There are few wheeled status symbols more potent than a British Range Rover, the elite of Land Rover’s on/off-road vehicles. Standard or stretched, it seems tailored on Saville Row, well-appointed, posh and awfully pricey.
TV audiences have gotten used to seeing Range Rovers purr through the gates of Buckingham Palace with Royals aboard. It’s a regal vehicle, then—clearly, the real deal.
The Range Rover is no pretender when the going gets rough, either. Land Rover driving instructors take enormous pleasure in plunging shiny, hundred-thousand-dollar vehicles into situations that most of us couldn’t even manage on foot.
Gluey mud, deep water, sand, rocks, fallen trees, frightening climbs and descents . . . a Range Rover simply stiffens its upper lip and carries on.
This goes for every model, including the pavement-chewing 510HP V-8 Sport and the long-wheelbase semi-limo.
All Range Rovers have full-time four-wheel drive and high- and low-speed gear ranges, plus air suspensions that rise for extra ground clearance or hunker down for better handling and aerodynamics at speed.
All Range Rovers also have Terrain Response, a bit of computer genius that modifies the going. Let’s say the vehicle is on packed snow or gravel, or just wet grass—a hard, slippery surface. The driver selects the snowflake icon on the TR dial and the following happens: Throttle response slows down and the gearbox automatically sets off in second gear (third in low range), to reduce wheel slip.
The electronic center and rear differentials go to higher preload settings, so they kick in sooner, and the traction control also goes on high alert—again, to cut wheel spin. In low range Hill Descent Control, which walks the vehicle down steep grades, is automatically engaged. And since it can be hard to tell where the front wheels are pointing on slippery surfaces, the dash screen shows exactly that. (Soon we’ll be able to “see” the front wheels virtually through the hood. But I digress.)
Other Terrain Response settings are for mud (extra start-off torque, more wheel slip to maintain progress, etc., etc.), sand (gentle throttle, then enough speed to stay on top, etc., etc.) and rocks (gentle throttle and shifting, constant light braking, high differential settings, etc., etc.). Or the driver can just ignore the TR knob and let the black box decide how best to proceed based on feedback. It even detects trailer electrics connected to the system. (Oh, right—we’re towing the camper!)
Call up “4x4i” on the Extra Features screen and watch the axles articulating independently, the differentials automatically locking and unlocking, and the water depth and incline angles changing—if you can tear your eyes away from the steep, deep, jagged or greasy terrain you’re traversing so casually.
When Land Rover introduced Terrain Response, in 2005, it seemed too good to be true. Was it just a sales gimmick? In fact, it is astonishingly effective, and Jeep and Ford have developed their own versions of it.
All Range Rover models have Terrain Response, but not all have a pavement mode called Dynamic Response.
This senses cornering and braking forces and adjusts the suspension to keep the body more level, at the cost of a bit of the plush ride. But one person’s plush is another’s wallowing.
Our Range Rover, without Dynamic Response, was unexpectedly vague in its street behavior. It leaned like a sailing ship in the bends and reacted to the brakes by seeming startled and then dropping its nose.
It felt like an out-of-condition heavyweight, not the new Rangie that has lost 800 pounds by going all-aluminum.
The weight loss showed up in other ways. Less mass requires less power, so the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 (340 HP and 332 ft-lbs) and the new eight-speed transmission not only moved the vehicle smartly, they did so at a rate of 27 highway miles per gallon and 22 in town.
If the office is willing to lease an $85,000 basic Range Rover for you, my advice is to ply your CFO with martinis until she agrees to a bit more for one with Dynamic Response instead. You’ll love the more modern road manners, and you’ll still be able to foil kidnappers by taking to the boonies at a moment’s notice.