2013 Land Rover Range Rover road test
Britain's off-road king redefines what a luxury vehicle can be
Canyon Point, Utah — According to the man from Land Rover, the new 2013 Range Rover can wade through 900 mm — nearly three feet — of water. It's an impressive figure made possible by clever engine intakes, high-mounted electronic components, and air suspension that now permits best-ever ground clearance. Most owners won't put it to the test. And most owners certainly won't test it, then open their doors, flooding the sumptuous leather-lined and carpeted cabin, before they get out and walk away, only to come back and start it up after a nice long soak. But Land Rover's engineers did that just that — and then drove away without issue.
Trial by water is just one of the many extreme tests the new Range Rover was subjected to during its development. And going above and beyond is what Land Rover hopes will make its latest creation the ultimate luxury vehicle.
The aluminum diet
You're more likely to take note of a different figure: 180 kg, the weight of the Range Rover's all-aluminum frame. Despite being about as long as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and standing just over six feet in height, its frame weighs less than that of a BMW 3 Series. Held together with bonding and 3,400 self-piercing rivets, it's stronger than the outgoing model by a third, while leaving the vehicle overall — powertrain, sumptuous cabin, and all — hundreds of kilograms lighter.
This weight, or rather the lack thereof, makes itself known in just about every aspect of the Range Rover's performance. In conjunction with the standard ZF eight-speed automatic and a wind-sculpted body, the 510-hp Supercharged variant will go from zero to 100 km/h in less than five and a half seconds, and fitted with 22-inch wheels, can hit the magical 250 km/h mark. This is the sort of swiftness normally associated with a BMW M5, not something you'd use if your commute involved crossing the Serengeti. And if that weren't enough, comparing new to old, it even manages to use nine per cent less fuel. Never has removing so much resulted in so much gain.
An unlikely athlete
Provided you avoid stomping on the accelerator pedal, power is doled out with a velvety smoothness that never seems to end, and if you do stomp on it, prepared to be punted into the horizon with ludicrous force. The gearbox is equally impressive; it's impossible to catch off-guard, and responds swiftly to inputs from the paddles. Even the brakes are supercar-grade — six-piston Brembo calipers clamp down on massive discs with retina-detaching force, yet are easy to modulate for smooth stops.
All this talk of performance might make you believe that this is a sports car wearing the Range Rover's iconic clothes, but worry not, the plot hasn't been lost. This is not an overtly sporty vehicle — the Terrain Response knob does not have a "Dynamic" position as with other Range Rovers. No, all of this ability only serves as a key part of its character: effortlessness.
The commanding view thanks to an excellent driving position and thin pillars makes it easy to place on the road with confidence. The lightness shows in how it steers too: there's a newfound alertness and accuracy to the electrically assisted helm. Where the outgoing car felt ponderous, the new one positively darts. Less mass, plus the fitment of active anti-roll bars keeps passengers sitting more upright when the road begins to snake; the body will roll when hustled, but it builds progressively. And while it may not have the same connection to the road as a Porsche Cayenne, it's still an incredibly easy and enjoyable vehicle to drive with impeccable high-speed stability.
But perhaps most astonishing is the overall level of refinement, and how it comes together in the cabin. It's luxurious, no doubt — the leather, wood, and polished metal feel as good as they look, and the cabin's design successfully bridges minimalism and functionality. There is 120 mm more rear legroom thanks to a wheelbase stretch, and you can specify individual bucket seats split by a console that houses controls for the seat massagers. It even somehow feels more spacious than it looks, the interior bathed in light from the giant panoramic roof.
With a completely revised air suspension system and adaptive dampers, it glides over crests, potholes and ridges without jarring or shuddering. It manages to be both connecting and isolating at the very same time. And while the bluff nose must punch a mighty big hole through the air as it moves along, it does so in silence — wind, road, and engine noise are all but imperceptible. It's a given that even the best SUVs are rarely as refined as large, plutocratic luxury sedans. The Range Rover miraculously leap-frogs them.
Off-roading for dummies
Moving into the mountains of Lake Powell, the Range Rover is quick to show that its off-road spirit is unchanged. Where most SUVs have ditched their two-speed transfer cases in the interest of saving weight, the Range Rover keeps this vital piece of equipment, adding a pair of electronically controlled variable locking differentials to boost traction. It's all woven together by the second-generation Terrain Response system, which features new algorithms for its different terrain modes, and a new full Automatic mode. It's yet another step closer to Off-Roading for Dummies, taking inputs from speed, throttle, and steering hundreds of times per second to select the most appropriate mode.
Even on low-profile tires wrapping 21-inch wheels, the Range Rover climbs over obstacles, mounting snow-slicked muddy hills that a sherpa would struggle to climb. It's entertaining too: between the centre stack and the instrument cluster, you can see exactly how the suspension, differentials, and electronic wizardry work together to pull you up impossibly steep slopes. From the massaging and ventilated driver's seat, it's easy to be lulled into thinking that extreme off-roading isn't a challenge at all.
What luxury costs
Of course, you will pay for this talent. For the time being, only the supercharged-powered model is available, and it starts at $114,900, with the fully loaded Autobiography — think more leather, more wood — coming in at $141,000. A 375-hp naturally aspirated version will be available for 2014. This may seem steep, but this is a vehicle that doesn't just raise the bar for luxury SUVs, but for the luxury segment as a whole. It exudes a sense of quality that rivals Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Drive one and you'll see it hold its own against this lofty brigade.
And that bring us full circle to Land Rover's quest for ultimate luxury. Real luxury doesn't say no, or make excuses — it makes things possible. It's swift like a sports car, refined like a limousine, and has a ride quality that betters the world's finest sedans. All that before considering its exemplary off-road ability, spacious cabin, and voluminous trunk.
Finest SUV on the market? Yes. Finest vehicle in the world? Could very well be.
2013 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged
Base price / Autobiography: $114,750 / $141,000
Type of vehicle: 4WD full-size luxury SUV
Engine: 5.0-litre, 32-valve, DOHC V8 supercharged
Power/Torque: 510 hp / 461 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
0-100 km/h: 5.4 seconds
Fuel economy (city/hwy, est.): TBA
Competition: Audi A8, Bentley Continental Flying Spur, BMW 7 Series, Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz G-Class / GL-Class / S-Class, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Rolls-Royce Ghost
Unparalleled off-road ability
Flimsy-feeling paddle shifters