The Range Rover represents the top of the line for Land Rover. The current-generation Range Rover has been with us nearly 10 years, since the 2003 model year, yet it still feels fresh, it still feels like a superb vehicle, and it's still one of our favorite new vehicles. It's classy and luxurious, it's smooth, it's incredibly powerful particularly in supercharged form, and it is amazingly capable off road.
The 2012 Range Rover lineup includes a new top-line model called the Autobiography Ultimate Edition. Swathed in soft-feel semi-aniline leather, its four power-adjustable bucket seats flank a full-length console that incorporates a machined aluminum laptop table, a drink chiller, separate rear-seat climate controls and more. Two Apple iPads are linked to the rear-seat entertainment system. Oxford leather covers the door casings, dashboard, and steering wheel, and the wood inlays in the dash and doors is genuine Kalahari. Even the luggage floor is special, paneled like speedboat's deck in teak, with metal and leather detailing. Each Autobiography Ultimate Edition will be built to order, and only 500 will be sold globally.
2012 Range Rovers come with HD Radio and an iPod lead, and a new Towing Package is available.
The Range Rover's off-road capability is downright astounding, thanks to its Terrain Response electronic all-wheel drive and suspension system. The system includes Hill Start Assist and Gradient Acceleration Control. Range Rovers can scramble up rocky mountainsides, cross rivers and traverse mud bogs. They are easy to drive and instill confidence.
The Range Rover interior is rich and beautiful. There are premium materials everywhere you look and touch. The leather seats are tall and supportive in all the right places, and there is a nearly infinite amount of adjustment. The steering wheel carries buttons galore for cruise control, telephone and audio, two of which are up-down-left-right selectors for display and information functions. All the rotary switches on the instrument panel are hefty, and scalloped so they can be used with gloved hands. Options include power reclining rear seats and a 1200-watt harman/kardon sound system.
For 2012, the 5.0-liter V8 engine offers more power, now rated at 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Land Rover says it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 7.2 seconds. That is plenty fast for anyone in the real world, and plenty impressive for a 5700-pound vehicle. We found the engine beautifully smooth.
The Range Rover Supercharged model blows 510 horsepower out of the engine and gets to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. We found the performance of the Supercharged Range Rover scintillating. It's an off-road rocket ship, with 460 pound-feet of torque available for passing or towing.
All Range Rover models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission that's velvety smooth yet very responsive.
The Supercharged uses powerful six-piston Brembo brakes, which will slow the truck safely whether braking repeatedly down a curvy mountain road or coming to a straight, quick stop from high speed. Naturally, they're supported by a sophisticated anti-lock brake system that's behind Hill Descent Control and Gradient Acceleration Control. Both are features that enhance safety on icy streets, not just off road.
We've found few four-wheel-drive vehicles combine this level of acceleration and braking with a hushed, plush highway ride in a roomy cocoon of high-grade leather and wood. Whether crossing the Gobi Desert at night or negotiating Manhattan during the daily rush, the Range Rover is at ease.
After a moderate facelift for 2010 and new grille textures for 2011, appearance changes for 2012 are minor. Door handles and side grilles are now body-color, while all lamp clusters acquire gloss black backplates for sharper contrast.
The Range Rover design remains distinctive among SUVs, boxy and sleek at the same time, very classy.
It has the shortest possible front and rear overhangs to maintain its awesome off-road clearances. Modest fender flares are integrated into the steel fenders rather than tacked on.
Autobiography Ultimate Edition is distinguished by a unique, deeper front fascia that more sharply defines the lower air opening, wrapping body color around it rather than just over its top, as on the standard models. Matching upper and lower grilles go for the hot-rod Bentley look with a plain mesh that resembles, frankly, a chain-link fence in its texture, but with a brighter finish of course. The foglight nacelles are more prominent and bright-finished as well.
The trademark fender vents are accented with brightwork. Politely short sill extensions visually connect the front and rear wheels, suggesting a running board more than anything racy. Like the deeper front fascia, they are not unattractive so much as out of place on an ultimate off-roader.
Half a dozen different wheel styles are available, but the most striking features nine pairs of alternating thick and thin spokes (for 18 spokes in all), set tangentially to the hub. They look like they're spinning even when they're standing still. We prefer the more traditional styles.
The teak-plank cargo floor looks quite convincingly like the deck of an antique yacht or speedboat. The planking continues on the inside of the fold-down tailgate, so opening the tailgate enhances, rather than spoils, the effect.
The Range Rover interior is rich and beautiful. Premium materials are everywhere you look and touch. There's European leather on the headliner, pillars, and door casings. High quality satin black and natural wood trim adds to the sumptuous feel of the interior. The HSE offers Burr Walnut or Cherry wood trim and both are pretty. The Black Lacquer looks impressive when clean, but it quickly shows dirt and we prefer the traditional woods.
A 12-inch Thin Film Transistor screen replaces the usual instrument cluster. This screen displays the tach, speedo and other instruments virtually. The driver is able to move the gauges around on the screen for more convenient off-road operation. It's bright, clear, interesting and versatile.
The front leather seats are tall and supportive in all the right places, and there is a nearly infinite amount of adjustment. The steering wheel carries buttons galore for cruise control, telephone and audio, two of which are up-down-left-right selectors for display and information functions. All the rotary switches on the instrument panel are hefty, and scalloped so they can be used with gloved hands.
The window glass in the rear doors is laminated to enhance the silent running in the back seat. Power reclining of the rear seat, in addition to heating and cooling, is available.
The 710-watt, 14-speaker harman/kardon system that comes standard produces chamber-like sound. A 1200-watt, 19-speaker system is optional. The available rear seat entertainment system includes a 6 DVD changer, separate screens in the front seatbacks, and headphones.
The elaborate full-length console in the Autobiography Ultimate Edition incorporates, among other things, a small writing (or laptop) desk and a cooler with a slide-open top. Inside are holders for a couple of glasses (sized just right for cupholders that look as bright and solid as machined billet) and a bottle of your favorite back-seat beverage. It's really a striking bit of functional sculpture that looks, above all, convincingly expensive.
The Terrain Response system, controlled by a click-wheel on the console, allows the driver to select among six chassis setups, depending on the terrain being traversed. Height control allows the driver to lower the body of the Range Rover for easy entry of passengers or raise it for off-road clearance. A third control allows for locking the center and rear differentials for demanding off-road conditions or icy on-road driving. There is a separate switch for Hill Descent Control, the system that restricts downhill speed to 2 mph on any grade without touching the brakes. In any off-road mode, a set of icons is displayed on the TFT screen showing the front tire steering angle and the locked/unlocked differential positions, so the driver always knows what's what when driving off-road.
Using the height control to lower the Range Rover is a great aid when loading dogs and cargo.
All Range Rover models use the same compact 5.0-liter V8 that powers Jaguar sedans, with the latest technology including double overhead cams, 32 valves, variable valve timing, and direct fuel injection. The Range Rover engines are specially prepared to handle extreme tilts, water fording and extreme weather conditions.
The Range Rover HSE uses a normally aspirated 385 horsepower version with 380 foot-pounds of torque. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, a pace that's more than quick enough for safe passing. The engine sounds wonderful and feels blissfully smooth at full throttle, and is nearly soundless at cruising speeds.
The Range Rover Supercharged takes that engine and adds the latest generation of Eaton supercharger, boosting the power to 510 horsepower and 461 foot-pounds of torque. The acceleration leaps from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, which is hot rod territory, for this SUV weighing nearly three tons.
All models use a ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, which features Normal, Sport and Manual modes. We found it effortless and unrestrained, and it shifts quickly in response to throttle input. There's a two-speed locking transfer case that can be shifted on the fly.
The steering and suspension systems are nearly faultless, as long as you're not trying to treat the big SUV like it's a sports car. Lots of power-steering assist is needed for quick left-right moves at low speeds and off-road, but less is needed as speeds climb. The Range Rover is a tall, heavy vehicle, but it takes extreme maneuvers in stride. It works better to drive it in a stately manner.
We found the ride quality of the Range Rover HSE to be about perfect. The suspension uses electronically controlled air springs and shock absorbers. We found the HSE provided excellent handling and little body roll in corners, especially for a hefty truck that rides this high off the ground and has a high center of gravity. The ride is smooth and the steering response is good, if not sports-car-like. It's a wonderful mix of luxury, silence and serenity.
But it should be. Listen to all the things working for you: Dynamic systems include All-terrain Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Enhanced Understeer Control (EUC), Electronic Rear Brake Boost (ERBB), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Roll Stability Control (RSC), Hill Descent Control (HDC) and Gradient Release Control (GRC), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Gradient Acceleration Control (GAC). It's a lot of alphabet soup, but it all works together both to increase capability and to make up for occasional deficiencies in the driving department.
The Terrain Response system has five settings: Highway, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl. All you have to do is look out the windshield, assess the terrain, and select the appropriate setting. The Range Rover will drive accordingly, including setting the suspension height.
We also got to test drive a Range Rover Supercharged model. Just going down the highway, it was delightful. The huge tires are very quiet, and they combine with the electronically controlled air suspension and premium Bilstein Damptronic adaptive damping shock absorbers to deliver an extremely plush luxury-car ride, sampling the roadway 500 times per second and changing shock rates accordingly, each corner acting independently of the other three.
In consideration of its 140-mph top speed, the brakes on the Supercharged are big Brembos, with six-piston calipers in front. We found them extremely powerful, and very progressive and sensitive to conditions.
The 2012 Range Rover is luxurious, powerful, smooth, classy and extremely safe, with offroad capability that's off the chart and handling that's downright nimble for a 5700-pound truck. It uses a 5.0-liter V8 made by Jaguar, with an excellent 6-speed automatic transmission. The standard Range Rover HSE has plenty of performance. The Supercharged model makes 510 horsepower and blows your mind.
Sam Moses contributed to this report after his test drive of a Range Rover in Colorado; with Jim McCraw reporting from Eastnor Castle, England.