Frank S. Washington, Sat, 21 Jan 2012 11:12:18 PST
DETROIT - We're several months into the 2012 model year but when I got a chance to test drive an icon, it didn't matter that it was a 2011 model. I'm talking about the Range Rover. It wasn't the snazzy Sport or the new smaller Evoque or the brawnier LR4. I'm talking about a plain old ($80K) Ranger Rover.
My test vehicle was powered by Ranger Rover's base engine. That would be a 5.0-liter aluminum alloy V8 that made 375 horsepower and a matching 375 foot-pounds of torque. It was mated to six-speed automatic transmission.
Before I write anything more, this powertrain was one of the smoothest, quietest and subtlest applications of power that I've experienced in a sport-utility. And I say sport-utility not as saying but as a fact. One of two main character traits of a Range Rover is its world class off road capability.
It had a terrain response system with general, snow, mud, sand and rock crawl settings. My five-seat two row Ranger Rover sat high, very high. It had a 9.1 to 11.1 ground clearance. Without running boards, I almost had to climb into it.
Get this: For 2011 the Range Rover gained what it called Hill Start Assist and Gradient Acceleration Control. With the former, the vehicle retains the initial driver-generated brake pressure long enough for the foot to move from brake pedal to throttle without the car rolling backwards - automatically.
Gradient Acceleration Control is designed to provide safety cover on severe gradients when the driver does not have Hill Descent Control engaged. By pressurizing the brake system, GAC slows the car to a limit determined by the throttle position when the car is descending the slope in the driver's intended direction of travel. This includes descending the slope forwards in Drive, or rearwards in Reverse.
The word for these capabilities is engineering and that just a bit of it. Yet, when whipping around corners, making u-turns, abrupt stops and under hard acceleration, my test vehicle exhibited little body roll, nose rise or nose dip. According to Range Rover, that was because of its suspension system that controlled body motions through turns.
The Range Rover was a heavy vehicle because of its off road gear and full time four-wheel-drive system. Four-wheel-drive versus all-wheel-drive meant my test vehicle had a low gear for real off road running.
It weighed almost 5,700 lbs and it could tow more than 7,700 lbs. That weight translated into an awfully solid ride on smooth pavement. And the ruddy pavement I ran across here, the Range Rover's suspension tended to flatten out.
Although the Range Rover's ability to slosh through the woods or climb over mountainous rock strewn hills is almost unparalleled, its on road manners were superb. I maneuvered in parking lots, made lane changes on expressways and drove around city streets like I was driving a luxury sedan.
And that's the second characteristic of a Range Rover - luxury it's a class leader. When it came to my Ranger Rover's interior no expense was spared to paraphrase a line from a film.
My vehicle had cherry wood veneer that looked like planks of wood and 20-inch wheels. It had heated and cooled leather seats all round with blue piping. A rear seat entertainment system, DVD screens in back of the front headrest, a six disk DVD cassette, two headsets and it was portable. Bluetooth, push button start and stop, navigation system, voice controls, satellite radio and a premium audio system helped to fill out the compliment of creature comforts.
What's more, the craftsmanship that went into my test vehicle's interior just cannot be qualified. The passenger compartment of the Range Rover looked like a contemporary old world library steeped in tradition. When you open the door of a Range Rover, it looked like it was worth every penny of my test vehicle's $88,485 sticker.
The Ranger Rover is a benchmark for sport utility off road prowess and on road luxury. No manufacturer has come close to matching it craftsmanship. And the really scary part is that in a couple of years, Range Rover will put forth a new model and raise the bar - again.