Off-road Review: Range Rovers Rocky Mountain High

Testing Range Rovers at 14,000 Feet

Mark Williams
Nov 18, 2010
The air is pretty thin at 14,000 feet. But that's where we are with a group of Land Rover 4x4s, pushing the vehicles (and their drivers) to the limits. And what better place to do that than on some of the most dramatic trails surrounding the high-elevation mining towns of Telluride and Ouray in the Colorado Rocky Mountains?
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Day 1: Imogene Pass
Land Rover LR4
Our first day was spent in a 2011 LR4 that's, admittedly, not much different for 2011. Most of the LR4's big changes happened last year when it got a new engine, new transmission mapping, and new suspension capabilities.
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Imogene Pass is our primary destination, which, as the topo maps indicate, sits at 13,114 feet above sea level. And with the exception of a few dramatic sections where the trail is only as wide as the vehicle we're driving, the road to the mountain pass is without drama. The naturally aspirated all-aluminum V-8 produces 375 pound-feet of torque and 375 horsepower at sea level, but on our climb to Imogene Pass, these numbers drop dramatically. The typical rule of thumb is a power loss of 3 percent per 1000 feet of elevation rise. That calculates to about a 40-percent decrease in overall power. But nobody would have known it, because we were all in low range, averaging between 5 and 7 mph. We had all the torque and climbing power we needed.
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It's worth noting that this new 5.0-liter V-8 (also used in the Jaguar lineup) received a few modifications that make it more Land Rover-appropriate. To begin, there is some serious waterproofing to key components like the alternator, air conditioning compressor, starter motor, and power steering pump. Additionally, the oil pan was modified and beefed up to deal with more extreme tilt angles, as well as a few expected rock hits.
Although the climb to the top of Imogene Pass from Tomcat Mine was clean enough for a Subaru Outback to make the trek, we took comfort in knowing we had Land Rover's Terrain Response 4x4 system. With it set in Rock Mode, we climbed to the weather-worn mountain tops of Imogene. We discovered the altimeter in our LR4 goes up to only 10,000 feet. During our descent from Imogene Pass, we found playing with the Surround Camera system was pretty interesting-and distracting. It works with cameras on the front bumper, side mirrors, and tailgate, but when put all together on the single nav screen, it gives you full access vision to everything on the trail around you. The problem is that the information doesn't help the driver, who is looking out the front window and checking the mirrors. Still, being able to see any obstacles in front of all four tires, and to scroll up and down, right or left, is impressive. (There has to be a way of combining this with Nissan/Infiniti's top-view computerized system to get this vehicle to rock crawl all by itself.) The remainder of the trail ride followed Imogene Creek down the mountain, back into the treeline, eventually into the small, old-world mining town of Ouray.
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Day 2: Black Bear Pass Range Rover HSE/SC
Heading out of Ouray, the 550 Highway is a spectacular high-mountain, two-lane road with many dangerous corners and steep drop-offs, all without guardrails. It provided us with ample time and opportunity to test out the chassis dynamics of the 2011 Range Rover. Unlike the LR4 (built on a ladder frame), all Range Rovers are built on unique reinforced unibody chassis that offer surprising stability for such tall and solidly built vehicles. The standard four-corner airbag suspension is impressive through hard-cornering acceleration as well as aggressive braking. However, we had the most fun in the supercharged Range Rover, where the 5.0-liter V-8 is rated to produce 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque. That's combined with an advanced Adaptive Dynamics program that continuously monitors and adjusts each air spring to provide the flattest and smoothest ride possible. The system's predictive capability allows it to prepare and deliver the perfect suspension settings based on steering input, throttle position, and brake force, over a set period of time. It's about as close to a harmonious integration of all the powertrain systems as you can get in a vehicle. And the same software and sensors that provide the Range Rover with confident street dynamics are programmed to provide the most traction and 4x4 capability at much slower speeds as well. Wwe put them to the test heading up Mineral Creek trail, past Engineer Mountain, and to Silverton for lunch.
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Then it was on to Red Mountain Pass up Highway 550, named the Million Dollar Highway. At Red Mountain, we found our Black Bear Pass trail cut-off and headed up a series of switchbacks and rock climbs. We had best results by leaving the transmission in Drive while in Rock mode on steeper uphills, allowing the vehicle to make the best decisions, then knocking the shifter to manual mode downhill to keep the vehicle in the lowest gear possible. Black Bear Pass is dramatically beautiful, cresting through several tall peaks at 12,840 feet, then hugging the bare, steep banks of the mountains to Telluride. Between mountain gaps, you can see the town of Telluride with the single runway of the airport just above it.
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The path narrows, diving over a steep wall where the trail, barely wider than the vehicles we are driving, is a series of rock ledges and stairsteps. Even worse, the elevation drop here is so steep, trail builders were only able to cut switchbacks into the hillside in order to make the route navigable. There are 12 switchbacks cut so tightly that each 4x4 has to make three- or four-point turns. That may not sound difficult, but it's a 2000-foot drop if you don't do it exactly right. Nobody died on our adventure over and down Black Bear Pass, but the stories of those who have are out there.
Among our favorite features of the Range Rover, the Thin Film Transistor 12-inch gauge screen tops the list. Not only does the LCD screen give you a unique overall look at the gauges and vehicle information, but it modifies and adjusts the information depending on what kind of driving you're doing. However, as advanced and programmable as the system is, we still couldn't find any way to check our exact tire pressures, which was annoying as there was a small leak in one of the front tires.
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Pricing for the Land Rover LR4 and Range Rover is at premium levels. In fact, for 2011, the LR4 starts at $48,500 and can easily get up to $60,000 with a few option packages. Range Rovers have a base price just under $80,000, while supercharged models start at a tick over $95,000. Add $21,485 if you want the new Autobiography Black option package. Range Rover Sport models are little more reasonable, starting just over $60,000 with supercharged models base-priced at over $75,000. These are expensive vehicles that are oddly at home and confident on some of the most remote and dangerous terrain found, but there is a price to be paid. Still, what you get for your money is impressive. Maybe that's why these vehicles typically lead their segments.
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2015 Land Rover LR4 Specifications

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Fair Market Price $50,034
MSRP $50,400
Editors' Overall Rating
Mileage 15 City / 19 Highway
Engine 3.0L V6
Horse Power 340 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque 332 ft lb of torque @ 3,500 rpm
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