Driven: 2013 Land Rover Range Rover HSE
By Brandon Turkus
January 30, 2013
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—Canyon Point, Utah
Any time Land Rover releases a new vehicle, it has its work cut out for it. With only five models in its lineup (LR2, LR4, and the Range Rover trio), even a small misstep can have long-lasting consequences. That’s doubly true when the new vehicle happens to be the brand’s flagship offering. This is partially down to the fact that a new Range Rover is hardly an everyday occurrence.
This is only the fourth ground-up redesign in the Rover’s 43-year history. The original Range Rover, affectionately called the Classic by enthusiasts, remained on sale for 26 years. It was the vehicle that introduced the Land Rover name to the United States in 1987. Despite its fervent following, though, the Classic isn’t the vehicle we think of when the name “Range Rover” comes up. That’d be the third-generation SUV.
While it was always a luxury vehicle, capable of equally epic performance regardless of whether it was on a trail or tarmac, it wasn’t until the third-gen Range Rover came along that it established itself as the premiere luxury SUV. It was much more refined and luxurious than the previous models, boasting tech that was scarcely imaginable when the Classic debuted in 1970. More importantly, it performed better than ever.
It was the first Range Rover to use the excellent 5.0-liter, supercharged V-8 from sister company Jaguar. It was also the first Range Rover to utilize the revolutionary Terrain Response System. In short, it’s the vehicle that brought the Range Rover name into the 21st century.
So how would you feel if you were tasked with following that up? Exactly. But there’s much more than history to worry about when redesigning a Range Rover.
Land Rover fans, and in particular Range Rover buyers, are some of the most fiercely loyal car customers in the industry, resulting in the Range Rover winning its fifth Polk Loyalty Award (for a luxury SUV) in a row. Much like the Mafia and mothers-in-law, you do not cross Range Rover fans.
And yet, Land Rover has managed to build in the fourth-generation Range Rover a vehicle that both acknowledges its own legend while delivering exactly what its fervent fan base demands.
During the design and engineering phase, Land Rover visited so-called “Super Loyalists.” If Land Rover fans were an army, the Super Loyalists would be the special forces. These are people who have purchased at least five new Range Rovers in their lifetimes.
To these people, Range Rovers aren’t just vehicles, they’re treasured members of the family, holding equal status with a beloved pet. If you’re designing a new Range Rover, these are the people you want to talk to.
What came back from a series of interviews was a guideline that informed the entire fourth-generation Range Rover team of what they needed to accomplish: “Don’t change it, just make it better.”
The fourth-generation Range Rover is better in literally every area; cabin design, exterior sheetmetal, powertrains, ride and handling, and even fuel economy. No stone has been unturned, and the result is not only the best vehicle in its class, but quite possibly the finest all-around vehicle money can buy.
The centerpiece of all this is not the engine, surprisingly. It’s the body structure, a 100-percent aluminum job that is 39 percent lighter than the third-generation’s steel structure and is 51 pounds lighter than the body structure of a BMW 3-Series. In fact, the change from steel to aluminum is largely responsible for new model’s 700-plus-pound weight reduction over the outgoing Range Rover.
No, that’s not a typo; Land Rover really removed over 700 pounds of body fat. Opt for the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8, and you’ll be driving a full-sized Range Rover that is 11 pounds lighter than a Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic. Of course, the Range Rover Supercharged adds on some extra weight, tipping the scales at 5137 pounds as opposed to the NA’s 4850-pound curb weight.
Still, the results of this diet are astonishing. The standard engine will scoot to 60 miles per hour in a none-too-shabby 6.5 seconds, while the supercharged car will get there in 5.1 seconds. Buy the Supercharged. Embarrass your friends in their Porsche Panamera S. Be happy.
While we’d love to say that this sort of performance is a pure product of weight shedding, the reality is that these two 5.0-liters do more than a bit of work. The standard Range Rover returns a respectable 375 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque, while the blown five-point-oh delivers 510 ponies and 461 pound-feet of torque.
Piloting the 5.0-liter is like having all the might of the British Empire at the command of your right foot (you know, back when the British had an empire). Power delivery is fast and direct, illustrating the spool-free nature of superchargers. It’s very impressive up to 60 miles per hour, but it’s at highway speeds where it really shines.
On our return to our hotel, we were traveling down one of Utah’s lonely roads, a bleak, uninhabited, two-lane stretch with huge mesas off in the distance. The speed limit sat at a liberal 65 miles per hour. One of the long-haul semis that traverse the region wasn’t quite up to our co-driver’s pace, so he unwound the blown V-8. The animated speedometer quickly climbed from 65 miles per hour to 110 by the time we merged back in front of the semi. We’d like to say that this is very quick for a full-size SUV, but it’s more accurate to say that the Range Rover Supercharged is just very quick in general.
While we enjoyed our brief fling with the more powerful model, the vast majority of our drive time was behind the wheel of the normally aspirated 5.0-liter in the Range Rover HSE.
It may be down 135 horsepower and 86 pound-feet of torque, but there’s still a real likable quality about this powerplant. The power delivery is quite linear and predictable. It’s a relatively high revver, delivering peak horsepower at 6500 rpms, but it sounds and feels quite good throughout the rev range. Peak torque is accessible at a reasonable 3500 rpm. As we were testing at altitudes ranging from 5000 to 7000 feet, we’re quite interested to get the new Range Rover down to sea level. Our guess is that this V-8 will feel a lot better when it’s got a bit more air to detonate.
While it’s easy to go on about 0-60 times and power deliveries, we’d be ignoring another big benefit of a lighter Range Rover: fuel economy. There’s a respectable improvement of five to eight percent with the supercharged mill, netting 13 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. If you’re worried about fuel economy in your Range Rover (we’re sure there’s one of you out there), then you’ll be more enamored with the standard 5.0-liter, which has seen an 11-to-14-percent improvement, for an estimated 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.
The other major area where we expected to see dividends on the aluminum investment was in the way the Range Rover handled. Traditionally, these aren’t what we’d call agile vehicles. Sure, they were competent, but you were always acutely aware of just how much heft was being flung through a turn.
Things are much better for 2013. The fourth-gen Range Rover features the fifth generation of Land Rover’s four-corner, air suspension. The fully independent suspension features aluminum elements, and Land Rover’s Adaptive Dynamics system. Adaptive Dynamics uses electronically variable dampers to deliver a tailored ride and handling balance, by monitoring the vehicle’s movements 500 times every second.
The result of this tweaking is a vehicle that inspires more confidence through the bends, thanks in large part to a reduction in body roll. Handling is more flat when turns are taken at sane speeds, but even when pushing hard, the new Range Rover responds well.
Vertical motion is very tightly controlled, although Land Rover hasn’t managed to completely eradicate squatting under hard acceleration. Especially evident in the Range Rover Supercharged, wide-open throttle will easily transfer a lot of weight to the rear suspension.
The flip side of a rather soft suspension is that the ride is supremely smooth. Ignoring the fact that the Range Rover is, in fact, an SUV, and not a slinky, four-seat coupe, this is a damn fine grand touring vehicle. You’ll need to go off-road to find a bump big enough to disrupt this air suspension. It really soaks up everything, delivering a smooth, refined passenger experience. We would know: we fell asleep riding in the back seat.
Somehow, though, the Range Rover walks the line between being isolating and communicating with its driver. On the more demanding portions of our drive route, it’s easy to feel weight transfer side to side, even though there’s not really an equivalent amount of body roll.
We’re beginning to see higher-end manufacturers build electric steering racks that still manage to deliver some semblance of feedback. In the Range Rover’s case, it’s still nowhere near what’s on offer from a traditional hydraulic unit, but feedback through the wheel is actually perceptible. On-center, it’s easy to feel the vibrations and different grains in the road. As weight builds on this adaptable tiller, feedback lessens, but by that point you’re moving along at a close enough proximity to the limit that the chassis is able to fill in for the lack of steering feedback.
Now, Land Rover hasn’t built a Range Rover in the model’s 43-year history that has not been immensely capable when the roads run out and there’s nothing but nature in the way, and it isn’t about to start with the fourth-generation Range Rover.
This new model boasts the second-generation of the groundbreaking Terrain Response System. We’ll spare you the details on all the different TRS modes (we give it a fairly in-depth look right here), and just say this: it works fantastically across a variety of surfaces.
For the second-generation of TRS, Land Rover’s built in an auto mode, in addition to the five standard modes (general, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, sand, and rock crawl). Auto draws information from the vehicle’s assorted sensors to calculate the type of terrain being traversed. It’s able to seamlessly integrate the five available modes to optimize the vehicle for the present conditions as quickly as possible.
Really, this is the next logical extension of TRS. The system was born due to the general buying public’s inability to figure out which situations warranted low range or a raised suspension. It replaced all of those tricky buttons with the simple knob and its five pictographs, allowing people to look at the situation, and set their SUV up with the flick of a knob. TRS II’s auto mode dumbs things down further, not even requiring a turn of the knob. We’ve no doubt that a fair proportion of Range Rovers will never leave Auto.
And that saddens us, because those people are clearly missing the point of all the hard work Land Rover has done in making this the best Range Rover ever. While we used Auto for the first few sections of our off-road course, we eventually opted out in order to have exact control over the vehicle’s systems. Call us control freaks, if you must.
Our off-road course covered everything from slippery sand to very steep trails and rock faces. We even covered a few miles of muddy, rutted, two-track roads on the exit of the off-road course. Through the entire ordeal, the Range Rover never put a wheel wrong.
It’s quite easy to ramble about how well the Range Rover performs, but we’d be ignoring just how competent it is as a luxury vehicle. The interior, one of our favorite parts of this new model, is excellent.
With a clean, clutter-free design, it has an almost Apple-like design quality (an argument could also be made for comparing this cabin to a Rolls-Royce Ghost or Phantom…seriously). The dash is lined in fine leathers over almost its entire acreage. The center stack is cleaner than any past Range Rover, with a right-sized display. We’re glad Land Rover avoided the urge to fit an iPad-sized display here, as it really would overpower the cleanliness of the design. A simple and intuitive set of HVAC controls is situated below the display, surrounded by wood, while only the gear selection dial and the assorted off-road controls interrupt the wood and leather of the center console.
The steering wheel is large, but fitting for the size of the vehicle. It’s available in either full leather or a wood/leather split. Replacing the traditional Land Rover badge in the center of the wheel is a Range Rover badge, identical to what you’d find in an Evoque. The seats are finely balanced between support and comfort. There’s a solid range of adjustment options.
Audiophiles will be remarkably content in the new Range Rover, as well. Meridian provides three different stereos, with the crown jewel being a 1700-watt, 29-speaker (!) stereo. That’s only available on the Autobiography, though. The standard stereo is a mere 13-speaker, 380-watt setup, while an optional 19-speaker, 825-watt system is available on the Range Rover, HSE, and Supercharged.
Finally, riding in the rear seat of a Range Rover may be as good as being behind the wheel. With an extra 4.7-inches of legroom, you could put six-footers in every seat and not hear any complaining. The rear seats allow passengers to recline as well, allowing one to get very comfortable while being chauffeured about.
The 2013 Range Rover will be available in four different trims: the base model is just called a Range Rover, while the Range Rover HSE is the volume model. The Range Rover Supercharged and Autobiography round out the range. A base model starts at $83,545. The HSE tacks on $5000 to that, while the Supercharged noses in just below six figures, at $99,995. Meanwhile, the whole-hog Autobiography will run a cool $130,995.
Part of the issue with drawing up competitors to the Range Rover is the broad swath that it cuts through the market place. Land Rover listed the following vehicles as competitors to the 2013 Range Rover: Mercedes S-Class, Bentley Continental Flying Spur, Rolls-Royce Ghost, BMW X5, Audi Q7, Land Rover Discovery/LR4, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Lexus LX, Audi A8, and Jaguar XJ. Those vehicles each delivery luxury, technology, capability, and style in varying doses.
The Range Rover, meanwhile, features each of those characteristics as standard, and in equal or greater quantities than the competition. Land Rover hasn’t just built a vehicle that lives up to its own legend; it’s built a vehicle that is wholly capable of being remembered as the very best of the breed.
2013 Land Rover Range Rover HSE
Engine: V-8, 5.0 liters, 32v
Output: 375 hp/375 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 6.5 sec
Weight: 4850 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 14/20 mpg
Towing Capacity: 7716 lb
Base Price: $88,545
On Sale: Now