The Land Rover Discover 3 Series - known as LR3 in the US
The Land Rover LR3 - known as the Discovery Series 3 in other markets - competed against six other new or significantly re-engineered SUVs: the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape Hybrid and Freestyle, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Infiniti QX56 and Nissan Pathfinder.
Last year's winner was the Volkswagen Touareg, the German automaker's first offering in the SUV segment.
Angus MacKenzie, Motor Trend's editor-in-chief, said the LR3, which will replace the Land Rover Discovery, set new benchmarks in design and functionality. The LR3's sticker price will start at around $45,000 (35,178).
"I think the key for the LR3 is it resolves the conflict you normally get in a sport utility vehicle between off-road ability and on-road refinement," MacKenzie said.
"It probably does it better than anything else out there at the moment."
Motor Trend considers three questions when evaluating vehicles and selecting the winner: What's the most significant new SUV in terms of engineering, safety, design and projected sales? Is it the best in its class? Is it a good value?
Judging can be tricky because the SUV segment features such a diverse line of vehicles. Pricing can vary $40,000 from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Motor Trend said the LR3's crisp exterior wraps around a roomy interior with third-row seating. Its terrain-response system allows the driver to adjust the height of the suspension to accommodate a variety of road surfaces.
Land Rover is part of Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group, which also features Volvo, Jaguar and Aston Martin.
For the first nine months of 2004, Land Rover's U.S. sales were off nearly 20 percent from a year ago. Land Rover spokesman Larry Rosinski said the company has not announced sales targets for the LR3, but it expects to top the 17,000 or so Discovery models sold annually in the United States.
As a brand, Land Rover has battled quality issues. In the latest J.D. Power and Associates vehicle dependability study released in June, Land Rover ranked last among all nameplates for problems that can include wind noise, excessive brake wear, vibrations and the replacement of parts not called for under normal maintenance. The study was based on responses from more than 48,000 original owners of 2001 model-year cars and trucks.
But the English brand was one of the most improved nameplates in J.D. Power's annual study of initial quality also released earlier this year.
MacKenzie said it's difficult to assess long-term quality in a new vehicle but that Motor Trend's first impressions of the LR3's build and engineering "were extremely favorable."
Motor Trend also will select a car and truck of the year in the coming months.
Click here for Discovery 3 photo gallery
On the Net:
Motor Trend: http://www.motortrend.com