Trading the cackle of Manhattan for the deep-space silence of the southern Utah desert is a jarring, but welcome, wake-up call. Although I’d wager there’s a Walmart within 10 miles, it feels like I’m on the edge of civilization. Tucked amid this otherworldly landscape is the Amangiri resort, a slab compound that I imagine is what a settlement on Mars, albeit one with fine dining, a yoga studio and a favorable guest-to-staff ratio, might resemble. Frontier living with a white-glove touch—it’s an entirely proper base from which to test drive Land Rover’s 2013 Range Rover ($83,545), a reboot of the brand’s flagship all-terrain vehicle.
As SUVs became the carryall of choice for denizens of upscale communities, the Range Rover drifted from its off-road roots, moving toward becoming a luxury station wagon that was increasingly removed from its utilitarian heritage. With this fourth generation, though, Land Rover has reoriented itself, promising a vehicle that can perform in extreme conditions yet offer the pinnacle of luxury. Trying to be all things to all people is the easiest way to lose yourself, however: Multipurpose design—a car that can wade through nearly three feet of water but also act as the appropriate coach in which to arrive at a charity gala—is a tall order to fill, and I’m skeptical.
At first inspection, this Range Rover can largely be defined by what it’s lost, most notably 700 pounds, thanks to an all-aluminum unibody and a nip-tucked bodyline that recalls the functional silhouette of Range Rovers past. The exterior is matched with an elegant, basic interior that has 50 percent fewer switches and buttons than the previous model. The remaining dash controls are mostly “secret until lit,” with an intuitive touch screen that makes it easy to quickly pair a smartphone, input a route in the navigation system or change environment settings for both driver and passenger.
As I cruise down long stretches of two-lane desert blacktop, passing roadside stands and tourist traps, I notice how the Range Rover handles much like a luxury sedan. It floats smoothly on its upgraded air suspension, and, with the help of new adaptive dynamics systems that sense road conditions and vehicle angle, the usual top-heavy feeling of driving an SUV through tight curves is minimized. Yet while the naturally aspirated V8 has an excess of low-end torque compared to luxury sedans at a similar price point, it’s slightly anemic when looking for that pop of acceleration—necessary for a quick lane change or evasive maneuver in the city—leading me to think the supercharged-V8 option would be a well-advised upgrade. And at this point, what’s an extra $12K?
Approaching the turn-off to a series of mountain trails, I switch the vehicle into an off-road setup. Over red sand trails blanketed by freshly fallen snow, the ride is just as comfortable as it was on the pavement. Later, as I trade the whitewashed landscape for gravel and steep rock climbs toward the Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument, the Range Rover vaults over sandstone crags with ease. In these extreme driving conditions that would likely stop other SUVs in their tracks, I find myself rolling down the window and opening the expanded panoramic sunroof, risking getting the handcrafted leather interior wet, just to feel a connection to the elements.
While a majority of the Range Rovers sold in the New York City vicinity (Land Rover’s largest metropolitan market worldwide) will never see off-road use, the potential is undoubtedly alluring. As our environment continues to change, the 2013 Range Rover—whose weight loss, incidentally, has contributed to marked improvements in fuel mileage and CO2 emissions—is an ideal vehicle to navigate the canyons of the American Southwest or of downtown Manhattan. When the “s” hits the “f” and the hordes of locusts, plagues, walking dead and floods come, I’m grabbing the family, the bug-out bag and the nearest (and probably somebody else’s) supercharged Range Rover and heading for higher ground.