Although it started out as a three-door utilitarian style off-roader, complete with vinyl seats and a hoseable interior, the Range Rover became a de facto premium vehicle in North America (and other markets) due to its premium price and its status as an imported vehicle. Over the decades since its release in 1970, the Range Rover has moved steadily upmarket, surpassing the Land Rover LR4 (nee Discovery), Defender (no longer sold in North America) and the LR2 as the king of the British SUV heap.
1. Starting at $78,835; 510-hp Supercharged models jump to $94,615 plus options.
2. For improved ride comfort and handling there’s an active damping Dynamic Vehicle Control system.
3. A Terrain Response system includes five modes: grass, gravel, snow, mud /ruts, sand and rock crawling, as well as a default tarmac setting.
4. If you want the luxury and the brand image but could do without the size, cost and fuel bills, the compact Range Rover Evoque will deliver all that for just $45,000.
And so we have the vehicle known as the Range Rover Supercharged, a monument to ostentatious motoring that stands out as a profligate urban tank favored by wealthy housewives, rappers and professional athletes, as well as plutocrats throughout the world. Is the Range Rover Supercharged a totally irrelevant vehicle in this day and age? Without a doubt, yes.
CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION AT ITS FINEST
Fortunately, the sheer excess of the Range Rover is part of what makes it such an awesome vehicle. From its aggressive front grille resembling an electric shaver to the slab-sided styling and 20-inch wheels, everything about the Range Rover says “I’m rich; you’re not, so get out of my way, plebian motorist.”
If the peasantry elects to throw rotten produce at you as you collect tribute from your serfs (or in this case, tenants, since only a slum lord can afford this vehicle), you will be ensconced in a cabin that could be described best as “opulent”. Our tester had a lovely chocolate brown interior, with the butter-soft leather accented by white piping and dark wood trim. The driving position is high (the better to lord over the masses), and the front seats come with a pair of armrests that were lifted from the First Class section of a Middle Eastern airliner.
Interior controls can be operated via well laid-out buttons on the center stack or through a touch-screen mounted above the stack. Unlike a number of touch screens, we found this one easy and intuitive to use, a welcome addition from the centrally mounted knob that other luxury brands require in order to navigate the vehicle’s various functions.
Like any proper British car, the Range Rover cheaped out somewhere, in this case with the digital instrument cluster, which looks like something from the original Gran Turismo games. Only a tachometer and speedometer are displayed in the default mode, with large blank spaces between both gauges. The whole unit seems like a total afterthought and considering the lengths gone to make the rest of the interior top-notch, it stands out as an oversight. Interior space in the rear seat and the cargo area is substantial, as one would expect for a vehicle designed to haul shotguns, dogs and other hunting accoutrements for the landed gentry.
EXCESSIVE IN ALL WAYS, ESPECIALLY UNDER THE HOOD
With 510 horsepower on tap from its Jaguar derived supercharged V8, the Range Rover Supercharged is in an elite league, alongside the Mercedes-Benz ML63, BMW X5M and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, other SUVs with absolutely no business having supercar levels of power. Unlike the Germans, the Range Rover is more sedate and less focused on world-beating performance. Instead, the supercharged engine is meant more as a status symbol to indicate the owner’s wealth, although the Rover moves forward with the kind of thrust usually reserved for jet aircraft. 60 mph comes up in 5.9 seconds, an incredible number for an SUV that weighs a hair under 6000lbs. Sure, other SUVs are faster, but what can you really do with all that power. The 6-speed automatic has a manual override function, but we never used it – there’s ample straight line zip for passing on highways, and you’re not going to be aggressively downshifting or taking corners at 10/10ths in this kind of vehicle.
Rather than bellowing like the mythical Kraken, the Range Rover lets out a restrained grunt as it moves down the road, free of supercharger wine or any noise but whatever music is on the harmon/kardon stereo. Bass heavy rap sounds particularly good when played on full volume, and we’re guessing Range Rover configured the stereo this way to appeal to one of their core constituencies – rappers and drug dealers. Fuel consumption is officially rated at 12 mpg in town and 18 mpg on the highway, but if you drive it even close to hard, expect those numbers to drop by about a third.
STATUS IN SPADES
Rather than take the Range Rover off-road, we decided to test in its true environment – the club district, full of chic restaurants and vapid nightclubs. The Range Rover succeeded in attracting attention from Ed Hardy types, as well as aspiring candidates for future seasons of “The Real Housewives”. We got a lot of looks sitting in traffic, but trying to park it in a tight spot outside of the trendy new wine bar proved to be difficult, even with a backup camera. “Where’s the valet when you need one,” we thought, quite at home in our newfound elitism.
On a trip to the local luxury department store’s underground garage, we nearly scraped the top of the Range Rover on a 6’6” barrier, until we remembered that the air suspension offered a so-called “access mode” designed to lower the car. Even with the vehicle dropped to the ground, getting in was treacherous, and we cringed as we looked through the sunroof to see the car clear the barrier by an inch.
Range Rover is set to introduce a smaller, front-drive based vehicle called the Evoque sometime in early 2012. Outfitted with the same level of luxury as the traditional Range Rover, along with a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, a more compact body and more car-like road manners, the Evoque should be the perfect Range Rover for the 21st century, substantially more efficient and manageable in urban environments. But who are we kidding? Nobody buys this car for practicality – they buy it to rub it in the face of others that they’re rich and you’re not. In that case, the $45,000 Evoque will never do, and only our $107,565 fully loaded model will suffice in the ruthless arena of social climbing.
The most apt metaphor we can use to describe the Range Rover Supercharged is by likening it to a visit to your friend’s new McMansion. The multitude of rooms, plasma TVs and stainless appliances is impressive to you and other guests, but the whole thing seems to exist merely to show off, and ends up feeling overly cavernous and empty. After a short period of time, the novelty wears off, and your own cozy home beings to feel more apt. We would probably be very happy with the smaller Evoque, and we certainly appreciate the novelty of driving the ne plus ultra of SUVs. But as far as ownership goes, we’re not really interested in Keeping Up With The Kardashians, or the fuel bills the size of Kim’s rear.