2013 Land Rover Range Rover road test
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.