Halfway across the stream, there was a crunch and a GRRRRRRIND and my little Freelander came to a halt, steering wheel frozen in place by a log or a rut or the Kraken or something. Immediately I heard advice from both sides of the water. “Go forward! Harder!”
“No, wait! Backwards!”
“We’ll strap you up, hold on!”
“No time for that! You’ll stall the motor! Just DO SOMETHING!” The water in the passenger compartment was three inches high and rising. I was more than ten miles from the nearest trailhead in any direction and more than two hundred miles from home. The recovery would be long, difficult, and expensive. I chose to briefly slam the transmission into reverse and give the miniature V-6 a brief moment of full-throttle before selecting low gear and driving forward into whatever had stopped me before with twice the momentum I’d had previously. Thankfully, this time the obstacle gave way and moments later I was four-wheel-scrabbling for grip up the streambank. A narrow escape. Who’s stupid enough to take a unibody CUV hardcore off-roading? This guy.
Sadly, that’s just one of my “Rover stories”. I have dozens. Maybe more. For eight years I drove a Land Rover of some type on a daily basis, starting with a five-speed ’97 Discovery SD and ending with an ’03 Discovery 4.6 SE. I even tried out a Freelander (mentioned above) in ’02. It was a bad-ass little trucklet and could go a lot of places — see previous paragraph — but it was a little small and cramped for long trips to BMX or mountain-biking destinations. After a year, I sold it for half what I’d paid and considered myself lucky to get that much. I mean, it had rock scrapes, water damage, crooked bumpers, you name it. I used it hard. Believe it or not, the Rovers were mostly trouble-free. Emboldened by my positive experiences, My father bought a ’99 Rangie and then let me have it when he got tired of driving it around and dealing with the electrical issues. We got almost ninety thousand miles out of that one. Everything else I sold before the warranty expired. Hey, I’m not that stupid.
When my knees got too bad to cycle competitively, I traded in my last Rover on my first Phaeton and never looked back. What’s the point of having a truck that can get you to any trailhead out there if you’re not going to a trailhead anyway? Well, there was more to it than that. I’d driven the new-for-2003 Range Rover and the Discovery-replacing LR3 and hated them. The LR3 was a bland Lego-brick pig that dwarfed the hundred-inch-wagon Discovery while providing almost no additional usable space. It was massively crass both inside and out. And its sibling? My father’s Range Rover had been a civilized, luxurious vehicle; the ’03 was a whorehouse on wheels, a twisted parody of a Range Rover that never truly existed, a white-leather joke wrapped up in a body that resembled the original Rangie the way Adele resembles Audrey Hepburn. When I saw how much they wanted for the thing I was certain that every last one of them would rot on the showroom floor while the cognoscenti beat the bushes for Callaway 4.6 “P38″ Rovers and the motherlode of replacement suspension airbags it would take to drive them until the coming collapse of civilization and beyond.
Boy, was I wrong. Let’s play that game where we pick images that confirm the point we’re trying to make, shall we? Start with this:
Range Rovers being driven by welfare cases! And by “welfare cases” I mean Queen Elizabeth and the dependably offensive Prince Philip. By contrast, NBA player Stephen Jackson is a taxpayer who contributes to society and brightens the lives of millions through his talent and his commitment to his community. Where was I? Oh yeah. Regardless of Mr. Jackson’s merits as a human being, that Range Rover of his should be nuked from orbit. Both of them, because he has two identical ones. Nuke them both from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
What happened? Well, in 1992 the Land Rover global product range was like so:
- Land Rover Defender – A nice coil-spring off-road truck. Like a Jeep Wrangler, only slightly better at doing everything but not breaking. Available in specifications from beach cruiser to military ambulance across three wheelbases.
- Land Rover Discovery – A 100-inch-wheelbase family wagon with stellar off-road capabilities and 3/4 ton load capacity. Once I put no fewer than forty-two Compaq tower computers in my Discovery. Another time I loaded it floor to ceiling, rear gate to back of front seats, with cat litter for a local shelter. Didn’t bother the Disco in the slightest. Tough as nails.
- Range Rover – All the capability of the Discovery with more luxury and a 108-inch wheelbase variant for rear passenger comfort.
Very easy to understand, right? The Defender is a working truck. The Discovery is a family truck. The Range Rover is an aristocratic truck. All three were body-on-frame trucks with aluminum panels. Have I repeated TRUCK enough for you? Good. They were trucks.
In the thirty-some years during which the original two generations of the Range Rover were sold, the vehicle acquired quite a bit of social credibility, as did its owners. The prestige that came from owning a Range Rover had to do with the assumption that one owned property, or participated in a lifestyle, which required the Range Rover’s capabilities. The original Range Rovers were not terribly luxurious vehicles. They were terribly capable vehicles. That was the sales pitch. Go anywhere. Do anything. Let the proles squat on the concrete slabs; we’re off to the country estate. There was no reason for that pitch to change. In fact, with the increasingly active lifestyle enjoyed by our overlords in the fabled one percent, one could argue that the market for Land Rovers of all types could only increase.
Instead, the serial custodians of the brand — BMW, Ford, and now Tata — decided to milk the brand for all the “prestige” it could provide while slowly letting the product wander into irrelevance. Let’s look at the lineup now:
- The Defender. You can still get this in some markets. Until they drop it. Which will be any day now. And of course the Wrangler with which it competes has been completely revised three times since the Defender was released. Everything the Defender has ever had, the Wrangler has now, plus more.
- The LR2. This replaced the Freelander, which was a Honda Civic (I’m not kidding) hacked-up to create a kind of low-cost all-weather wagon. It was cheap and capable enough in bad conditions. The LR2, by contrast, costs forty grand and can’t go everywhere the Freelander could go, because it’s bigger.
- The LR4. Lipstick on the decade-old pig known as the LR3. The most charmless station wagon in history. Monstrously sized, hugely thirsty, too big to be useful off-road. It’s simply offensive. I wouldn’t want to be seen in one. Better to drive a Suburban. At least you can put something big in a Burb, like a drumset and two groupies.
- The Range Rover Sport. What’s the point of this? It looks like a Range Rover. But underneath it’s an LR4. It’s cheaper than a Range Rover. But it weighs more. And it’s not supposed to go off-road. Because a Range Rover without off-road capabilities is just as useful and desirable as a Porsche truck, no doubt to the same loathsome people.
That’s all just kind of sad to people who love Land Rovers the way I used to, but I’m not willing to call for the death penalty yet, Your Honor. Let’s focus on the real villains. Start with the “Range Rover Evoque”. It’s a RAV4 for people who could afford two RAV4s but for some reason only want to have one. What possible reason in the world could one have to buy this thing, other than to try to convince one’s neighbors that one can afford a Range Rover? It looks like it’s been squashed. Whatever giant creature tried to squash it should come back and finish the job. It’s not a Range Rover. I know it, you know it, your daughter’s friends know it. You’re embarrassing yourself. Nobody is fooled by this. It’s the perfect “Range Rover” for people who wear imitation Rolexes and Photoshop their LinkedIn profile pictures to remove their moles. And I know you call it the “Range Rover” when you’re referring to it at parties. Because “front-wheel-drive mommy-wagon with a thyroid condition” just doesn’t pack the same punch. “Oh, we were driving the Range Rover the other day…” No you weren’t. Stephen Jackson was driving the Range Rover the other day. You were driving a CX-5 as reimagined by a PCP addict with two crayons, a Burger King wrapper, and access to a recent issue of “The DuPont Registry”.
What’s worse than a fake Range Rover? The All New Real Range Rover. It’s advertised on Land Rover’s own website like so:
Putting that photo up where PEOPLE CAN SEE IT is approximately as stupid as me posing topless with “Marky Mark” Wahlberg and making sure every single mother in America between the ages of 22 and 35 gets a copy of the photo in her mailbox tomorrow. I would think most people in 2012 would say, “Hey, can I get the smaller vehicle with more ground clearance and more tasteful styling? How much more does that one cost?” I have a better idea for the ad:
No, wait. Looking at that photo just makes me want to buy another Flex, which can be had with all the same stuff a Range Rover has, plus a twin-turbo engine, for $40,000 less. Maybe a Flex isn’t any good off-road, whereas the Range Rover has had all sorts of wonderful press trips in remote and exotic locations where a group of trained experts who could get a Gallardo through the Rubicon Trail talk journalists through carefully stage-managed experiences, but does it really matter any more? Who’s going to take that piggy, ribbed-for-nobody’s-pleasure Range Roaster off-road? Who’s going to put muddy boots inside it? Who’s going to put it four feet deep in a Pennsylvania creek for laughs?
The current Land Rover range has no relevance whatsoever. The brand has no relevance whatsoever. Any prestige or pride in ownership one might possibly feel from owning a Rover is surely mitigated by the Tata ownership and the never-ending parade of douchebags “flossing” them on MTV and double-parking them outside Whole Foods. The outlandish size, weight, and consumption of the entire range, pun intended, is an affront to any notion of sustainable co-existence with the wild outdoors on which the brand built its tarnished image. Inside and out, the vehicles are gross parodies of their ancestors and not worth considering for a moment by anyone with a smidgen or taste or decency. Time to close the doors, sell the remaining stock to the Chinese, and slink away quietly.
The saddest part of all this? The market for the original Rovers — the genuine article — still exists, you know. One of my dearest friends works as an attorney in a rural area, making good money and restoring a beautiful century-old home. She likes to visit her family back home in Iowa and drive the unpaved roads there. We are planning on hiking up Mount Elbert in the summer, and in order to start from the highest trailhead you need something with four-wheel-drive and nontrivial ground clearance. For that and a variety of other reasons, she decided to buy herself a new truck. She wanted a rugged, all-purpose vehicle that would allow her to go anywhere. She wanted to keep it for a long time. She wasn’t terribly concerned about what it cost, although she’s a Midwesterner at heart so she appreciates value.
The vehicle she chose does everything a Land Rover should be able to do, and more. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s worth the money. And we saw other people driving them. People of all types. She waves at them. She loves “Serenity”, her new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara six-speed manual, the way I loved my Land Rovers. During a recent weekend, we gleefully drove it up and down steep grass hills and even down a small set of stairs at an abandoned office park. “It seems like this Jeep can go anywhere!” she exclaimed.
“Sure, but let’s keep it out of deep water, okay?”