Off-road driving is one of my passions, and I’ve taking the path-less-traveled over much of the United States, Mexico and Canada -- and even abroad.
Among my favorite vehicles to take on these expeditions have always been those made by Land Rover, a British brand born of that country’s need to access its once-huge empire, which spanned several continents.
The best of the Land Rover vehicles are the luxurious Range Rover, which have arguably the most capable off-road driving systems. But I will concede that most owners of the Range Rover have never gone off-road, and probably never intend to.
These awesome off-road vehicles are more likely to be found in a downtown high-rise parking garage or at the country club, rather than actually out on dirt, rock or sand tracks in the country.
That’s primarily because of their prices – which start at $83,495 (plus $925 freight) for the supercharged 2015 V-6 base model and run as high as $142,995 for the top-of-the-line supercharged V-8 Autobiography long-wheelbase model.
When you pay that much for a vehicle – even if that’s just chump change in your budget – you’re probably more likely to drive it where there’s little chance of exposure to the elements, rather than deliberately taking it somewhere rife with the elements.
For that, you could get lower-priced Land Rover vehicles with very capable off-road four-wheel-drive systems, too, beginning with the new 2015 Discovery Sport for $37,070, and the LR4 for $50,400. Those prices are well in line with many of today’s crossover utility vehicles – even non-luxury brands.
There are even two lower-priced Range Rover-branded vehicles: the two- or four-door Evoque, starting at $41,100; and the Range Rover Sport, at $62,600.
But if you want the best, and you can afford it, the models called simply Range Rover might be the ones for you. They are beautiful vehicles, but don’t let their good looks fool you. As refined and uptown as the Range Rover is, this is still a vehicle that can take you just about anywhere you could want to go – and some places you might never have even thought of going.
Our test vehicle was the Range Rover HSE, which is the base model plus the $6,500 HSE package. It was an amazing highway vehicle for a long family trip, but it was just as much at home when we left the pavement and traversed some well-maintained unpaved national and state park roads. Since we didn’t want to be the ones who banged up Land Rover’s expensive test vehicle, though, we stopped short of anything more rugged.
Under the hood of our HSE tester was the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine rated at 340 horsepower and 332 foot-pounds of torque. There are more-expensive Range Rover models with a supercharged 5.0-liter engine, rated at 510 horsepower and 461 foot-pounds of torque, but we didn’t need that extra power at all, even on some mountainous Interstate highways.
The HSE package brings such extras as 12-way power front seats, perforated Oxford leather seats (heated front and rear), Grand Black Lacquer interior wood trim, 20-inch alloy wheels, a huge panoramic sunroof, fog lights and power-folding/self-dimming outside mirrors.
What surprised me was the great fuel economy we experienced with the V-6 engine in our Range Rover. Over the years, I’ve driven V-8 powered Land Rover products that were real gas guzzlers. This is definitely not one of those. EPA ratings are 17 city/23 highway/19 combined, and on our road trip, we averaged just over 21 mpg. My car doesn’t do much better than that.
The engine is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Fulltime four-wheel drive with low-range gearing is standard on all models, which turns all of these vehicles into off-road beasts.
This newest generation of the Range Rover has lighter-weight all-aluminum construction, which, combined with the V-6 engine, helps give it better fuel economy.
Land Rover added the V-6 last year as the base engine, replacing the redesigned 2013 model’s standard normally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8. It produced 375 horsepower and 375 foot-pounds of torque, and had EPA ratings of just 14 mpg city/20 highway.
Inside and out, the Range Rover is one of the most-refined vehicles you’ll ever experience. They are built for comfort, and can accommodate up to five people. (The Range Rover Sport is available with seven-passenger seating, as is the LR4).
Top speeds are 130 mph for the V-6 models, and 140 for the V-8s, but just because Land Rover electronically limits them. Turned loose, they would go much faster.
The supercharged V-6 seemed even more powerful than the normally aspirated V-8, and it wasted no time getting the heavy Range Rover moving. It also offered impressive bursts of power for passing and accelerating up hills.
With the redesign for 2013, the Range Rover was all new. The exterior is lower and more-carlike, and the aluminum body weighs 700 pounds less than its steel predecessor. But even with the stylish makeover, the vehicle is still instantly recognizable as a Range Rover, as there was no radical restyling.
While we didn’t take our 2015 HSE tester into any serious off-road conditions, I previously tested the new Range Rover on some quite-rugged national forest trails in northern Arizona, where the vehicle proved its off-road prowess. It easily climbed steep and slippery slopes and slogged through mud, deep sand and even some snow, all while riding on street tires.
When driving off road in the Range Rover, the new terrain-response system does most of the work, automatically choosing the proper driving mode. The driver can choose the mode manually, though, among such settings as Mud/Ruts, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand, Rock Crawl, and General.
The Range Rover’s luxury is on par with that of some of the world’s most-expensive sedans, such as the high-end Mercedes-Benz S-Class models and even pricier cars such as the Rolls Royce and Bentley.
Standard seating in the Range Rover is for five, but there is an optional "executive" two-passenger rear seat that cuts the total to four. Our vehicle had the three-person rear seat, however, and we needed it, as we had five on board most of the time.
With the optional two-passenger rear seating, you’ll get reclining captain’s chairs that offer both massage and heat. Land Rover calls it "the ultimate in personalized rear-seat luxury."
To make the vehicle quieter, there is acoustic lamination for the windshield and door glass. The premium leather for the interior comes from Scotland, and wood for the cabin trim from "sustainable forests," Land Rover says.
The HSE’s cabin is roomier than that of the previous generation, with an increase of 4.7 inches in rear-seat legroom. The standard models are 196.6 inches long, while the new long-wheelbase models, introduced for 2014, are 204.7 inches long, giving them nearly eight inches more rear legroom than the regular version.
An aluminum suspension system was designed to give the vehicle more stability and better handling. It no longer has the top-heavy feel of the previous models, something off-road users will appreciate.
The Range Rover’s air-suspension system 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 height to allow for easier entry and exit.
Range Rovers can wade through water up to 35.4 inches deep, and have a maximum of 11.7 inches of ground clearance. We have a state park close by that has a road that runs through a creek, but it’s just a few inches deep, so we didn’t give the vehicle a real deep-water test.
Available are some awesome entertainment systems from Meridian, a noted British audio specialist. The top system offers 29 speakers and 1,700 watts of power, and costs $4,450 extra. The base audio system offers 325 watts, while the midlevel system ($2,150), included on our tester, cranks out 825 watts and has 12 speakers.
The two-piece rear hatch is now power-operated, and can be opened with the remote control for the door locks; only the top three-quarters opens automatically.
A 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 models offer 22 exclusive body colors.
Our tester also came with the Vision Assist Pack ($1,860), which brought the Terrain Response 2 system, an around-view camera system, blind-spot monitor, reverse traffic detection and adaptive headlights.
We also had the Tow Package ($900), with a full-size spare tire; an ebony headliner ($350); and the Range Rover Protection Package ($556, a dealer-installed option).
Total delivered price of our HSE V-6 tester was $96,736, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.
2015 Land Rover Range Rover
The package: Full-size, four-door, four- or five-passenger, V-6 or 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. For 2014, a supercharged V-6 engine replaced the base V-8, and long-wheelbase (LWB) models were added to the lineup with nearly eight inches more rear legroom.
Negatives: Quite pricey, even without options.
Engines: 3.0-liter V-6, supercharged; 5.0-liter V-8, supercharged.
Power/torque: 340 HP./332 foot-pounds; 510 HP./461 foot-pounds.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Length: 196.8 inches (standard); 204.7 inches (LWB).
Curb weight: 4,850-5,137 pounds.
Cargo volume: 32.1 cubic feet (behind rear seat).
Towing capacity: 7,716 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Fuel capacity/type: 27.7 gallons/unleaded premium recommended.
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/23 highway (V-6); 13/19 (V-8).
Major competitors: Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz G and GL, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade.
Base price range: $83,495-$142,995, plus $925 freight.
Price as tested: $96,736, including freight and options (HSE model).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.