Canyon Point, Utah – Every single time I’m given the opportunity to drive a new Land Rover on an off-road course, I come away slack-jawed in amazement at what these vehicles are capable of. Recently, my third such experience saw me behind the wheel of the 2013 Land Rover Range Rover. It was the most impressive yet.
First, a few raw facts surrounding this entirely new luxury SUV, which Land Rover proudly labels as the most refined and most capable in the world.
The fourth-generation Rover has been redesigned and reengineered from the ground up; this is more a case of revolution over evolution. Credited as being the world’s first SUV with an all-aluminum body, the new Range Rover is 39% lighter than the outgoing, steel model. This translates into a gargantuan weight savings of up to 420 kg, depending upon the individual model chosen.
Not only is the body lighter than ever before, it’s also significantly sleeker. In fact, the silhouette of the new model, with its rounded front and back ends, is downright racy compared to previous generations. Though the look has, arguably, softened a bit, the Range Rover is more capable than ever when it comes to the rough stuff.
In North America, there will be two different powerplants available across four different model lines. Here, in Canada, at least initially, we will receive only two of the four models: the Supercharged and the top-of-the-line Supercharged Autobiography. The remaining models, the Range Rover and the Range Rover HSE, may show up later in 2013. No plans have been announced to bring either of the two diesel-powered models or forthcoming diesel hybrid to North America.
The base model is motivated by a five-litre V8 engine that produces an even 375 horsepower and lb-ft of torque. The Supercharged, as you may have guessed, features a blown version of this and the requisite jump in performance is massive – to the tune of 510 hp and 461 lb-ft. Both engines are linked to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
Combined with a new lightweight body, the best word to describe the on-road performance of the Range Rover Supercharged is 'effortless.' The sprint from zero-to-100 km/h takes just over five seconds, making this is one of the swiftest SUVs on the planet, the most extreme and/or absurd cases notwithstanding.
The engine and transmission combination is very smooth; the speed is, of course, ready to be unleashed, but the overall demeanour of the Rover is more akin to that of a luxury cruiser than a purebred performance machine. On the open road, it is remarkably smooth, refined and controlled, particularly when its “off-road capabilities” are taken into consideration. (Credit to the completely revised adaptive air suspension system.)
The transmission and lightweight structure produce some fairly stunning improvements in fuel efficiency: the new model s expected to show a 9% gain. If economy isn’t the aim, the transmission can be manipulated via the standard paddle shifters. With its high seating position, generous glass area and solid overall feel, this premier SUV is an extremely enjoyable ride that is capable of delivering hours of quality drive time.
But, as has been the case over the past 65 years or so, the true measure of any given Land Rover is not how well it performs on-road, but how well it performs off-road. Rest assured, the new Range Rover is more than up to the task – nothing short of amazing when it comes to time to hurdle obstacles in the road – it's no shrinking violet, no pseudo-SUV better suited to opera duty, no pretender that is, under the skin, all show and no go. Oh, no.
For the off-road portion of the drive event, the Land Rover took us to what can only be described as the most remote spot in the continental United States – a barren stretch of land just across the Arizona border into southern Utah.
We veered off the lightly-beaten path and onto an even less-used dirt road that meandered along the same kind of land that is familiar to visitors of the Grand Canyon. While we didn’t scale giant cliffs or power down massive drop-offs, we weren’t far off, either.
The off-road course took us four hours to traverse. (We were forewarned it would be a long day behind the wheel.) During these four hours, we encountered nearly every kind of weather pattern and all sorts of terrain: sand, snow, mud, sun, dirt, gravel, ruts and rocks... plenty of rocks.
While navigating this trail, we encountered three different spots where, to the untrained eye, the task seemed insurmountable. The first, a rocky incline followed immediately by a right-hand turn. The second challenge, an even more brutal rocky incline that featured a tighter, 90-degree left-hand turn in the middle. Third, a series of rock steps that looked all-too-ready, willing and able to punish the undercarriage of the Range Rover.
Approaching each of these obstacles, the sanest course of action would have been to turn back or find another way around. Yet, with the expert guidance of the Range Rover driving instructors, these climbs became a walk in the park before a visit to the opera.
Previous versions could handle these conditions as well, but the ease with which the new model clambered, ploughed and powered over everything in its path was downright amazing.
The previous terrain response system required the driver to switch among different settings depending on whether you were faced with sand or snow or rocks. The new, second generation version is fully automatic; its internal brain monitors conditions, wheel slippage and steering angle and provides the perfect style of power delivery to match the conditions.
We were in Lo range from the start of the trail and stayed there the entire time, but everything else about the drive was fully automatic. It’s worth noting the entire fleet of Range Rovers rode on showroom-ready all-season tires mounted on 20-inch alloy wheels; part of the trail was an extremely muddy section and the tread on the tires was not shedding any of it. It boggles the mind to think what this thing could do when fitted with off-road tires.
The new Range Rover possesses countless excellent attributes that I haven’t covered in the least, including the luxurious interior, wealth of entertainment options and plethora of active safety systems. These features are worthy of more specific mention, for sure, but suffice it to say they are merely the icing on what is a very tasty cake.
Perhaps there are other SUVs out there that could tackle similar terrain or offer an equal amount of versatility and sheer comfort when switching from on-road to off-road and vice versa. But I’d need to see it to believe it first. Until that time, the 2013 Land Rover Range Rover stands alone at the top of the mountain.