When a brand can embrace its heritage and simultaneously reinvent a product to improve both performance and luxury, we're impressed. In the case of Land Rover's 2013 Range Rover, we're blown away. Anyone can appreciate the on-road luxury of this vehicle, but sadly few might really push its off-road capability to the limits as we did on a recent drive through Hog Canyon in Kanab, Utah.
The fourth generation Range Rover stays true to the design lineage started in 1970 when the model debuted. The high-waisted mid-section and nose-to-tail proportions remain almost unchanged, but a new slightly sloping roofline and tapered rear end are distinctive updates to this model—the first redesign since 2002. "We don't design iconic vehicles, they become iconic over time," remarked Simon Turner, Product Manager for the new Range Rover while discussing the evolution of the vehicle's distinctive design.
While the overall appearance and utility of the new Range Rover are evolutions on the previous model, the attention to materials represents a larger leap forward. Sustainability can be seen throughout: all of the premium leather comes from a low-carbon leather supplier from Scotland, each vehicle uses over 6,500 bottles worth of recycled plastic and the car is 95% recyclable.
The new Rover's performance improvements begin with its foundation. Literally. The vehicle's frame is 100% aluminum and up to 900 pounds lighter than the previous generation—one of the factors contributing to its 8% improvement in fuel efficiency. An all-new 6-piston Bosch braking system, improved independent suspension with over 23 inches of wheel travel, increased off-road clearance heights and a water wading depth of three feet contribute to the most capable luxury SUV we've ever seen.
Our drive day began with a winding 130 mile jaunt through deserts, canyons and snow-covered pine forests from Canyon Point to Kanab for lunch. On the highway the 510 horsepower Supercharged V8 engine was a gentle beast quietly performing but ready to pounce at a moment's notice. Despite the lighter frame, the new Rover held the road tightly—even the 18-wheelers passing in the opposite direction were unable to make it flinch.
After lunch the off-road portion of the day began. Joined by a team of instructors from from various Land Rover Experience schools we entered Hog Canyon, a public park that included 4x4 trails featuring sand, snow, mud and boulders. We began by testing the new Range Rover's automatic Terrain Response system, which samples road conditions 100 times per second and automatically changes driving mode for the best possible performance, a great feature for drivers more attracted to the luxury than performance.
To really understand how the vehicle tackles obstacles we switched Terrain Response to manual mode. The settings include "Grass, Gravel and Snow, Mud and Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl." Needless to say, we used them all. Our instructors were in and out of the cars to both teach us the best off-road driving techniques and expertly spot and direct the handling of certain obstacles. Though the commanding posture of a Rover's driver's seat offers great visibility, sometimes coming over the top of a boulder with your nose in the air means all you can see is sky. Fortunately the 360-degree view cameras help you see the ground and in-dash graphics show you exact wheel articulation and the status of the Rover's variable differential locks.
After several hours of incredible driving we came to the muddy end of the trail. Coffee and treats were waiting and the Rover's split tailgate made for perfect seating. On the drive back to the Amangiri, our gorgeous home-away-from-home for this trip, we enjoyed the phenomenal Meridien sound system and the in-seat massagers, a satisfying contrast to our mud-filled boots and filthy vehicles.
Images by Josh Rubin, see more in the slideshow