How long has it been since the Range Rover was “the best 4x4xfar”? Since the original 2-door Spen King special went out of production? Since Toyota replaced Land Rover vehicles (including the Defender, Range Rover and the like) as the vehicle of choice for African off-roaders and UN peacekeepers? Since the Range Rover was catapulted from Anglophile obscurity to the must have vehicular fashion accessory of the wannabe Kardashian set?
Though my last Land Rover press car, a 2012 Range Rover Sport, displayed three error codes related to the air suspension, I’ve yet to get the full Doug DeMuro experience of actually owning a Range Rover – partly because I don’t have three other vehicles to rely on when something goes wrong, and partly because every time I return these cars, I come to the same conclusion; driving a Range Rover idea is a much better idea in your mind than in reality.
Without fail, the Range Rover is the one vehicle that attracts the most attention from my friends and peers. Requests for rides are legion, attention from the opposite sex is far more abundant than when I am driving something sporty, and with this new-for-2013 version, plenty of people wanted to know what I thought of it, especially owners of the previous generation model.
Unanimous among them was a reaction of incredulity when I told them I didn’t really like it. It was as if I had announced my belief in the sanctity of the unborn life to a meeting of Andrea Dworkin admirers. I suspect it has more to do with what the Range Rover represents to them than how good the car actually is.
You see, you can buy plenty of very good large SUVs and crossovers right now. If you like German cars, there’s the Mercedes-Benz ML, the BMW X5, the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touraeg. Japanese car fans can opt for anything from the Infiniti JX to the Lexus LX570, which, ironically, is based on the Toyota Land Crusier, the car that did everything a Land Rover or Range Rover could do, without spontaneously breaking down while one is being pursued by the janjaweed in Darkest Sudan.
If you’re like me and you want a nice SUV with lots of power, solid build quality and enough discretion to keep your car from getting vandalized while you shop at the ethnic supermarket, you can go and buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. Unlike the Range Rover, you can pick a diesel option, and you can even buy one for your spouse as well before you equal the Range Rover’s $100,000 price tag.
Of course, quality, engineering and alternative powertrains matter not to the people who park Range Rovers in front of their McMansions. That famed cost of entry doesn’t get you any of that. It gets you a pogo-stick ride, an infotainment system from the last decade and interior materials that are “good from far, but far from good”. The expanse of black plastic that seems to take up most of the center console is a particular offense to both aesthetics and value. Were this a Honda CR-V, the reviewers would be crucifying it right now. The one appreciable difference that a Range Rover has over every other SUV (save for the abominable Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen) is that it is more expensive than the competition. Owning one, therefore, telegraphs to the world that you have the means to afford one.
On the upside, it is really, really fast. The 510 horsepower V8 engine moves this thing like a two-box Shelby Mustang, and the 8-speed automatic only helps matters. The lightweight aluminum frame shared with its Jaguar corporate cousins plays a part as well. In fact, I wouldn’t mind trying out the 3.0L V6 version, which is nearly $20,000 cheaper. Based on my impressions of that motor in the Jaguar XJ (coming soon), it should be perfectly adequate for this package.
But again, I am struck with the undeniable fact that Range Rover has ceased to become a product and is now just a brand. The name is slapped on pimped-out LR4s and gussied-up Ford Mondeos that even come in a 3-door configuration. Charles Spencer King might at least have approved of that, were he able to call the shots.
Or maybe not.
A few years before he died, Spen King publiclly lashed out at SUV drivers, telling a Scottish newspaper
“The 4×4 was never intended as a status symbol, but later incarnations of my design seem to be intended for that purpose. I find the people who use it as such deeply unattractive. Sadly, the 4×4 has become an alternative to a Mercedes or BMW for the pompous, self-important driver. To use the 4×4 for the school run, or even in cities or towns at all, is completely stupid.”
Spen King’s criticism fell on deaf ears. His creation has become one of the best symbols of ostentation and vulgarity on four wheels. As a statement of frivolous wealth, the Range Rover has few genuine rivals. But as an SUV it is outclassed by all of the aforementioned vehicles – by far.