PAGE, Ariz. - On road or off -- way off -- the completely redesigned 2013 Land Rover Range Rover comes across just the way it was intended: luxurious where it should be, but tough and capable where it absolutely must be.
During a recent test near Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the fourth generation of this iconic British explorer showed off its many upgrades and improvements.
And even with a sleeker exterior design and lighter chassis, not to mention a much-more-refined cabin, it’s still quintessentially a Range Rover, the gold standard for the premium SUV class.
It had very well better be, though, with prices ranging from $83,500 for the base model with a normally aspirated engine to $130,100 for the top-of-the-line Supercharged Autobiography version.
The hallmark of the Range Rover - made more evident with this redesign - is how smooth, comfortable and accommodating it can be around town, at the country club or on an extended highway trip, while holding in reserve the kind of extreme off-road capability that has earned it a reputation worldwide.
Indeed, our test of the vehicle on an off-road national forest trail spanning the Utah-Arizona border north of the Grand Canyon showed just how at home it is when the going gets too tough for anything less-capable.
We climbed steep and slippery rocks, slogged through deep sand and mud, and passed easily through a few inches of well-packed snow on our four-hour trail ride - all on what were basically street tires, not particularly designed for the challenges we put them through.
For the most part, we let the Range Rover’s redesigned automatic terrain-response system choose the proper driving mode, although for one rough stretch, we did put the selector in manual mode and chose the Mud/Ruts setting. We were also in four-wheel-drive low range, of course.
Other settings for this second generation of the terrain-response system include General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand, and Rock Crawl.
Despite the Range Rover’s great off-road prowess, Land Rover officials acknowledge that most owners never take their vehicles off the pavement. That’s a shame, but it’s understandable considering the lofty prices.
For those owners, it’s still quite an impressive vehicle, with luxury matching that of some of the world’s most-expensive sedans, including high-end Mercedes-Benz S-Class models and even pricier cars such as the Rolls Royce and Bentley.
The high-end variant of the Land Rover lineup, the Range Rover was introduced to the U.S. market in 1987. The Range Rover brand has now expanded to include three models: the entry-level Evoque, introduced last year as a lure to younger, less-affluent buyers; the midlevel Range Rover Sport; and the one that’s called simply Range Rover, which is the one getting this year’s redesign.
For 2013, the Range Rover is all new, including its lighter-weight aluminum unibody structure, which weighs about 700 pounds less than the steel-bodied model it replaced.
With seating for up to five (four with the optional "executive" two-passenger rear seat), the new Range Rover retains a strong resemblance to its predecessor. The styling changes are "evolutionary rather than revolutionary," said Simon Turner, the vehicle’s project manager.
"Our customers told us: ’Don’t change it; just make it better,’ " Turner said. It retains the clamshell hood design and "floating" roof of past generations, but adds such new touches as distinctive LED lights.
The premium leather for the interior comes from Scotland, and wood for the cabin trim from "sustainable forests," he said.
The interior is "less busy," with fewer switches and controls than before, and the aluminum unibody chassis is made to aircraft standards, the company said.
Also continuing is the use only of V-8 engines in the Range Rover. In this price class, consumers expect a V-8, and they aren’t particularly worried about fuel economy. If they can afford a Range Rover, they can afford the gas to keep it going.
Two engines are available: a normally aspirated 5.0-liter with 375 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque, and a supercharged version of the same engine, turning out 510 horsepower and 461 foot-pounds of torque.
Both engines come with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Fulltime four-wheel drive with low-range gearing is standard.
With the normally aspirated engine, the new Range Rover can accelerate from zero-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, but with the supercharged engine, that drops to an incredible 5.1 seconds. Top speeds are 130 mph for the regular engine and 140 for the supercharged.
For added comfort, the interior is roomier, with an increase of 4.7 inches in rear-seat legroom. There are several choices of premium leathers.
An entirely new aluminum suspension system is featured, as well, giving the 2013 Range Rover more stability and better handling. It no longer has the top-heavy feel of the previous models, something off-road users, in particular, will appreciate.
Land Rover built a new production facility to produce the Range Rover’s low-energy-aluminum structure at the company’s home base in Solihull, U.K.
The automaker, which is now part of India’s Tata Motors (along with its British sister luxury brand, Jaguar), says the new Range Rover "was developed from the ground up, capturing the innovative spirit and iconic design of the original model."
With the makeover, Land Rover also re-engineered the vehicle’s air-suspension system, which helps give additional stability during cornering, and allows the vehicle to raise itself up to an additional 5.8 inches off road to clear obstacles. It lowers about two inches from normal highway-driving height to allow for easier entry and exit.
The vehicle can wade through water up to 35.4 inches deep, and it has a maximum of 11.7 inches of ground clearance. We didn’t try the wading bit, though.
To make the vehicle quieter inside, Land Rover uses acoustic lamination for the windshield and door glass.
The optional two-passenger back seat gives the new Range Rover a limousine-like experience for those riding in the rear, with reclining captain’s chairs that offer both massage and heat. Land Rover calls it "the ultimate in personalized rear-seat luxury."
Also available are exclusive audio systems from Meridian, a noted British audio specialist. The top system offers - get this - 29 speakers and 1,700 watts of power, and costs $4,450 extra. The base system has 325 watts, while the midlevel system cranks out 825 watts.
Eight different alloy wheels are offered, in 19-, 20-, 21- and 22-inch sizes. Optional is a full-size panoramic sunroof, and side steps that deploy electrically. The rear hatch is now also electrically operated, and can be opened with the remote control for the door locks. The smart-key system allows for pushbutton start and stop of the engine.
There are 37 exterior colors available, and 17 interior color themes. The Autobiography model offers 22 exclusive body colors.
EPA fuel-economy ratings are 14 mpg city/20 highway for the normally aspirated engine, and 13/19 for the supercharged version.
2013 LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER:
The package: Full-size, four-door, four- or five-passenger, V-8 powered, four-wheel-drive luxury sport utility vehicle.
Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2013 on an all-new aluminum unibody chassis, this is the fourth generation of the premium sport utility vehicle from England that made its U.S. debut in 1987. It is luxurious, but also quite capable on some of the roughest off-road trains.
Negatives: Quite pricey, even without options.
Engines: 5.0-liter V-8, normally aspirated; 5.0-liter V-8, supercharged.
Power/torque: 375 horsepower/375 pound-feet (normally aspirated); 510 horsepower/461 pound-feet (supercharged).
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Length: 196.8 inches.
Curb weight: 4,850-5,137 pounds.
Cargo volume: 32.1 cubic feet (behind rear seat).
Towing capacity: 7,716 pounds.
EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/20 highway (normally aspirated); 13/19 (supercharged).
Base price range: $82,650-$130,100
On the Road rating: 8.5 (of a possible 10).