Queen Elizabeth may be out-wealthed by females like Oprah Winfrey and a couple of the Walton women, but none of them can buy a finer 4×4 than Her Majesty’s favorite. The Queen is known for keeping a fleet of Land Rovers of varying vintages at her array of palaces and country estates. She’s even lent her stamp to the brand. Those old ‘Rovers were great vehicles, but not quite fit for her royal self. With one vehicle, she could visit the far reaches of her estates while arriving with grace at Buckingham Palace. Forget the Bentley, who needs it? No vehicle does so much as magnificently as the 2011 Land Rover Range Rover.
When the original Range Rover was introduced in 1970s, one wouldn’t exactly have thought of it as a Bentley competitor. Powered by a 135-HP Buick-derived V8 engine, it rode on a ladder-type chassis with coil springs, permanent four-wheel-drive, and 4-wheel disc brakes. Interiors were outfitted with vinyl seats and hose-washable plastic dashboards. Carpet, A/C, leather seats, and wood trim would have to come later. It wasn’t until 1987 when the Range Rover officially came to the U.S. A second-generation model was produced from 1994-2002, after which it was replaced by the current royal chariot.
“The rich have all the good stuff,” my partner said as he climbed aboard the Range Rover. Given the old dear monarch could pump her stubby little pegs up inside the Range Rover, Her Highness would not want for luxury. The leather on the seats and steering wheel is divine, wood is elegantly placed and beautifully polished, the floormats are trimmed in leather, and everything you breathe smells like a gently-tanned butter churn. Seats and steering wheel are heated. Gauges look analog, but are actually images on an LCD screen that also displays vehicle computer info. When you first open the door, you are greeted by a sunrise behind the steering wheel. I love it.
Unlike the first Range Rovers, the fifth-decade version creates a symphony via harman/kardon speakers that receive direction from satellite radio, an in-glovebox CD changer, or USB iPod input. Phone calls are made hands-free via Bluetooth. Kiddies in the rear lounge can watch videos on individual headrest-mounted monitors. The rich do indeed have all the good stuff.
When the current generation first debuted nearly a decade ago, I was at the Texas Auto Writers’ annual Truck Rodeo when Noah should have been building an arc. Pastoral fields turned to deep mud and roadways flooded up to the Range Rover’s hood. When most manufacturers parked their supposed off-roaders, Land Rover kept putting journalists behind the wheel, teaching them how to ford rivers and trudge mud like pros. Nobody seemed concerned that they were sludging it out in a mega-expensive luxury liner.
That’s because the Range Rover’s all-terrain systems are second only to mountain rams and donkey-mules. Terrain Response optimizes the vehicle’s responses for sand, rocks, and other obstacles from a knob in the center console. Hill Start Assist holds the brakes momentarily while the driver lifts from brake to throttle while Hill Descent Control maintains a safe speed going down inclines. Best of all, a height-adjustable suspension system lowers for entry and high-speed autobahns, but raises up for serious boulder busting. On-road, the electronic chassis controls roll in corners. The vehicle is also equipped with Adaptive Cruise Control, blind spot warning, and Emergency Brake Assist to actively protect from impending accidents and slow-moving traffic.
None of that fancy footwork would matter if the big wagon didn’t have a heart of gold. When launched, the current-generation model had a BMW V8 engine as it was being handed over to Ford from the German automaker. Now a brother to Jaguar under Indian Tata ownership, it is powered by a 375-HP 5.0-litre V8 from the XJ. An optional supercharged version gushes 510-HP. Both engines are connected to a full-time AWD system through six-speed transmissions. Power and gear shifts wouldn’t be any smoother if they were greased up and shoved under a limousine. Normally aspirated vehicles scoot from 0-60 mph in 7.2s while the blown hotties do it in a sport sedan-like 5.9s. If you can afford a Range Rover, there’s no point in discussing fuel economy – it would only arouse the proletariat anyway.
I drove the Rover many miles through city streets and on the Interstate. I even made a two-hour trip to take my grandma to Cracker Barrel just for the hell of it. I’ve been on trips in private jets that weren’t nearly as pleasant. After a little effort climbing aboard, Grandma had a delightful ride in the rear and enjoyed her feast.
The Queen can rest easy in her palace that Land Rover (and Jaguar) have returned like prodigal aristocrats of The Commonwealth, built in England by the Indian conglomerate Tata. But, to what does one compare the Range Rover? It drives like a Jaguar XJ, coddles like The Waldorf, and tackles terrain like a cleated goat. Its style is as timeless as Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Camp Topridge in the Adirondacks. Pushed to name a few, the Cadillac Escalade, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes G-Class, and Lexus LX come to mind. Price as tested came to a touch over $90 grand.
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