The Land Rover name is synonymous with off-road capability – and luxury. The brand got started in 1949 and has built a reputation for ruggedness, enhanced by its exposure in 169 countries where it is sold.
Most recently it has built upon that perception, adding various degrees of luxury and a wider range of products. My test subject, a Range Rover Sport Supercharged, rests near the pinnacle of the range with a six-figure price tag and an extensive feature list.
You probably won’t find a supercharged Range Rover bashing through rocks, branches and streams. But more likely pulling up to valet parking at a high end mall or golf course.
This is a luxury vehicle of the first order with a long list of features worthy of the price and evidence of its British heritage. It is still built in England despite being passed among a variety of owners over the past couple of decades – BMW, Ford and most recently Tata Motors of India.
Large, tall and boxy, the Range Rover has an unmistakable shape and presence. From the upright grille and windshield to the vertical slabs of metal that comprise the sides, it is an imposing vehicle.
The height provides the benefit of exceptional visibility from the throne-like driver’s seat. But getting there and back can be a chore for those blessed with average leg length or wearing tight clothes or short skirts. Thankfully one of its features is the ability to lower the vehicle to enhance entry/exit, just like some public transit and accessible busses.
The Range Rover is a built like a tank – and weighs almost as much, in spite of much use of aluminum.
Structural rigidity is a must when developing vehicles for severe off-road use. While the Range Rover retains those extreme abilities, it has put on a lot of weight over the ages, now tipping the scales at more than three tons with a driver aboard. Three tons!
That dreadnaught-like weight extracts penalties in everything from fuel consumption to handling and performance. The answer? Give it enough power to overcome the weight and a suspension so sophisticated it to can deal with it. More on both in a bit.
Fuel consumption hurts
The real cost of all that avoirdupois comes in fuel economy and emissions. Making enough power to deal with all that mass requires copious amounts of fuel.
This giant box is rated at 18.4 L/100 km in the city and an equally horrible 11.2 on the highway. And those numbers will never be attained outside the test chamber where they were generated. I averaged 22.1 in the city and 14.7 on the highway!
While people spending more than $100,000 on a five-passenger SUV may not give a hoot about fuel consumption, regulators do. These fuel consumption numbers and the attendant exhaust emissions fly in the face of existing regulations, let alone the draconian ones proposed for the coming years.
The only solution is reducing weight and that will be addressed in the next generation Range Rover, which will be built from aluminum, cutting almost 450 kg (1000 lb) from the all-up mass.
The 2012 Range Rover Supercharged thus becomes the last of the breed, weighing three plus tons and boasting more than 500 horsepower.
The Range Rover was heavily revised in 2002 and received a major makeover in 2010. For 2012, it got some minor upgrades, including body-colour side grille surrounds and door handles, gloss black head- and tail-light backing plates and black front grille trim.
Inside there is now an iPod interface cable, updated navigation system and power tailgate (which did not work on my test vehicle). That’s it for 2012 model-year changes other than various trim level items and option packages.
An array of interior materials and technology bring the vehicle sharply into focus and the current decade. Nobody does luxury better than the Brits and this is a great example of why the various owners have maintained that country as the development and production site for Land Rover and its Jaguar sibling.
Once you climb up and into this cabin you are greeted with a swath of materials that ooze class. Supple leather and real wood are in abundance. But so are modern metal accents throughout, including the pedals.
The tall seating position, upright pillars, low beltline and copious amounts of glass permit an almost uninterrupted 360-degree view.
The seats are wide, supportive and both heated and cooled and the rear seats are almost as commodious with great head- and leg-room for three. There is no pretense of a third row of seats; rather that space is allotted to the second row and cargo area – benefitting both. The cargo area provides 958 litres of space with the rear seats in place, 2013 with them down.
The centre of the instrument panel features a vertical array of controls topped by an 18-cm display screen, which was crisp but slow to respond. I had often completed backing out of a spot and engaged drive before the rear-view camera came to life.
My tester also had an impressive harmon/kardon audio system producing 1200 watts of power through 19 speakers and video screens built into the front seat head restraints.
The instrument cluster itself is comprised of a pair of round gauges for engine and road speed flanking a rectangular programmable digital display.
Smooth as silk
From the outside, giant 20-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile rubber are the first hint that there is something special lurking beneath this Range Rover's skin.
Push the start button and your ears are greeted to the wonderful sound of a very powerful V-8. The high tech 5.0-litre unit, shared with Jaguar, belts out a massive 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque from 2500 rpm up, thanks to a supercharger forcing more air into the combustion chambers.
Smooth as silk and with no lag, the engine responds linearly once you are past the first cm of pedal travel. That initial tip-in, however, seems to summon about 75% of the available power, making graceful getaways all but impossible.
In spite of its bulk and mass, it's possible to accelerate the big bruiser from 0-to-100 km/h in just six seconds.
The complex air suspension is equally enthralling for its ability to prevent this tall box from tipping in the turns and to raise or lower the entire vehicle to accommodate entry-exit or off-road conditions.
A Terrain response system has settings for Rock Crawl, Mud/Ruts, Sand, Grass/Gravel/Snow and on-road travel. Terrain response coordinates and commands brakes, throttle response, traction and stability control and ABS systems.
Left to its own accord on the open highway, this is a superb distance-gobbling device which is a comment on the engineering involved in making such a capable offroader so civilized on-road.
Nobody will consider the Range Rover Sport Supercharged a bargain. But quality and exclusivity rarely are.