We’re hovering somewhere around 10,000 feet, heading due north, as the pilot motions to somewhere in the distance in the Arizona desert. I’m on my way to the U.S. launch of the the fourth generation Range Rover, Playboy Magazine’s 2013 SUV of the Year, and in true Land Rover fashion, we were told that to best understand this iconic luxury brand, we must experience it from a typical customer’s perspective. We land in a small town near Utah’s Four Corner region; a line of the fourth gens waits patiently on the tarmac to take us to our final destination, Amangiri: one of the most remote, highest-rated resorts in the United States.
The new Range Rover fits well with the brand’s strategy to stay true to their roots as a purely SUV company—the world’s best. Range Rover has come to symbolize a certain type of lifestyle that goes beyond a luxury vehicle; in this case, it’s the thrill of adventure—getting dirty, launching yourself into the unknown.
On the second day of our expedition we embark on a nine-hour loop that will take us from the shores of Lake Powell in Utah through neighboring Arizona and into the Kaibab National Forest, its greenery sticking out like a sore thumb amid the massive shale foundations enclosing our path. I let the throttle go on my 550-horsepower V8 Supercharged variant; by and large you barely feel the thing pick up speed before you’re hitting 90 mph…that’s a 0-60 speed of just 5.1 seconds.
Compared to the outgoing steel-body model, which took about a second longer to hit the same speed, the new generation is an astounding 700 pounds, or 39 percent, lighter due to the all-aluminum unibody shell. This weight change not only makes the Range Rover a lot more fluid in its external design elements but also will have an effect on the CO2 emissions and overall fuel economy.
Dipping off the main road, we shoot onto a trail marked only with a rough wood plank scrawled with the name “Hog Canyon.” Several journalists ask if we are near the infamous polygamist compounds of southern Utah; we’re told with a laugh that we actually passed them a few clicks ago…and a few cameras disappear back into their bags.
Hog Canyon’s off-roading area, however, is well worth our attention; we shift our Rovers into the Grass/Gravel/Snow level of the Terrain Response 2 mode (an upgrade from the Range Rover Sport and Land Rover LR2 we tested last year) and allow the vehicle to raise itself about three inches using the enhanced air suspension system before launching it up a 70-degree dirt path into the wild.
As we wind our way higher and higher into the steppe formations, I shift the Rover’s ZF 8HP70 eight-speed automatic transmission into manual mode and allow the low-range 4WD to carry us through the bumpy terrain. When the trail did attempt to knock the Rover around, we were grateful for the not one but three levels of leather luxury in the cabin, which we’re told is sourced from a single select breeder in Scotland.
About 20 minutes into our grinding off-road test we hit the first in a series of challenges meant to really show what this vehicle is capable of. Unfortunately, three previous waves of journalists have literally destroyed the course over the preceding week, combined with some hot then cold weather, giving our lot the bottom of the barrel in terms of dry grip and an endless supply of mud streams.
If we judge success by the level of profanity spewing from writers attempting to navigate up the shale cliffs, then the new RR gets a stellar pass from all but a few who failed to listen to instructions. The real secret to allowing the computer under the hood to send the right directions to the wheels is almost like first-time sex advice: Take your time, slow and steady, and don’t get too excited or else you’re going to wipe out. In RR terms, this means keep your foot on the pedal, and when you start to get frustrated don’t stop on the hill or nail that pedal to the floor or there’s no chance you’ll make it up.
On the long desert road back to base, we took the reins on the standard 5.0-liter V8 HSE variant, which was still surprisingly smooth on the road. While it lacked the oomph of the 510-horsepower models, which contain 461 pound-feet of torque as standard, the 375-HP HSE is well within a range that a standard day-to-day driver would find acceptable. At 375 pound-feet of torque, we find it more than adequate, with a smoother acceleration.
There was just one vehicle we still needed to get behind the wheel of: the over-the-top Autobiography edition, which is the Supercharged model with every upgrade you can possibly imagine, from heated massage seats to exclusive wood and paint finishes, topped off with the world’s first car-installed 3D sound system which contains no fewer than 29 speakers from Meridian. For just $130,995, why not?
The title of Playboy’s 2013 SUV of the Year isn’t given lightly, and the 2013 Range Rover exemplifies the lifestyle from its owners to its engines, and most importantly its distinctively powerful performance and its truly remarkable driving experience. That’s really what you get from the world’s most successful SUV producer. The biggest problem to tackle now is which Bunnies we should take along for the ride.
The 2013 Range Rover lineup includes:
Range Rover: $84,545
Range Rover HSE: $88,545
Range Rover Supercharged: $99,995/$114,750 CAD
Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography: $130,995/$144, 000 CAD
Check it out now at landroverusa.com and landrover.ca