a car for people who deride the unnecessary heft of large SUVs, but want to retain the visual presence of 4x4s. It’s Land Rover lite.
So when’s Land Rover going to build the LRX?
That’s the $64,000 question. Forget all the chat about ‘gauging interest’ and the usual concept-car nonsense. Land Rover is deadly serious about stretching its range down into smaller segments, as the market turns against big, lumbering off-roaders cluttering up city streets.
The LRX concept is equipped with the necessary green technology to get the right message across. There’s a 2.0-litre hybrid diesel powertrain that has been Federalised for US sales (a detail that makes it sound like it’s heading for production) and E-RAD, Land Rover’s new system for electric rear axle drive.
This is the first car to be designed under new Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern. He references cars like the Mini, Audi TT and VW Beetle, saying ‘they all appeared at motor shows as concepts, but the production cars were very faithful to those designs. That was unusual back then, but not anymore. There’s no reason why any of what you see on the LRX can’t happen – interior included.’
A solid hint that the LRX will be built in similar form, then. Our advice is to expect something as toned down as the transition from Range Stormer to Range Rover Sport.
Land Rover LRX design in detail
Think of the LRX as a shrunken Range Rover Sport. It’s squat and compact, dominated by a rising beltline and thin, wedge-shaped glasshouse. A production version would undoubtedly have to be taller, to provide more headroom and an airier cabin, and those 20in wheels would shrink for showroom plausibility. But the concept retains key Land Rover design details, including the traditional clamshell bonnet, the vent in the front wing (a reference to the off-roading snorkels of the past) and short overhangs for better entry and exit angles up extreme slopes.
McGovern says the LRX is as home on Bond Street as it is in the Bernese Oberland mountains - and it’s this go-anywhere aspiration that underpins the whole concept. How else can Land Rover hope to sell chunky 4x4s in an age when people are increasingly looking at CO2 over cool ratings? Land Rover is desperate to position its products as cars that are refined and responsible around town, but also capable of scaling a Highland trail at weekends.
Is the LRX genuinely greener? Well, it’s certainly smaller, lighter (but Land Rover won’t say how much) and a sleeker shape for better aerodynamics and a substantially lower frontal area. All of these will help reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, but we’ll have to wait for its Detroit Motor Show debut to find out just how clean it is (even then it’s only pie-in-the-sky concept car figures, don’t forget). The only detail we’ve been told so far is that the LRX’s polycarbonate side and roof windows are 40 percent lighter than glass ones.
But is the LRX a real Land Rover?
Despite the new focus on green issues, the LRX is still aimed at the green welly brigade. There’s full-time four-wheel drive, Hill Descent Control and the now ubiquitous Terrain Response system – this time with Land Rover’s first Eco mode for urban driving. The company insists the LRX will be as happy in the mud as a Freelander.
The tailgate is split, both parts powering down so you can hold an improntu picnic on the tailgate, Range Rover-style. On the concept, there’s also a bottle chiller and cool box that clip to the lowered tailgate. All concept car jewellery.
What’s the LRX like inside?
The cabin reflects the modernity of the exterior. Land Rover design polonecks talk about inspiration from racing cyclists’ helmets and the like, but all you need to know is that the LRX’s interior is pretty damn cool. There are lashings of soft, chocolatey leathers (dyed with eco-friendly vegetables, no less), contrasting with polished aluminium details. Will this survive into production? Will it hell.
The dash is dominated by a floating LCD console with 3D displays in place of conventional instruments; the data is prioritised by importance, so the driver is only presented with information they need. And the screen colours change according to the driving mode. If you’re in economy mode, the dash colours are mood-lit in green; if you’re in hard-charging sports mode, angry red is order of the day; the default illumination is cool blue.
A huge panoramic glass roof lightens the cabin while the usual concept-clever seat folding arrangement frees up loads of space for the mountain bikes and skis that marketing bods insist young adventurers must carry. They’re the same demographic as the hipsters carrying the latest iPhone, presumably – there’s a dock for Apple’s latest must-have gadget, too.
2008: Land Rover’s 60th anniversary
The LRX concept car kicks off a landmark year for the Solihull 4x4 specialists. The company was founded in 1948 and, as well as celebrating its sixtieth birthday this year, it will also be sold.
Ford is finalising the sale of its Land Rover and Jaguar British premium car makers – and we should hear who has won the bidding in the next few weeks. The latest information is that the sale will be announced in the new year, rather than before Christmas.
The leading bidders are Indian car makers Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra, and buy-out group One Equity Partners. The offers on the table are understood to range from $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion – but insiders hint that Tata is closest to win the race for two of the remaining members of the disintegrating Premier Automotive Group.
Let’s hope the new owners don’t tone down the LRX concept too much; Land Rover needs heavy investment for it to survive in the twenty-first century.