Rating: 9.3
Bottom Line:
It's easy to like the Range Rover and imagine one in our ultimate garage. It's one of few vehicles that would be just as appropriate for a night at the opera as an off-road adventure. The price of entry is quite high, but when you consider all the luxury and engineering wrapped up in this elegant package, the Range Rover is worth every penny.
Pros:
  • Most luxurious SUV
  • Unbelievable off-road
  • Power and more power
Cons:
  • Some highway float
  • Pricing is untouchable for most
  • Lack of a 7-passenger version

For most of us, the Land Rover Range Rover is a sign of excess. Who, after all, needs to spend $80,000 or even $100,000 on a luxury SUV? But the Range Rover is more than just a status symbol. It offers the luxury of a limousine, the cachet of the finest European sedans, the off-road capability of a billy goat, and a world of adventure. We had one of those adventures when Land Rover invited us to test the 2013 Range Rover in Grand Canyon country, where we found that the Range Rover is the ultimate luxury off-roader.

Model lineup
The new Land Rover Range Rover is offered in four trims. The $82,650 base trim comes loaded with all kinds of equipment, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, power split tailgate, 3-zone automatic climate control, heated power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, navigation system, satellite and HD radio, and P235/65R19 tires on alloy wheels. The HSE trim adds $5,000 to the price and adds 12-way power-adjustable front seats, perforated Oxford leather upholstery, heated rear seats, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, front fog lights and a panoramic sunroof.

The $99,100 Supercharged trim adds Dynamic Response active sway bars and P275/45R21 tires. The top-line Autobiography trim sells for $130,100 and adds features such as 4-zone automatic climate control, active parking, surround-view cameras, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled massaging front seats, heated and cooled rear seats with power recline, leather headliner, dual-screen rear DVD entertainment, tow-hitch receiver, blind spot alert and cross-traffic alert. Options over and above the Autobiography equipment include a locking rear differential, 22-inch wheels, a 29-speaker Meridian sound system, and an Executive Class Rear Seating package with a cooled center console, heated and cooled massaging seats, and rear controls that move the front passenger seat up to improve rear seat legroom. Whew.

Notable safety equipment includes a driver's front knee airbag, trailer stability assist, cornering brake control, roll stability control, rearview camera, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, gradient-release control, and front and rear park assist.

Under the hood
The 2013 Land Rover Range Rover comes with a choice of two carryover engines, both 5.0-liter V8s. The version in the base trim makes 375 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque, while the Supercharged and Autobiography trims get a supercharged version that cranks out 510 horses and 461 lb-ft of torque. Both are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability through a pair of steering-wheel paddles. Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates are 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway for the base engine and 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway for the supercharged version.

The Range Rover comes standard with a full-time 4-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing. The system constantly changes the front-rear torque split depending on traction. It also has the second generation of Land Rover's Terrain Response system that interacts with the engine, transmission, center differential, brakes and stability control systems to help the vehicle through various types of terrain. The system comes with modes for Grass-Gravel-Snow, Mud and Ruts, Sand, Rock Crawl, and a new Automatic setting that switches to the appropriate program based on terrain conditions.

Inner space
Aside from the Range Rover's elegantly brutish good looks, its luxury is most evident in its interior. Leather upholstery is standard and offered in three levels of quality, each more supple than the last. Leather covers not only the seats, but also the dashboard, door panels and, when ordered, the headliner. It is offset by aluminum and three choices of reclaimed wood trim.

It has been the goal of luxury automakers for years to reduce the number of buttons in their vehicles, allowing for a cleaner design. Land Rover has accomplished that with the new Range Rover. An 8-inch center touch screen handles the entertainment, communications and navigation functions, and it is far improved from past efforts from Land Rover. The controls are intuitive, easy to find and reach, and the system reacts quickly most of the time. We found it to be a bit slow to accept inputs when programming a navigation destination, but overall it works well.

Land Rover also replaces traditional gauges with a 12.3-inch high-definition screen that projects digital gauges. It features a speedometer and tachometer that flank a large information center usually dedicated to trip computer information. The information center also shows navigation directions when the vehicle approaches a turn and off-road information when low-range gearing is selected. The off-road readouts can also be displayed on the center screen, and they include graphics to show the steering wheel angle, suspension articulation, axle angles and center differential lock in one of three percentages. These graphics are very helpful when steering direction and wheel placement may make the difference between conquering an obstacle or possibly rolling over. We have two minor complaints with these screens. They both can wash out in direct sunlight, and the digital instruments lack the watchlike beauty of other high-end gauges.

Space for passengers and cargo is excellent. Thanks to the longer wheelbase and better packaging, rear-seat legroom is improved by 4.7 inches, allowing even tall passengers to be comfortable back there with adults up front. An optional Executive Seating package adds a rear center console for 4-passenger seating and gives a rear passenger the ability to move the front passenger seat forward to add even more legroom.

The rear seats fold down, either manually or through power controls at the rear of the vehicle, to open up 71.7 cubic feet of cargo space. In the interest of rear-seat comfort, the seats don't fold flat, and when the hard rear cargo cover is in place, there is just 19.4 cubic feet under it. While the Range Rover has a lot of carrying capacity, it's not as much as some of the larger SUVs that buyers may consider. We suspect that Land Rover will introduce an extended wheelbase version to add more cargo space, but company officials insist they won't offer third-row seating. That seems like a missed opportunity to us.

On (and off) the road
Both the Range Rover's on-road luxury and off-road prowess are improved for 2013. A new aluminum unibody structure cuts 400 pounds of weight, and the Range Rover drops 700 pounds overall. It's still heavy at about 5,000 pounds, and the high ride height gives it some minor float at highway speeds. It also flops from side to side in switchbacks, and the steering has more play on center than we'd prefer, though it is nicely weighted. The Supercharged and Autobiography trims have Dynamic Response active sway bars that limit body lean, reduce highway float and make the vehicle almost sporty.

A 4-wheel air suspension is standard, as is an Adaptive Dynamics system that adjusts the firmness of the shock absorbers based on road conditions. The result is a smooth, comfortable ride, even with the optional 22-inch wheels. The air suspension has a rather high standard ride height of 11.7 inches up front and 12.2 inches in the rear. When the gearing is set to low range, the vehicle rises three inches, and it lowers to 1.6 inches above the standard ride height when traveling over 30 mph in low range. An Access mode drops the suspension two inches to make it easier to get in or out, but the vehicle does not lower at highway speeds for improved aerodynamics or for a sport mode. We'd like to see a sport mode that would lower the center of gravity and make the Range Rover more agile.

Those off-road modes team with short front and rear overhangs and the Terrain Response system to make the Range Rover one of the best off-roaders on the planet. The TR system works with the vehicle's other systems to help it handle any kind of surface. For example, the throttle becomes more aggressive and the transmission holds gears longer in Sand mode, while those systems are dulled in Grass-Gravel-Snow mode.

Our test drive took us to Grand Canyon country in northern Arizona and southern Utah, where we climbed and descended steep hills, crawled over rocks, and traversed sand and mud. Even with its standard all-season tires, the Range Rover handled all of it. Too bad most buyers will never experience all that capability.

What all buyers will experience, however, is the Range Rover's willing power. The base engine has plenty of thrust for just about any need, launching the vehicle from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Still, the supercharged V8 engine is much quicker, with a 5.1-second zero-to-60 time, giving this special vehicle special power. Both engines emit a refined V8 burble that is hardly noticeable in the quiet cockpit, and both work well with the new, smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission.

Right for you?
With its $83,500 starting price, the Range Rover isn't for everyone, although some of us would like one in the driveway. While it will usually be purchased as a status symbol for well-heeled poseurs, we have much greater respect for wealthy buyers who will also use it as a window to an adventurous lifestyle.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.