Jolly Olde England is full of buildings that, from the outside, look like they’ve been around since the word “Colonies” was capitalized, but today conceal interiors filled with swank bars and nightclubs that are dressed up with cutting-edge design and high-tech furnishings to amaze and delight those lucky enough to make it past the public version of the Queen’s Guard – AKA: the doorman.
It’s the same in many cities around the world, and arriving in a pricey ride is still one of the best ways to gain entry to the more exclusive joints. Class often counts more than hotness, though, and one vehicle that enduringly delivers on both counts is the Land Rover Range Rover.
While the exterior of the 2010 Range Rover looks all the world like the 2009 model - or even the 1970 original if you leave those unsightly spectacles at home – behind the quaint façade is some serious post-modern engineering, not to mention a simple, modern style that's more Copenhagen than Chippendale.
First, there is the V8 engine, or, more correctly, engines. Shared with just about every vehicle in the big, happy, power-hungry Land Rover/Jaguar family, the 5.0-liter is fitted with direct fuel injection, and comes in normally aspirated and supercharged forms. Output is up more than 20% over the old motors, with 375 hp and 510 hp on tap, respectively. Fuel economy graciously remains the same at a marginally acceptable 12 mpg city/18 hwy for both.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is an all-wheel-drive system that is so complex that I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, there is a two-speed transfer case, electronic locking center differential, settings for driving through blizzards, mudslides, rock slides, or just dipping your toes in the sand, plus hill descent control in case you live on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, or in San Francisco and just like to keep your composure when pulling up to fancy restaurants.
As if experiencing the actual operation of all of those goodies isn’t entertaining enough, you can watch an animated display on the infotainment system that shows you exactly what differentials are locked, which way the wheels are pointed, and other really important stuff like that. Superfluous? Sure, but since this car probably has more computing power in its center console than some of the Third World countries that Range Rovers hold dominion over, why not?
A more notable feature is the first application of a full Thin Film Transistor LCD instrument cluster on a mainstream production vehicle. Translated: a flat-screen monitor replaces the conventional gauges with computer-generated avatars that look exactly like conventional gauges. I’m still getting my head around that one, too.
That said, the heated steering wheel – which feels like leather covered granite, and, yes, that’s a really good thing - is replete with buttons that can bring up on-screen menus in the space between those virtual dials, and adjust nearly every electronic function that you’d need to change on the fly, including the optional adaptive cruise control and one of the best sound systems in any vehicle today. However, its best use is for changing direction.
You may have noticed that I used the word “car” a couple of paragraphs back to describe this most truck-like of conveyances. It’s not a mistake. As has always been the case, the new Range Rover is built using unibody construction, rather than body-on-frame like traditional SUVs, pickups, and garbage trucks. Given its legendary off-road reputation, not to mention a 7,700-pound tow rating, this isn’t a shortcoming. In fact, throw in a fully independent air-suspension and you start to understand why it is still considered royalty in the world of four-by-fours, despite a reputation built more on capability than dependability.
Since no Land Rover dealerships that I know of are actually located dirt roads, all journeys in a Range Rover at least begin on blacktop, as did my week in a plebian $78,425 base model which was fitted with optional 20-inch wheels, including a full-size spare.
Although the on-road ride is as quiet and creamy as any number of luxury sedans, Land Rover had the good sense to leave a good bit of roll in the suspension, just to remind that you are at the helm of a rather tall vehicle. Oxford leather upholstered seats with separate temperature controls for the back and butt sections ride tall in the saddle – if not a little narrow for those of Churchillian girth – and take advantage of an expansive greenhouse that eschews the gangster gun-slit trends of the day in favor of Cinerama-quality visibility. The side windows dig down so low into the doors that I found myself using the sill as an armrest, rather than the one that is provided for such use.
It’s a little ironic, then, that the options list includes a Surround Cam System that employs 5 video cameras around the perimeter of the vehicle to give you an all-around view of what’s going on out there in the real world. Somewhat useful when presented with a field of boulders, or a busy day in the Costco parking lot, the resolution is too low, and the angle of the lenses too wide to be very helpful most other times.
Not a problem.
Along with an after-snowstorm outing down a power line service road, which included a fair amount of rock crawling and mud bogging, I spent enough time driving up and down the glades of a ski mountain in a supercharged model to confirm that, aside from El Capitan, there are very few obstacles that you simply can’t drive over in these vehicles. These are the situations where the Range Rover earns its credibility, even if few of them around these parts ever see bad weather, let alone the Rubicon trail.
In any event, while the standard engine can’t exactly deliver a kick in the pants through nearly three tons of vehicle, it’s more than adequate for everything short of a drag race, sounds great, and makes it very difficult to justify the $16G premium that the supercharged version commands. But, if it’s in your budget, by all means indulge in your bad habits.
These include smoking, apparently, because there are three ashtrays scattered around the cabin, a rarity these days. It’s primarily an indication of the scope of the global market Range Rovers play in, but will likely prove handy for a nightclubber or two on a Saturday night, as well.
2010 Land Rover Range Rover
Base Price: $79,275
As Tested: $93,055
Type: 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive, 5-door SUV
Engine: 5.0-liter V8
Power: 375 hp, 375 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 12 city/18 hwy
What do you think of the Range Rover?
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.