I turned 16 in 1991, and that means that the first time I drove a Range Rover was in 1990. Yes, I was only 15-years-old. Let me explain. My friend's father was an editor at "Trailer Life" magazine and from time to time he'd get press cars. Typically 4x4s and typically the Livingstone family would go on camping trips and bring me along. In 1990 they took me and a Range Rover up to the Angeles National Forest, I had my learner's permit and my friend's father Bob was super cool (and by super cool, I mean that he let me drive a 40-foot RV when I was but 16). Not only was the Range Rover my first time driving off road, but it was my first time driving a super luxurious British SUV. And my first press car! Long story short, Land Rover's top offering has held a special place in my heart ever since. Which is why, 21 years later, when my beautiful wife informed me we'd be spending New Years Eve in Denver -- and we'd be taking Knuckles, our dog, so we'd be driving from Los Angeles -- there was but one vehicle that sprang to mind.
As happenstance would have it, we've also been talking about the big daddy Range Rover around the office quite a bit recently. First of all, the current, third-gen version is going away soon. Remember that it's now 2012, meaning that the BMW (BMW?) developed L322 model has been in production for one decade. A drop in the bucket for Land Rover products like the original Range Rover Classic -- 1970-1996 -- or the Defender -- 1983 and still going strong -- but for a luxury product that can easily top $100k ($102,820 for the Ipanema Sand colored beauty you see here), ten years is a very long time. But how do you replace a modern classic like the current Range Rover? With great difficulty. Put it like this, someone in Gaydon really has their work cut out for them. It will be a monumental task.
Second point of buzz, our former big bossman Angus Mackenzie is fond of saying that if he could only have one vehicle -- just one! -- he'd have a Range Rover. Why? Because it's the only car that let's you do everything you need to do. For instance, you could take it over cow-manure covered farm roads just as easily as you could take it to the opera. And should you roll up to the opera covered in muck and filth the valets will still park you up front. The Range Rover's luxuriousness rivals what you find in an S-Class, while it's off road chops are questioned by none. All without being very flashy, without screaming, "LOOK AT ME!" It truly is, says Angus, the go anywhere and do anything machine. Of course, Angus is talking about the one we can't get, the one he had when he was still in England, the one with a torque-laden turbo diesel 4.4-liter V-8 and an eight-speed transmission. However we do get, and Land Rover did deliver to me, a version with a supercharged 5.0-liter gasoline V-8 that just happens to make a butt-whooping 510 horsepower and a not insubstantial 461 pound-feet of torque. Would this steed be able to transport my little family safely and comfortably from Los Angeles into the late December wilds of Utah and then up over 11,000 feet before we finally reached Holy Denver? Let's just say that the answer is not surprising.
Day 1: Los Angeles, California to Green River, Utah. 646.2 miles, 16.1 mpg
Loaded the Range Rover (still love the little tailgate) and hit the road by 8:30 in the morning. Knuckles got to sit in her little bucket seat. As you might imagine, the power is just this side of ridiculous. As we passed Fontana, I thought back a couple of days to what she did at the track: 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and on through the quarter-mile in 13.7 at 104 mph. Good brakes, too (60-0 in 118 feet). However, on this crisp late-December morning, I don't find myself driving like that. Knuckles wouldn't like it. After a couple of hours we stop and I let the wife drive, the same wife who has driven a Jaguar XK-R Convertible and doesn't remember doing so. In other words, cars aren't her bag. As for the Range Rover, she likes the seat heater and keeps finding herself unintentionally flirting with triple digit speeds. Like I said, fast.
I, on the other hand, like cars. I find myself growing fonder and fonder of the Range Rover with each passing mile. I like it because it's comfortable in its own skin. Unlike the Porsche Cayenne, the big Rover isn't pretending to be a sports car. And unlike the Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator, it's not a $30k millionaire. Meaning, it's not just a cheap truck pretending to be a luxury vehicle. And unlike the Mercedes-Benz ML or the BMW X5, it doesn't feel like a car developed to cash in on a hot, trending segment. And yes, I'm fully aware that BMW helped develop this particular Range Rover when the Bavarians briefly owned the British make. No matter, as the Range Rover feels authentic, like a Victorinox army knife or a Rolex Datejust. The Range Rover not only makes no excuses for itself, it doesn't need to. It is justified.
It's quiet. The Range Rover isn't artificially muted like a Lexus where all noise is banished. No, the Range Rover is just a quiet, pleasant place to spend some time. My wife and I took turns reading "The Great Gatsby" to each other and even with the cruise control set at 90 mph (and the Escort Passport 9500ix set to stun) normal speaking voices were all that were needed. The connectivity is also quite good, a necessity on a long road trip. At one point we had the aforementioned radar detector plugged in, my iPhone via a dedicated iPhone plug, her Droid on a built in USB jack and had another USB plug charging an iPad while we used the Droid's aux out to listen to Howard Stern on Sirius/XM (for whatever reason -- I'll assume money -- Land Rover doesn't bother hooking up the satellite radio, so we used a phone). There's even more places to plug doodads into in the back seat. I also like how big the windshield and side windows are. Unlike most tank-like modern SUVs, you can actually see out of the Range Rover, a trait I hope doesn't get forgotten about when the replacement arrives.
The drive through Las Vegas, the northwest corner of Arizona and southern Utah is fairly uneventful. My wife just followed the 15 until we stopped for gas in St. George, Utah and I resumed driving. Two little things about the car began to annoy me. For whatever reason, I couldn't get the car to talk to my iPhone, so all calls were handled via crummy Apple speakerphone. The second was that there's no altimeter. Most GPS-enabled navigation systems have an altimeter - the Mitsubishi Outlander GT for instance - has one built in. Not the Range Rover. Luckily I have an altimeter app on my phone, but still... Once we turned due east onto I-70 I knew we'd be getting up to some fairly serious elevation (though nothing like what we'd find in Colorado) and was curious to see if the altitude effected the muscular force-inducted V-8's performance. Flying uphill at night we passed a sign indicating a 7800-foot summit. Only the pressure changing on my eardrums hinted at how high we were. I don't even think the supercharged Range Rover noticed.
Day 2 Green River, Utah to Denver, Colorado. 331.7 miles, 15.3 mpg
One thing that half annoys everyone that drives Land Rovers is the fuzzy vision you get from the heated windshields. If you've never driven one, there are several dozen tiny wavy lines that run vertically down the windshield. Most of the time you can't see them, but if you're wearing polarized sunglasses you seen some color distortions coming off the heater lines. It's almost a rainbow effect. The heated windshield also hurts night visibility, especially when there's traffic going the other direction. But here's the thing -- I've always driven Land Rovers in California conditions. Sometimes it gets as cold as 48 degrees! On the way to Denver we got nailed in a fast moving blizzard and the temp dipped below 20. For the first time ever I flipped on the heated windshield and not only did the rapidly accumulated slush melt away, but the damn radar detector popped off the windshield! Love those lines!
Blizzard or no blizzard, we stayed comfortable, even when we got stuck in an hour-long standstill at 11,00 feet above sea level. There was a single car fatality and the highway patrol shut the 70 down just west of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Well, comfort is a relative term. Technically, the idling Range Rover kept us at the proper temperature while we sat waiting, even though the thermometer showed 21 degrees. However, 11,000 feet is a killer and poor little Knuckles was just not having it. I hopped outside to grab a photo of the traffic jam and was out of breath by the time I jumped back in. But that's not the Range Rover's fault. Also, before we wound up stuck, the Range Rover didn't even seem to notice the mud and snow on the interstate. Once the wreck cleared, we made Denver in no time flat.