If you buy the 2013 Range Rover, you probably won't be taking it off-road. You probably won't take it to Hog Canyon Trail in a remote part of Utah, where you'd be able take it up a hill and battle rocks, sand, mud, and snow along the way.
You probably won't have to set it to 4-Low, turn the stability control off, and then hold the brake pedal with your left foot for a moment while you floor the gas pedal with your right foot to launch it over some rocks. You probably won't use any of its five different off-roading modes.
You'll probably just take it to pick up your kids at lacrosse practice or drive it to the waxing salon, like most Range Rover owners do. And that's your loss.
(Full disclosure: Land Rover needed me to drive their new Range Rover so badly that they flew me to the Amangiri Resort near the Utah-Arizona border, the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in and one that is surrounded by indescribable canyon-y beauty. They paid for all my food and booze and also gave out free spa sessions at the resort, but I didn't go. Patrick George is too hardcore for spas.)
Land Rover's range-topping model is all-new for 2013, and it boasts a tremendous amount of improvements over the old one. It is now the world's first SUV with an all-aluminum monocoque construction, which shaves 16 Victoria Beckhams (about 400 pounds) off the outgoing Range Rover. It has a new version of their Terrain Response system, which adjusts a gajillion different settings depending on what you're driving on.
I got to sample the Range Rover in both on-road and off-road, and it did remarkably well regardless of what was thrown at it. However, like I mentioned earlier, who really takes a brand new Range Rover up and down mountains? Even Land Rover will admit that very few of them do — they say their biggest Range Rover markets in the U.S. are New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
But their customers do like cars that can handle bad weather, and the Range Rover is like Ayrton Senna in that it seems to perform better the worse the conditions get. I know this because as we were going up the snowy, muddy, rocky trail, something interesting happened. It began to rain.
Land Rover said their hardcore customers, whom they call "SuperLoyalists" (I'm not joking) didn't want them to screw with the car too much, so they didn't. Think of the new design as having evolved the same way the 911 has. It's an attractive, streamlined update of a well-recognized icon that's been around for decades.
High points include headlights and taillights, which I think have some of the prettier applications of LED lights out there today. I also like the tapered shape of the roof and underside, which gives the car lines similar to the first Range Rover that came out in 1970. I'm not crazy about the vertical lines on the front doors (or the ones on the last car) but overall, it's an impressive design.
Look at this and then look at a new Ford Explorer. It's many of the same design cues, just executed more thoughtfully.
The inside of this car is superb. It's a great place to spend time whether you're in the front or the back.
Land Rover deserves some serious credit in my book for actually reducing the number of buttons from the old Range Rover without reducing the functionality. The steering wheel was well laid out and felt great in my hands.
Interior materials are all top notch like you'd expect from Land Rover. The front seats are well bolstered and adjustable. The rear seats are roomy and comfortable, too. Oh, and if any of your hippie friends give you shit for driving a giant, gas guzzling Range Rover, tell them all the wood only comes from "sustainable forests" and it has "low-carbon leather from Scotland."
I drove the naturally aspirated engine and the supercharged one, both 5.0-liter V8s. On the regular one you get 375 horsepower, and it's more than enough. Bury the accelerator and you can pass any car (or group of cars) on the highway with no trouble. The engine has a great sound when you get on it, but it's totally quiet otherwise.
The supercharged engine, which has 510 horsepower, could best be described as "stupid fast." It is significantly quicker than the base engine and will get you well past 100 before you can even start talking about the low-carbon leather from Scotland. Both engines are great, but if you've got the cash to buy a new Range Rover, get the one with the blower as it'll get you to 60 mph in the low five-second range.
Land Rover nailed the brakes on the new car. Simply put, they're awesome. The Range Rover uses six-pot Brembo brakes with big ol' 15-inch rotors, and pedal travel and feel are excellent.
They're exactly as they should be on a car with this kind of heft and power.
Again, Land Rover nailed it here. The car's ride is incredibly comfortable, but it definitely felt firmer than most luxury SUVs. For something that's supposed to be a big, powerful, expensive British car that's also a fierce off-roader, this was pretty much ideal.
The air suspension is so impressive that even when you're descending a rocky, muddy hill like we did in this test, the car never beats you up or makes you feel rattled.
When we were going down that trail, one of the other autojournos took over driving for a bit, and I came close to taking a nap in the back seat. The ride is that good. (Also, don't make fun of me for this. I've been working a lot lately!)
The new Range Rover loses points here because it now includes the electric power steering from the Evoque. And it kind of sucks. The result is that over-boosted, vague, too-light steering feel that is found in so many modern luxury cars. It's hard to feel the road through the steering wheel at all, and frankly, this is a problem when you're doing serious off-roading.
This kind of thing is fine on a Lexus RX-Whatever, but it's not something I want when I'm going over rocks. But again, not very few Range Rover owners do that anyway, so what's the point?
The new Range Rover gets ZF's latest 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and as far as traditional slushboxes go, it doesn't really get much better than this. We've seen this tranny before and it's equally impressive here. Slam your foot on the gas and watch it kick down five gears at once to blow past 18-wheelers at your leisure.
It excelled in our dirt session, too. Using the paddles, we sometimes needed to start driving uphill or downhill in second or third gear, and the transmission proved extremely up to the task.
One thing I didn't care for — and this may be more of an interior issue – was the gear selector. There's no stick here, just a knob that rises out of the center console. It's kind of clunky to use and sometimes fought me when going into Park. At times when I had to back up on our off-road course, I kept reaching for a stick that wasn't there.
Our first tester had the optional 825-watt, 19-speaker Meridian sound system, and it sounded great. Clear quality, good bass, easy to use Bluetooth integration and satellite radio. No complaints here.
But spend more money and it gets even better. If you get the top level Autobiography package, do yourself a favor and check the box for the $4,450 Meridian 3D sound system. It has 29 speakers and provides one of the most incredible aural experiences you can find anywhere, not just in a car. We all just kind of sat in awe of it for a while. It's worth the ridiculous price.
The engine note is good but you're too well insulated from it.
I don't know how to give it anything but a perfect score in the toys department. The center touch screen controls the nav, radio and a host of other functions, and it's easy to operate and never got laggy.
Then we get into the off-roading toys, which are amazing. From the switches below the gear selector, you can adjust the ride height (manually or using several pre-sets,) set it to 4-Low or 4-High, and play with the Terrain Response 2 system. This adjusts the car's suspension to suit five different situations: normal driving, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, sand, or rock crawling. Oh, and the center screen helpfully explains what each setting does and when it should be used. There's also a handy auto mode if you're too lazy to adjust it yourself.
Another favorite toy of mine was their often imitated, never duplicated hill descent system. Switch it on, take your foot off the brake, and the Range Rover goes down the hill adjusting its speed accordingly depending on what kind of terrain is underneath it. It takes quite a bit of confidence in the car, but it's amazing.
If you buy a new Range Rover, you're getting an SUV that is powerful, stylish and comfortable. But you're gonna pay for it. Base price is $83,545, which jumps to $99,995 if you add a supercharger, and $130,995 for the fully loaded "Autobiography" model.
In those price ranges, you could also get a Porsche Cayenne GTS, Turbo or Turbo S, which are significantly faster and just as well equipped. You could also spend a lot less money for perfectly capable and powerful luxo-SUVs like the Audi Q7 or the BMW X5 (or X6 if you want to look like a jackass.) There's also an assortment of crazy fast and mad expensive Mercedes-Benz AMG SUVs if you prefer, as well as the Toyota Land Cruiser, another potent rock crawler with luxury features that doesn't come cheap.
Land Rover says their SUV has the trump card because none of those will off-road as well as the Range Rover can, or as comfortably. But to go back to our original question, who really off-roads in a new Range Rover? The company has a good counter to that: how many new Ferrari or Porsche owners take their cars to the track? Not many, but that's no reason to stop making fast cars.
Years from now, some third owner will have a blast rock climbing in a Range Rover like I did. Until then, the current ones will have an impressive ride to the salon.