2009 Range Rover HSE

While there are plenty of luxury SUVs out there, only a few have cut their teeth on a crowd that actually goes off road. In fact, there are only three that are still in production that come to mind: Mercedes G-Class, Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover’s Range Rover (the Hummer H1 is long gone).

The difference between the three is who buys them. The G-Wagon is for those likely to take over a small country, and the Land Cruiser is for those who are likely to take aid to a small country. The Range Rover leads a more sedate life. It’s for people who may like to go for a small ride in the country
The outside makes the car an instant classic. The first generation of the car kept the same basic look for 26 years. This wasn’t due to lack of funds or inspiration to change the cars; it was just what the customer base wanted. In fact when the Range Rover’s design was changed in 1995, then-owners BMW were quick to return the car to its original looks. This third generation has been on sale since 2002, and the design has been evolution over revolution ever since.

There is also function in this form the low beltline and high greenhouse of this SUV give a commanding view that allows for great sight lines when off-roading. It also doesn’t hurt that our Range Rover rides on a four-wheel independent air suspension that allows for 58 mm of adjustable ground clearance (280 mm maximum).

Inside it’s hard to believe this is a serious off-roader. Plush carpeting, touch screen navigation/command enter, tri-zone climate control (drive, passenger and rear), dual rear seat TVs, and leather everywhere. This SUV feels more like a coddler, and with an as tested price of $85,875 ($77,675 base price), we expect this level of luxury.

But there are plenty of luxury SUVs that compete at this price point (everything from the Cadillac Escalade to the Porsche Cayenne GTS). What makes the Range Rover different is it’s English charm. The leather is in the same hue as the real walnut wood. There is minimal use of chrome, and it all blends well. The overall feeling is like of an old country home. We wouldn’t have been surprised if we looked in the backseat and saw a hearth with small cozy fire.


By it’s size, the Range Rover could have easily fit a third row of seating. It’s over 16 ft length is only a few inches shorter than the seven-passenger Mercedes GL 550 in our fleet, but Ranger Rover has instead opted to carry only five in extreme room and comfort. Land Rover would rather sell a LR4 (Discovery) to the big family crowd.

We don’t test a Range Rover like a normal car. If we gave an SUV the same working on our test track as cars like the Lancer Ralliart, we’d likely end up with skid marks on the doors and in our pants as well. Instead we go looking for hills.

No matter how much luxury Land Rover is going to add to the Range Rover, it still has to work well off-road. A big part of this compatibility comes from the Terrain Response System. It has four off road settings for snow, mud, sand and rocks. Depending on the condition dialed in, the car will adjust its entire behavior (including ride height) to the selected condition. Like Bluetooth is the handsfree for cellphones; the Terrain Response System is the handsfree for off road.

The sad truth is the many Range Rovers will never spend any time off road except for time on the lawn at polo matches. So we also tested the car in everyday urban situations. The steering is quick and light, like a luxury car should be. The same good sight lines that we’d use to make sure we’ve cleared rocks off-road is also useful for fitting into tight parking spaces. The off road features like the adjustable air suspension can’t be engaged at high speed. In fact the car will automatically disengage some functions and lower the vehicle when certain speeds are reached.

We already had the supercharged Range Rover in our fleet last year, so this time we opted for the naturally aspired version. The 4.4-liter V8 puts out 305 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. That’s good enough for a towing capacity of 7,770 lbs, which will be plenty to get the horse to the polo grounds. The engine was complemented for being quick, linear and smooth as butter, but we still can’t help but wonder what the 70 extra hp will feel like in the 2010 model.

Those who aspire to have money, aspire to have Range Rovers. A vehicle that started as a luxury utility for wealthy landowners has evolved to also be a status symbol for wealthy urbanites. So while it can climb every mountain and ford every stream, it’s just as likely to soften every pothole and look good in front of every restaurant.

This means the typical buyer is just as likely to be a farmer as he/she is to be a banker. The only common denominator here is money. Range Rovers are the kind of vehicles that bachelors and small families use to send a message: “We could go camping this weekend, but the beachside Marriott has a nicer view.”


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