The remote West is a far cry from where most modern SUVs claim their stomping grounds, but it’s exactly where we found ourselves recently. Utah’s desert landscape isn’t what you’d call sparse, as far as scenery is concerned. Sedimentary rock formations that range from the utterly massive to the small and bizarre are scattered as far as the eye can see, peppered by small patches of remnant snow and capped by the beautiful winter desert sky. And then smack in the middle of it all is a place called Amangiri, one of the fine Aman resorts that has established a reputation of simple finery and Spartan architecture that’s befitting of the final scenes of Quantum of Solace. We made this our base camp and put the all-new Land Rover Range Rover to the test — and what better place to do so than one with wide open scenic roads and the kind of canyon trails that exact harshness on both man and machine?
Some automotive manufacturers impute design changes on their vehicles like patchwork efforts to salvage an initially poor execution and with the kind of frequency that makes moon phases seem few and far between. Not so with Land Rover’s flagship model, the iconic Range Rover. 2013 marks only the fourth redesign since 1970. And if it’s possible to completely redesign an icon without utterly overhauling it, then it appears that the folks at Land Rover have done it. The same essential body shape and Range Rover essence that have spanned the first three generations has been kept, while still endowing 21st century freshness. The fascia has been made more prominent with a larger grille and a unique day-running light LED pattern that looks like it might have been pulled from alien crop circles. Both headlights and taillights taper toward each other (unfortunately, not unlike the new Ford Explorer), while the smooth body is barely interrupted by front quarter panel vents and door seams.
Big, burly, boxy and quintessentially British. The Range Rover is legendary in its own right — even surpassing its own marquee (who really calls it a Land Rover Range Rover?) — but the modern Range Rover has humble roots spanning just four generations.
1st Generation – 1970–1996
Fondly known as the Range Rover Classic, the original Range Rover was not the lux-offroader we know it as today, but rather an up-market utility vehicle. It was spartan; it had a body-on-frame and coil springs. It even had a modified Buick V8 shoehorned into it. It was underpowered, but take our word — it’s a modern classic.
2nd Generation – 1994-2002
Overlapping the 1st Generation Range Rover by two years, the boxy successor to the Range Rover Classic moved the Range Rover significantly upmarket. It was positioned above the Discovery.
3rd Generation – 2002-2012
The third generation Range Rover was the result of BMW’s ownership of Land Rover. Components were shared with the BMW 7 Series, the interior was heavily revamped and the design was a resounding success.
4th Generation – 2013
Today, the 4th gen Range Rover is just as you’ve read about in the corresponding story: powerful, equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission and even inheriting some of the aggressive design cues of its sibling, the Range Rover Evoque. The latest Rover has us swooning.
The full day of both on-road and off-road driving more than adequately revealed what the new Range Rover was made of. In base ($83,500), HSE ($88,500) and Supercharged ($99,995) trims, the Range Rover is quick and composed and makes quick work of covering numerous miles of asphalt like a stilted sports car. It just feels planted, secure and responsive — both in 375 hp HSE and 510 hp Supercharged editions. The 8-speed automatic transmission is well-mated to the the powerful V8s, and shifting is as noticeable as a gnat’s sneeze. There’s on-demand torque that doesn’t seem to quit, and unlike so many SUVs today, it doesn’t feel like a wheeled mastodon, massive and ponderous. This is a gift to drivers who feel they have to forsake their passions when purchasing a family vehicle. Perhaps the most prominent change in the car is the use of an all-aluminum body, which sheds nearly 400 pounds. Further use of aluminum and lightweight materials results in a total weight loss of nearly 1,000 pounds, making it as light with four
Americans as the previous model was empty. The result? A reduction in the 0-60 time of nearly a full second along with improved fuel economy and responsiveness. The aluminum chassis architecture in front and rear, coupled with an all-new four-wheel air suspension, results in sharper handling and noticeably less body roll. More driving pleasure is always a good thing.
Land Rover also saw fit to provide a cabin that’s worthy of the new body, which is no simple task. So many car interiors of today are like your painfully lovable single buddy who’s heavy on charm and wordy conversation yet pathetically light on useful knowledge and the ability to put others at ease. Land Rover’s figured it out just about better than anybody. They’ve reduced the number of buttons by 40 and made the center console far more simple to navigate. From the rugged but well-finished steering wheel with buttons in just the right place to the large climate control knobs that are crisply handsome, just about everything seems very user-friendly. The TFT/LCD gauges are another great touch, along with the fine leather, detailed stitching, soft touch materials and striking wood veneer finish worthy of a luxury SUV. Also worth mentioning is the rear leg room, boasting an increase of 4.7 inches, which means you can probably offer a ride to the leggy supermodels hitchhiking on that remote stretch Saskatchewan highway. One of the niggles we could’ve done without, however, was the difficulty in syncing our iPhones with the sound system, both via cable and Bluetooth. A tad frustrating, such that we ended up listening to pop hits on satellite radio.
The latter half of the driving experience involved challenges that are typically tossed in front of mountain goats. We took our caravan of Range Rovers to some treacherous canyon roads, rife with deep sand and mud and rain-strewn, steep rock faces. What the Range Rover accomplishes on this terrain is nothing short of amazing. Though we like to think we’re better than average drivers, we also have a healthy respect for roads that would make most adults wet themselves.
Over the course of four hours we tackled five major natural obstacles, including a 30-yard steep ramp of wet rocks and sand that threw down some serious intimidation. But the Range Rover proved unstoppable, except for the random and very noticeable episodes of driver stupidity. It certainly wasn’t the car’s fault — but one look at the rocky challenges and you’d think twice about even trying to hike it, much less attempt to drive it in anything less than a vehicle built specifically for the task. But with precise steering, even and measured throttle application, two beefy locking differentials and the Range Rover automatic Terrain Response 2 system, we were able to overcome everything in our path including deep mud and sand, steep and slick rock faces and a mix of all of the above. And the most incredible part? Every Range Rover was shorn with all-season tires. Try that with your standard SUV and you’ll find yourself longing for a Calgon bath, some fuzzy slippers and a bowl of bonbons before crying yourself to sleep.
The full day proved the Range Rover’s beauty, comfort, power and driving prowess, both on the smooth stretches and in the rough and tumble of Utah’s canyon roads. If just a fraction of Range Rover buyers understood what this vehicle could do, the world would be a far more entertaining place. We imagine these fine machines quietly shed a fat petrol tear when their conquering move of the day is cresting a four inch speed bump in front of the Persian handmade rug store.