The launch of a new Range Rover is ALWAYS an important occasion. Since the inception of the original luxury SUV in 1970, there have only been three new models. So this fourth generation represents a major milestone for the small, specialized, British carmaker, especially arriving in its 65th year.
Unlike larger manufacturers that offer annual model updates and short vehicle lifespans, the cycle of any Land Rover is practically glacial by comparison. The original Land Rover, that would later become the Defender, has essentially seen only four generations since it was first produced in 1948. So any new Land Rover model has a lengthy gestation period, allowing the engineers to fine-tune the product.
And while new models like the Evoque may appeal to a fresh audience, a Range Rover has 43 years of expectations to live up to, and a diverse group of buyers to please. It must be luxurious and comfortable, dependable and practical as well as ridiculously capable off-road.
The original Range Rover, now known as the Classic, boasted coil springs, discs brakes and 100mph capability - unheard of for off-road vehicles. It also brought a level of luxury and sophistication that was previously unseen in this segment. That intriguing mix would establish the Range Rover as the benchmark, with competitors still unable to match its all-round versatility.
Our expectations are the same 43 years later. We want it to be capable on the freeway, make a statement at a swanky restaurant, traverse snow-capped peaks and conquer impassable terrain: a tall order for any other vehicle but the basic requirements for the 2013 Range Rover.
We also expect a new Range Rover to be groundbreaking, and Land Rover didn't disappoint. Its new aluminum monocoque, body panels (first used on the Land Rover in 1948) and suspension components, for example, shed a whopping 700 lb compared to the previous generation.
Testing a vehicle of this magnitude brings its own challenges. We'd have to reach beyond our usual canyon roads and test tracks to put this car to the test. But if the new Range Rover is truly capable of the impossible, perhaps it could help us find the improbable?
Our plan was to take the $99,995 2013 Range Rover Supercharged and find Bigfoot. It would involve 250 freeway miles and almost 100 miles of challenging mountain passes to reach Prescott in northern Arizona. There we'd meet our local guide and Bigfoot researcher, Tim Zamiski from the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, who'd assist us in our quest.
With these mythical creatures only found in remote mountains and forests, the final leg of our journey would involve miles of rock-strewn dirt trails reaching deep into Prescott National Forest. Here we could test the Range Rover's legendary ground clearance, approach angles, wheel articulation, traction and Terrain Response system. It seemed like the perfection plan.
Getting to Prescott was a straight shot down the 10 Freeway from Los Angeles but like the Boy Scouts, we always want to be prepared. So we crammed the Range Rover and a borrowed 2012 Range Rover Sport full of video, photo, camping, clothing and survival equipment. We had towropes, sand tracks, shovels, night vision, Flir thermal vision, tripods, water and firearms.
The latter were courtesy of our military liaison, CW2 Brady A Cloward UTNG AVN who was along for wildlife protection and entertainment. About to embark on his fourth tour of the sand box, we knew he was accustomed to searching for an elusive adversary.
Smart enough to master a Blackhawk helicopter in order to liberate himself from the gun turret of a soft-skinned Humvee, Brady was also familiar with the terrain, having grown up near our location. As an accomplished hunter, we hoped he wouldn't run screaming from the undergrowth at the sound of the first cracking twig in the middle of the night!
As it turns out, Brady also knew a man with some night vision goggles that proved a useful addition to our inventory. He wouldn't let us use his Army-issued NVG, but claimed the civilian versions were almost as good.
We should also point out Brady's been a regular contributor to eurotuner.com, having built several project vehicles for us, in addition to reporting car sightings from the frontline. So with his ability to root out the unseen, light a decent campfire, engage the locals, and with skill behind a keyboard, Chief Warrant Officer Cloward was always going to be a vital part of the team.
We'd be joined by the aforementioned Tim Zamiski (more about him later), as well as Kenneth Thompson from our video department. Kenny would capture the action as it unfurled - we were hoping for Bigfoot footage to rival the legendary 1967 Patterson film, but it turns out we don't have cameras that work in the dark...
Rather than the usual bright colors seen on the 2012 Range Rover Sport, our example was finished in Ipanema Sand, making it more subtle without hiding its muscularity. Yet it shrank alongside the 2012 Range Rover in both dimension and stature.
While it looks considerably bigger than the outgoing T5 model, the new D7u Range Rover is only 1" longer. Yet its lower roofline and 1.6" longer wheelbase create the illusion of being considerably bigger. The same is true inside, where passengers get 4.7" more legroom and 2" more knee room.
Despite losing its square styling, the Range Rover maintains many of its 43 year-old features. These include the clamshell hood (which now acts as the intake duct, allowing an impressive 35" wading depth), split tailgate (made from composite, both sections are powered) and floating roof (thanks to black pillars).
The front-end retains its chunky, slotted grille but is dominated by the LED lighting that's distinctive both day and night. The new headlights resemble a camera lens, complete with appropriate lettering, and are one of a number of delightful details throughout the car. Other enchanting discoveries included "Range Rover" projected into the puddle lighting under the front mirrors, as well as a cool silhouette graphic of the car between the doors, but there are many more for you to discover.
There are 37 paint colors to choose from (ours was Luxor, an $1800 upgrade), which can be paired with either a silver or black roof. There are eight wheel designs up to 22" (ours was on stock 21"), and a panoramic roof (prompted by a 70% take up by Evoque customers) that can hold three times the vehicle's weight in a rollover.
The interior is a departure, eschewing the rash of infotainment and dynamic control buttons infecting most of the competition. Instead, Land Rover halved the number of buttons and switches, preferring rotary controllers for the transmission and Terrain Response, with a touchscreen for almost everything else.
You can specify three rear seats or two individual ones divided by a center console. And there are three levels of Meridian Audio, including "Ultimate 3D" which features 29 speakers and 1700 watts of power. Our test vehicle made do with an $1850 Premium system with 825W and 19 speakers, creating a surround sound stage with amazing depth and clarity.
We were also grateful for the $4150 Climate Comfort Package fitted front and rear. It included climate control, solar glass, a cold box in the console, reclining rear seats, heated/cooled seats front and rear, plus massaging up front.
With the Range Rover's 23-gallon tank, you can travel more than 430 freeway miles between fill ups, so the massagers undoubtedly keep you behind the wheel longer.
As a freeway tool, the 2013 Range Rover is enormously adept. The lack of noise, air carpet suspension, eight-speed trans and 510hp to power past distraction makes it a wonderful grand tourer.
Perhaps our only gripe was the odd on-center steering feel. Making small adjustments required a relatively big tug on the wheel, causing the car to over-steer and requiring you to correct the other way. This set up a weird swerving motion as you tried to correct left and right to get the car where you wanted it. This may have been caused by the new variable-ratio steering system that provides slower on-center feel.
Fortunately, the problem dissolved once we started ascending the mountain passes, with the steering feel improving and the new aluminum suspension coming into its own. Not only does it have independent suspension all round, with a multi-link rear, but it sits on air bags and has adaptive dampers as well as an active lean system called Dynamic Response. Along with huge multi-piston Brembo brakes, the Range Rover behaves more like a sports sedan than an SUV in tight turns. Although you never quite forget its height and weight, the car is surprisingly agile and again, its ample horsepower got us past slower, rather intimidated drivers.
In fact, we surprised a lot of road users who didn't seem to expect this small house to reach 60mph in 5.1sec and continue to 140mph (155mph on 22" tires).