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.
Day 3 Central City to Boulder. 184.6 miles, 15.8 mpg
Today we decided to head into the hills West of Denver, check out some old mining towns, do some off-roading and return to Denver by way of Boulder. In the process we would cross the Continental Divide, just like executive editor Ron Kiino did in the blue Lotus Evora (and like Mike Shaffer and I did in the Caddy CTS-V Wagon on the Great Midwestern Beer Run). Once again, the Range Rover's supercharged engine didn't so much as flinch when faced with hauling it's own near 3-ton self (5794 pounds!) plus three adults from Denver's mile-high elevation up to Central City's 8,500 feet. And unlike an Escalade or even an Evoque would have looked, the high dollar Range Rover didn't stick out as ostentatious, even in a decidedly quaint former mining town like Central City. Then we went up.
Up into the hills above Central City in search of some snow and bad footing to test out the Range Rover's legendary all-wheel drive prowess. As you may have already determined, snow and ruts and inclines didn't slow the big Rover down. Being a party of one vehicle, we didn't do anything too wicked crazy, but we still couldn't even get the Range Rover to break a sweat. I jacked up the air suspension into high mostly because why not, but also to get a better look at the truck's borderline comic wheel articulation. Something cool that I learned: one tug on the switch raises the suspension to its full 2.4 inches above standard (well, in the front -- the rear of the Range rover "only" raises up 2 inches). But what if you need more clearance? Not a problem, just keep your finger on the rocker switch and the air suspension will give you another inch. Cool. This can go the other way as well. The Range Rover features an access height that lowers the truck by about 2 inches. However, if you want to go lower you can keep pressing and the Range Rover will drop another inch. Of course, you can't drive when the vehicle is this low.
Once back onto the paved stuff, we went as high up as 9,000 feet when crossing the Continental Divide. We also hit a fairly frightening patch of ice that was the first and only time during the trip where the Range Rover felt like anything other than a well-fed mountain goat. As a result, I made the not-at-all-like-me decision to slow things down. In fact, it was right at the moment that my friend was telling me how good the roads we'd be approaching were and me saying no, I think the conditions are too treacherous for spirited driving, that I got pulled over by the Nederland PD. 45 mph in a 25 mph, ouch. Of course, I could have argued that I got caught going 45 mph in a speed trap. But, I didn't, and I think because I was honest and just said, "You got me," I was given a warning and let go. Thanks Officer Smith!
Day 4 Denver, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada. 719.3 miles, 16.3 mpg
Day 5 Las Vegas, Nevada to Los Angeles, California. 260.6 16.1 mpg
This is the rather uneventful section of our journey. Even more so than the trip out to Denver, the plan for this part was to get home as fast as possible. Luckily, the Range Rover is happy to cruise at 90 mph all day long. And since much of the 15 in Utah features an 80 mph speed limit, we weren't even breaking the law all that much. Besides, I had a rough New Years Eve, so the wife did much of the driving while I dozed. But just like every other moment spent in the Range Rover, all three of us (don't forget Knuckles) were swaddled in luxurious comfort the entire time. The Range Rover, no matter how you slice it, is one of the absolute best vehicles on the road. Or, for that matter, off it.
As to Mr. MacKenzie's claim, that if you can only have one vehicle in which to do everything, it would be the Range Rover, well... If 2142.4 miles in five days is indicative of anything, I'm very much inclined to agree. Expect for one thing -- the gas mileage is borderline grotesque. I think it's high time that us American types get our hands on that diesel.
Total Miles: 2142.4
Total mpg: 16.1 mpg
(some photographs were snapped by the double post-op Murilee Martin)